With Pennsylvania’s long-held reputation as a sports powerhouse with a global fanbase, fans throughout the Commonwealth are passionate about their favorite teams, and it shows. When COVID-19 hit communities across the state and nation last year and large gatherings ground to a sudden halt, the professional sports industry was no exception to the impact. Having taken numerous steps to navigate the path forward, and with more widespread vaccination following stringent health protocols, sports teams are ready to again welcome fans who have anxiously awaited the moment they can cheer on their team in person.
The PA Chamber is thrilled to showcase what two of our members whose names you likely recognize — the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Eagles — are doing to safely welcome back their beloved fans in the seasons that lie ahead.
Pittsburgh Penguins Take Every Precaution to Ensure Fan Safety
The Pittsburgh Penguins are justly proud of their achievements, always starting with their five Stanley Cups, but also including the team’s central place as an economic driver for the greater Pittsburgh region. Along with the Pirates and Steelers, the team directly generates $50 million in annual tax revenues through the 150 events held at PPG Paints Arena every year, plus another $25 million indirectly, and is proud of its place as one of the most community-oriented teams in professional sports.
However, that’s tough to do when a global pandemic keeps you from welcoming fans into your building.
COVID-19 tested everyone starting with the shutdowns of March 2020, and the Penguins and other National Hockey League franchises would have all their skills for innovation and excellence challenged over the next year. The Penguins were forced to rethink everything they did to provide high-quality entertainment and safety for its dedicated fanbase at PPG Paints Arena — from inside and outside the Pittsburgh community — and then be ready to deliver when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania started to allow fans back into the building one year later.
The shutdown was hard on Penguins ownership, employees, arena workers and the many ancillary businesses that depend on the team welcoming its fans, but the team used it as an opportunity to emerge with an even stronger fan experience than before, which will be on full display when PPG Paints Arena returns in the fall of 2021 for games and other arena events.
“With the help of the medical experts at UPMC and the best professionals in the sports and entertainment industry, the Penguins were able to not only survive the pandemic but deliver an even better product for our incredible fanbase,” Penguins President and CEO David Morehouse said. “I want to thank Governor Wolf, Health Secretary Beam, County Executive Fitzgerald, Mayor Peduto and everyone in the public health sector for putting their trust in us to find cutting-edge solutions to let fans come enjoy the great game of hockey.”
One hundred and ninety-two pages. That was the size of the protocol book from the NHL to ensure a COVID-safe return to hockey games. The league successfully held its 2020 playoffs in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto — which yielded zero positive cases for players or staff — and that model provided the Penguins a template for its return in 2021.
With expertise from UPMC and regular communication with the Governor’s office, the Penguins engaged an internal group of industry professionals (ASM Global, Aramark and CAA ICON) to identify the best practices from across the industry for reopening venues in a post-COVID environment. Extensive research, testing and vendor interviews led to a series of recommended enhancements designed to provide a safe environment at PPG Paints Arena for our guests, workforce and players that all proved to be successful.
The team implemented dozens of internal protocols that fans would never see (from contract tracing to a bubble for the players, coaches and other hockey operations staff) to many others fans would directly experience. They included enhanced cleaning protocols (such as autonomous UV floor scrubbers, touchless faucets, new air filters and drone disinfecting), as well as mandatory face coverings, distancing, timed entry, designated entrances, mobile tickets with touchless scan, cashless transactions and touchless self-checkout scanners for food, beverages and merchandise.
Following this planning, the Commonwealth allowed the Penguins to begin allowing 15 percent capacity at PPG Paints Arena starting March 2, 2021, which then was the largest-capacity indoor facility available in the state (Allegheny County was permitted to begin re-opening before Philadelphia County.) With fans doing their part to help — only one fan was ejected the first week for mask compliance — the state gradually allowed for a higher capacity as the season went on, and PPG Paints Arena was at 50 percent when the Penguins’ Stanley Cup playoff run ended. If the team had proceeded to more rounds, the rink was ready to be 100 percent occupied.
All of which brings us to today, and to the return to the pre-pandemic levels of fan enjoyment the Penguins offer. The organization is continuing to fine-tune and improve the fan experience from all it learned over the past challenging year, and stands ready to once again safely welcome people back to PPG Paints Arena from across Pennsylvania, the country and beyond.
Philadelphia Eagles Geared Up for a 2021 Fan Return to Lincoln Financial Field
There is no stronger homefield advantage in football than in the City of Brotherly Love because of the passion and support that Philadelphia Eagles fans have for their football team. As the NFL kicks off the 2021 season, the team is excited to reopen its doors and welcome back Eagles fans to their second home — Lincoln Financial Field.
“We have always shared a special bond with our fans,” said Eagles President Don Smolenski. “There is an emotional connection that exists here. The investment that our fans put into this team all throughout the year is just incredible. Their passion fuels our team. We can’t wait to hear the roar of 70,000 fans singing ‘Fly Eagles Fly.’”
Before the regular-season excitement gets underway, the team has orchestrated several fan-friendly events to build the anticipation of a return to the rocking environment the fans and the team enjoy at Lincoln Financial Field. Eagles Training Camp is always the first opportunity for fans to reconnect with the team. With practices split between the NovaCare Complex — the team’s training facility — and Lincoln Financial Field, fans will once again be able to watch their favorite players up close and in person. On August 31, all 32 NFL teams will participate in “Back Together Saturday,” a league-wide celebration of the unique relationship between teams and their fans. Lincoln Financial Field came to life once again when the Eagles officially welcomed fans back on Sunday, August 8 for the first of two public practices at the stadium.
The excitement for Eagles football then carried into “Eagles Autism Challenge Weekend” which commenced on Friday, August 20 and concluded with the team’s second and final public practice at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, August 22. That day, the team’s signature fundraising event, the Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group, featured a day-long celebration at Lincoln Financial Field where hundreds of Eagles fans biked, ran and walked in support of the autism community.
As the summer months come to a close, the anticipation for Eagles football will be at its highest. More than 70,000 Eagles fans will once again fill Lincoln Financial Field with their passion and excitement. The team has always been committed to providing an unmatched gameday experience in a safe, clean, and friendly environment, and this year will be no different. The team is truly as excited as their fans to be reunited in person this fall.
Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.