Starting Thursday, sports fans will be able to return to sporting venues by the thousands in Minnesota. It's a huge moment for the state and for sports franchises and organizations throughout the Twin Cities, but for fans and teams alike, there will be changes.
The coordinated efforts to create a safe, healthy and hospitable environment for fans and venue staff has been ongoing for nearly a year among franchises, venues and state health officials.
The teams feel ready, fans are buying tickets and starting Thursday, the cheers of sports fans are going to tic up a few decibels in the state of Minnesota.
Here are some changes that people attending games can expect.
Apps, apps, apps
The Timberwolves were the first professional sports organization in the country to do away with physical tickets and that will be the standard now. But the biggest change fans will encounter is that the entire stadium-going experience has gone digital.
"Knowing fans are using their mobile device to get into the game, how do we create a remote control for the experience with your phone while you're in the game?" Timberwolves Chief Operating Officer Ryan Tanke asked.
For the Wolves, the answer was a new mobile commerce platform on the Timberwolves app that will allow fans to order everything from concessions to apparel on their phones through a partnership with VenueNext. The Twins are in a similar partnership with Venuetize through the MLB Ballpark app.
"It's how we've all been operating with mobile takeout, right, we're placing orders," Tanke added. "To a degree the world for a year has been preparing for something that we think is the future of the fan experience which is everybody has their own point of sale system right in their pocket.
Leave your bags at home
One of the more contentious decisions for season-ticket holders is the standard, for now: Very few bags will be allowed into Target Field, and absolutely no bags that are not medically necessary will be allowed into Target Center or Xcel Energy Center. For female ticket holders, this has been a topic that has driven a lot of passionate responses but ultimately teams are siding with less contact being necessary at this point.
"We are also eliminating bags other than medical necessary bags or a small women's clutch purse that's 9 by 5 inches — no bags will be allowed," said Twins Senior Vice President of Operations Matt Hoy. "Everything more or less designed and spread out to get people in as quickly as we can and to have it be as contactless as possible."
The Wild will send a health screening questionnaire via email the day of the game to fans, while the Twins and Wolves will ask fans for a verbal yes or no response to health screening questions posted outside their stadiums before entering. Questions will be familiar, like: Have you been in contract with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 48 hours? Are you experiencing symptoms of COVID-19? Or have you tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 10 days? If anyone feels sick or needs help at a game, stadium staff will be able to assist them.
Socially distanced pods
Six feet space between different groups of fans is the plan for every sports venue in the state — but pods of two to four seats for each game will be the norm as fans return. And while stadium staff members will not be acting like hall monitors, they will be looking for people to follow rules and stay in their seats as often as possible.
"Obviously fans will be able to go to the concession stands and go to the merchandise locations and the restrooms," Hoy said. "But the guidance for the Stay Safe Minnesota document asks people to stay in their seats if at all possible, and stay masked."
Speaking of masks ... masks
Fans can expect to see everyone working at the stadium wearing a mask, and fans will be expected to wear masks at all times when they are not eating or drinking. Team executives for every sports franchise in the state worked together to build safety guidelines, and they all said that the mask mandate is viewed as a way to not only follow guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health, but to create an environment where fans can feel safe attending a game.
"I think it has been well documented we have all collaborated for the better part of the year just around this return to play concept," Tanke said. "There are still protocols that are in place that provide people that comfort of socially distanced and masked requirements, we're really comfortable with the fact that everybody's health and safety is the first priority and singular focus as we begin opening in April."
Who needs tickets?
While sports fans will enter a digital world inside venues, so will scalpers looking to take advantage of high ticket demand. Secondary websites like StubHub and TicketKing have tickets available for every upcoming professional sporting event in the state — which is an especially big deal for Wild tickets, because so far they have not been made available to the general public. But prepare to pay big prices. On Tuesday, TicketKing had four tickets available for the Wild's first game with increased attendance on April 5 against the Colorado Avalanche at $1,000 apiece. StubHub had 22 tickets available, starting at $193. The Twins have sold out several of their first batch of games, including the home opener, but if you want to find tickets to that game on April 8 against the Mariners, there were a lot of options on secondary sites. But no matter where you buy, you will have to buy in pods.