The ballpark and arena experience is going to change as the sports world figures out how best to resume amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, the St. Paul Saints became one of the first franchises to spell out, in remarkable detail, what to expect when games return to CHS Field: Fans no closer than every other row, stadium workers wearing masks and gloves — and no bouncy castle for the kids.
The details, while subject to change, go down to what items players can spit and to having a sneeze guard over the microphone for the national anthem singer.
The Saints released a six-page PDF on their website spelling out what the ballpark experience will look like when play resumes in the American Association of Independent Baseball, which is aiming for a season start in July.
“Our sense is that we need to be able to show that we’re preparing and planning to have a facility ready to host events safely,” General Manager Derek Sharrer said. “The best way we felt we can do that was to develop a plan and present that plan.”
The most noticeable change will be how many people are allowed in the ballpark and how the team will seat them.
Sharrer said to comply with proper social distancing guidelines, the team will only sell tickets in every other row. Within those rows with tickets available, the first three seats from the aisle will be empty to allow safe passage up and down for all fans.
Only two groups of tickets (maximum of four per group) will be sold within the rows, and there will be at least three seats of space in the middle of the rows between groups.
Overall, this could reduce the stadium’s capacity — listed on its website at 7,210 — by about 75%, Sharrer said. Group and hospitality areas also will have reduced capacity.
Sharrer said with safety as the No. 1 goal in laying out the plans now, they could change as health conditions warrant before the season begins.
“Our priority is the safety of our fans, our players, our coaching staff and our employees,” Sharrer said.
“This is a plan we’re putting in place for the likelihood that we can play games, but we as an organization fully understand that that may not happen based on local governmental restrictions.”
No paper tickets will be printed or handed to fans on site. Instead those will be sent to electronic devices and some ticket gates will be closed for safety reasons.
The Saints aim to make every transaction cashless to further limit contact between employees and fans.
There also will be increased efforts to sanitize the park and have additional hand sanitizers available. All employees will have their temperature taken before starting a shift.
Those who are “fan-facing” will be required to wear masks and gloves. Fans will get a health check upon entering the ballpark, though Sharrer and team Vice President Sean Aronson said it’s not known as of now what form those checks would take.
There also will be regulations to ensure the staff and fans practice social distancing while waiting in lines and walking in concourses. Concourse traffic will be divided to ensure one-way traffic in each direction.
Aronson said the release is a “working document” and the team is open to other suggestions or revisions from fans.
The guidelines also extend to players and recreational spaces in and around the ballpark. The team, with a reputation for its quirky, fan-friendly game atmosphere, will not operate its kids zone attractions, which includes the bounce houses.
Media and front office personnel “likely” will be prohibited from the clubhouse and buffet-style food will be discontinued, according to the release. The team is placing limitations on the use of what it calls community “spit” items, such as sunflower seeds, gum and peanuts.
Players no longer will be allowed to throw balls into the stands or sign autographs.
Restroom doors will be propped open to ensure touchless entry and exit. Restrooms will be sanitized “frequently,” with an enzyme solution on all surfaces at the end of each homestand. Every other sink and urinal will be out of use to ensure social distancing.
In terms of food distribution, employees will distribute food from stands while condiments and similar items will be served in prepackaged form instead of at communal stations.
But these plans are still subject to input from fans, and the dialogue between the team and fans on the issue isn’t finished even though the team released these guidelines.
They hope it will be safe enough to put to use and fans can return in a few months — even in limited numbers.
“We want people to know here are the plans in place,” Aronson said. “… Look at it. If you find faults in it, let us know.”