Sports Venues Look to Third-Party Certifications to Ensure Safety Standards and Drive Fan Confidence

Evidence-based, third-party verified ratings focus operational policies and protocols to help venue owners put health and wellness at the fore of reopening plans and continued operations.


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the sports and entertainment venue marketplace in myriad ways, stressing all venue types in all leagues in all geographies at the same time. No one is untouched by this critical moment.

Our industry continues to take the necessary steps to reopen, eager to get back to business in 2021. But the question remains: will fans come back? Research suggests they will… if they feel safe doing so.

One tactic any venue, large or small, can deploy to drive consumer confidence is to prove its safety through third-party certification.

The State of Play

The current phase of reopening for sports venues largely depends on local governments. But for all venues in any location, it’s helpful to observe facilities in jurisdictions at the vanguard of reopening to learn the best path forward. Consider State Farm Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, and BB&T Center, home of the Florida Panthers.

Both arenas demonstrate an austere approach. State Farm Arena, which programs a full event calendar during a normal year, is only hosting Atlanta Hawks games so far in 2021, currently at 8% capacity. The suite level remains shut down, and only large premium spaces affording adequate social distancing are available to patrons.

“We’ve taken a crawl then walk then run type of approach,” says Geoffrey Stiles, SVP of Events and Facilities at State Farm Arena. “This is not a revenue play. The driving factor is providing an experience for people who are loyal to us and making sure they have a safe environment to come to.”

At BB&T Center, the manifest for Panthers hockey is 6,000 people (approximately 25% capacity), inclusive of suites and premium spaces scaled back to allow social distancing. The Sunrise, Florida arena has started seeing traction for other events, hosting a TobyMac concert in February with Disney on Ice on the calendar for March.

“The science is obviously very important to us,” says Tom Embrey, General Manager of BB&T Center. “We really looked at [reopening] in great detail, starting from a very simple approach.”

The WELL Health-Safety Rating

Third-party consultants are helping venues audit their infrastructure and protocols to ensure they meet strict standards for health and safety, as well as communicate verification of those standards to the discerning public.

One leading certification is the WELL Health-Safety Rating from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), who has worked closely with sports organizations during the pandemic.

“[The WELL Health-Safety Rating] gives us a scientifically-based story to tell that is part of the greater good we’re trying to do,” Embrey says. “It’s so important to give people that stamp of approval that says we’re ready to go, and we’re putting in place the policies and protocols to make it safe for you.”

By achieving the rating, sports venues gain access to the WELL Health-Safety seal which is a visual mark of communication that can be presented at the front door, disclosing to players, employees, performers, and fans that the venue they are entering is one prioritizing health and safety.

“The community then begins to recognize that symbol and understands what the facility has done and the measures that have been taken,” adds Carlie Bullock-Jones, Founder and Principal of Ecoworks Studio, an Atlanta-based firm specializing in integrated design principles, sustainability, and wellness consulting services. “A lot of our clients right now see the value in third-party certification, particularly [the WELL Health-Safety Rating], because it’s backed not only by practitioners like ourselves but also by the scientific and medical community.”

Getting Certified

Achieving annual certification is a rigorous process, but it's critical when dealing with health and well-being in public assembly buildings. It's become even more of a priority as venues emerge as community assets beyond sports and entertainment, many of them reopening as voting locations and vaccination centers.

“It was definitely a long process that really got into the weeds and made us look at our organization from a foundational standpoint for how we operate,” says Embrey. “That’s what made it attractive to us. I don't know that there is a department in our building that did not have their hands involved in some part of that process.”

The process is a documentation-based system, in which venues submit their various policies and operations, schedules and protocols, and they undergo third-party review. And while the WELL Health-Safety Rating has gained visibility in the pandemic, its benefits to a sports facility far outstretch cleaning, sanitization, and COVID-19, also touching emergency preparedness, health service resources, air and water quality management, food safety, and more.

The standard itself is freely available online, accessible to any venue operator interested in the research underpinning the strategies and a path forward towards building trust in the community.

“Our analytics team has done an exceptional job asking the right questions, gauging where consumer confidence is, and showing there is demand to see these events right now,” says Stiles. “Certifications like WELL really drive that consumer confidence.”

This venue solution was published in partnership with the International WELL Building Institute.

About IWBI

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is a public benefit corporation and the world’s leading organization focused on deploying people-first places to advance a global culture of health. IWBI mobilizes its community through the administration of the WELL Building Standard (WELL) and the WELL Health-Safety Rating, management of the WELL AP credential, the pursuit of applicable research, the development of educational resources, and advocacy for policies that promote health and well-being everywhere.

To learn more about the WELL Health-Safety Rating and WELL Building Standard, as well as review the latest webcasts, articles, and training around COVID-19 and beyond, visit