What's next? Nobody really knows yet when it comes to mass-gathering spectator sports



The RedBlacks field at TD Place sits empty. Lots of scenarios are being contemplated for how the return of live events will be handled and those that become unrealistic are then discarded.

After the CFL returned to the capital in 2014, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group discovered that many ticket buyers didn’t want to spend the whole game sitting in their seats, but rather preferred to stand together and socialize.

That led to the installation of a long bar rail, extending from one walkway in the east end of TD Place stadium to another in the west after winding through the south grandstand. And a grass-covered berm was replaced by a two-level platform for more socializing and consumption of food and beverages.

But will any of those areas still be available when mass-gathering sports events eventually return to the stadium and arena at Lansdowne Park? Nobody knows yet, but they’re trying to game-plan for post-COVID-19.

“There’s a million things going on and the business-recovery team, their job is to look forward enough down the road and look for examples on how we can adapt as an organization to make it as safe and as fun and create the best memories that we possibly can,” says Mark Goudie, OSEG president and CEO.

In the early days of the pandemic, G

oudie’s preliminary worst-case scenario for the Ottawa 67’s involved home playoff games played with no fans in the stands. But soon the worst-case scenario kicked in and the rest of the season was cancelled for almost every hockey circuit except the National Hockey League, still in an ever-lengthening “pause.”

The CFL has delayed kickoff of its 2020 season until at least July. Scheduled April and May starts for two new franchises slated to be OSEG tenants — Atlético soccer club of the Canadian Premier League and the BlackJacks of the Canadian Elite Basketball League — have been postponed indefinitely.

It’s also not just about when games will be played, either. How will basketball players under winter-season contracts with teams in other countries and the half of all CFL players hailing from the United States enter Canada when borders are closed to non-essential travel?

 Mark Goudie, president and chief executive officer of Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group.

“We’re doing tonnes of planning right now,” says Goudie, whose organization also has a business-continuity team for keeping the wheels on operations. “What we’re trying to do is kind of understand what the rest of the world is operating and go through a billion different scenarios, then cross them off the list as they become not workable, but have enough scenarios that we’re able to hit the ground running as soon as we can safely do that.”

Outside arenas or fields of play, sports leagues and entrepreneurs are scrambling to generate programming for television and other platforms so they can continue to derive broadcast-rights revenue that forms a key component of their business models, says Erica Wiebe, who, when she’s not training or competing in Olympic wrestling, is a Deloitte “human capital consultant.”

WWE professional wrestling recorded some shows at its performance centre in Orlando, but Florida subsequently designated it an “essential service,” which allowed it to resume live shows both there and in Winter Park, Fla.

O

ther rumoured ideas have included mixed martial arts promoter Dana White’s pitch to secure a private island for UFC productions and others that would centralize teams in Arizona and Florida (Major League Baseball), Bahamas and Las Vegas (National Basketball Association) or North Dakota, New Hampshire and Saskatoon (NHL).

“I think potentially we are seeing a disruption in a lot of different industries,” Wiebe says. “I think sport is a huge, global multi-billion-dollar industry and in this moment they have to be innovative and a little disruptive to the traditional model of sport consumption.

“You see that in the ways in which arenas are being developed and digital technologies are being embedded in arenas and virtual technologies are being embedded in sport consumption, so I think it will be really interesting to see what the big players are doing in this sector and what it’s going to look like in the next couple of months and in the next couple of years.

“I would be probably sad from an athlete perspective and from a fan perspective if we would lose out on sporting moments like that, like real, in-person human connection together watching and participating in sport, but I kind of think that that’s the trend, so maybe we’ll be watching sport from our home and athletes in arenas alone, empty.”

gholder@postmedia.com

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