Few industries have been threatened more by COVID-19 than sports and entertainment. For stadiums and arenas across the venue marketplace, the pandemic has been a period of silence. But it has also been a time of resilience and readiness to meet the requirements of the moment.
“As we all know, the pandemic was a fluid situation from the beginning,” says Doug Behar, Senior Vice President of Stadium Operations for the New York Yankees. “Initially, we all faced a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns. Our organization was proactive and immediately launched a containment strategy, giving us a head start on keeping our players, staff, and fans safe.”
As part of this containment strategy, the Yankees engaged the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) to assist in evaluating all aspects of facility operations and procedures at Yankee Stadium. After a thorough audit of the ballpark and implementation of numerous evidence-based measures, Yankee Stadium became the first sports venue in the world to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating, a leading third-party verification process.
Meeting the requirements of the WELL Health-Safety seal designation provided the Yankees a blueprint that allowed the team to exceed state and local guidelines when reopening Yankee Stadium at the beginning of the 2021 MLB season (at 20% capacity, up to 10,850 fans). Fans must be fully vaccinated or provide documentation of a negative test within specific time parameters to be permitted entry. They are also required to wear masks except when eating and drinking.
We recently sat down with Doug Behar to review the Yankees’ journey to reopening, uncover the organization’s priorities in this moment, and learn how WELL Health-Safety standards continue to help define operational policies, maintenance procedures, and emergency plans, resulting in cleaner, more efficient, higher quality spaces to enjoy. The following transcript has been slightly edited for clarity.
How does health and wellness connect to your organization’s current priorities?
Our goal at Yankee Stadium has always been to provide a world-class experience for our players, our employees, and our fans. A large component of this mission involves health and wellness, and IWBI’s WELL Health-Safety Rating was a way for us to to achieve that.
IWBI provided us with a clear framework of areas we needed to accomplish. Health and safety have always been a priority, but IWBI’s suggestions allowed us to look deeper into these practices to ensure our procedures and protocols worked in the most efficient ways possible.
Why did you decide to pursue WELL Health-Safety certification specifically?
We initially decided to pursue the WELL Health-Safety Rating because it allowed us to focus on and implement the most effective and efficient methods for helping to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The WELL Health-Safety Rating is also malleable enough that we could use the same guidance for improving our workplace as well as our stadium. By achieving the rating, we are now better prepared for fans as they return to Yankee Stadium.
How does WELL Health-Safety align with the values of the Yankees?
Achieving the WELL Health-Safety Rating was vitally important for us. The Steinbrenner family’s commitment to all our stakeholders – fans, our players, our employees, the community, business partners, and the media – has always been to provide a world-class experience. Ensuring the health and wellness of all who visit Yankee Stadium is an essential component of that experience.
What are a few of your organization’s greatest achievements having gone through the rating process?
We are proud that Yankee Stadium was the first sports venue in the world to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating. Our organization took numerous measures to ensure we would successfully achieve the rating, including reviewing the stadium’s inventory of all filters and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation equipment, selecting cleaning products that disinfect without harmful ingredients, and employing signage throughout the stadium promoting health literacy. Throughout the process, we worked in partnership with IWBI to fulfill the rating requirements.
How important is it to communicate all safety standards to staff, even on the baseball ops side?
The WELL guidelines are framed in a clear and sensible format, which allows our senior stadium operations personnel to easily educate the full scope to our employees on what to do and, perhaps more importantly, why we are doing it. This clarity allows for total buy-in from everyone on-site, including those on the baseball side in our clubhouse and on the field.
How rigid is the process of verification?
Reaching this level and receiving third-party verification was a long and uncompromising road, but one that is clearly in the best interest of each individual who steps foot in Yankee Stadium. By pursuing and achieving the WELL Health-Safety Rating, we can now feel confident that our air and water quality management, cleaning and sanitation protocols, emergency preparedness program, health services resources, and stakeholder engagement are on the cutting edge of best practices.
How has the WELL Health-Safety Rating changed your company operations?
Achieving the WELL Health-Safety Rating has changed the way our organization thinks about health, wellness, and sanitation. Our stadium has integrated new practices, from worker education and training on appropriately using PPE, to installing new purification machinery such as a low-dose hydrogen-peroxide system in the HVAC system designed to kill airborne pathogens, which is a technology already used in hospitals.
For us, it seems logical to keep these measures in place forever. Our new practices and commitment to health will continue long after the coronavirus pandemic.
How does the WELL Health-Safety Rating benefit all people who enter your ballpark?
Yankee Stadium is appropriately prepared to accommodate the reintroduction of fans. In addition, our employees and players can now enter our stadium knowing that our organization is taking, and will continue to take, every possible step to ensure their health, wellness, and safety.
More Health and Wellness Case Studies: Watch our webinar featuring operations leaders from the Atlanta Hawks and Florida Panthers, two more organizations in the venue marketplace returning fans to their seats.