Public Assembly Spaces Post COVID-19, Brief Thoughts on a Path Forward

Published April 17, 2020

“What if we don’t get public assembly back, i.e. live sports…I’m not sure a virtual experience can replace the real thing.  Is there/should there be a middle ground between negativity, caution, optimism, and gaslighting as we move forward?”

I posed this question to fifteen of my most trusted colleagues, mentors, and friends with experience, expertise, and varying ages within industries that include the following:

  • Minor League Baseball (MiLB) operations
  • Minor League Baseball (MiLB) executives
  • Minor League Baseball (MiLB) ownership
  • Art/Fabrication 
  • National Football League (NFL) Season Ticket Holder/Rabid Fan
  • Retired Police Officer/Private Security 
  • Chef/Restauranteur/Hospitality 
  • NASCAR Executive
  • Manufacturing/Modular Construction
  • Corporate Executive
  • Data Analyst
  • Marketing/Sponsorship & Sales 
  • Private Equity Management 
  • Luxury Retail
  • Four Time NCAA Soccer Champion

For those that are not aware, the term “gaslighting” is defined as: “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement.”  

There are certainly some that believe “gaslighting” with the goal of getting things “back to normal” for the purposes of boosting the economy, even at the risk of encouraging the public to act as if COVID-19 never happened, is hazardous.  I tend to agree that if municipal and government authorities say tomorrow, it’s now safe to leave our homes, we shouldn’t just throw caution to the wind and go back to life as we knew it thirty days ago.  The real question from a public assembly perspective, and as designers of public assembly spaces, i.e. ballparks, stadiums, and arenas; what is the most reasonable path forward?

Question Answered

Let’s start with the responses I received:

  • “We will get public assembly back some day – humans crave it.  My guess is that things will be almost normal from that perspective sometime in or around October.”
  • We will get it back.  It’s basic human nature.  Eventually we will sacrifice a few to maintain the herd!  It may seem cruel but we need each other.  We’re stronger as a collective.”
  • “Great question.  I think the answer lies in the questions that are being asked.  We are asking, how can we entertain our fans in different ways?  What are the frustrations our fans are going through and how can we solve them?  How can we deliver fun and entertainment by looking at ourselves as a media company instead of just a live entertainment company?  People will get back together in large gatherings at some point.  The key will be not just who survives right now but who thrives now by dramatically increasing their social presence and their entertainment for their fans. Our entire team is producing now and contributing ideas and content for our fans.  New shows are being launched, new platforms, and new ideas we’ve never considered. Ballparks may have to open 50% capacity and change how they do lines, concessions and seating.  I want to think about not necessarily lowering people but spreading them out and using the stadium differently.  Thinking temporary seating options, using outfield, etc.”
  • “I would first like to know what the NFL will do with my season ticket money!  My thought would first be that independent sports (like golf), or one on one events (like tennis and boxing), will make the first rebound.  Before the pandemic, television productions had gotten so good that many people would bypass the live event for the comfort of home.  I think they can creatively produce a TV product worth watching without crowds.  I don’t think video games will ever replace the real thing.  Things like Madden are only good because it uses the names of the real people we love to watch.”
  • “Too much money being lost by super rich folks for that to not happen.  I expect when things open up there will be an initial requirement for face covering.”
  • “I think there’s kinda three ways to go about this whole thing…one is hoping and praying that things go back to normal sometime soon based ONLY on the fact that the government wants to get things back open.  People that either don’t know or don’t care if they get sick or are willing to risk it will just go about life as normal….those people are out there, believe me.  If I open up tomorrow we’d be full.  The second option is to go super small…if new mandates and social distancing orders continue to be a thing then new micro businesses will open because people like me aren’t trying to make food in hazmat suits and drop them off in no contact car drive ups.  To me I do this because the connection is the juice.  I thoroughly enjoy the interaction of cooking and dining and the experience, that’s why I do this.”  
  • “A huge worry of the food and beverage industry is that people are going to be home for like three months and realize they don’t need to go out to eat all the time.”
  • “It will drive us to reevaluate our physical closeness.  We live in a nation with very high anxiety and invisible contagions will exist long after COVID-19.  There will be personal space and comfort levels.  Our new stadiums must keep some form of social distancing in mind during our design phases.  New stadiums will have more open room with live bigger screen TVs and areas where smaller groups can gather.  Egress will also have to change and seat spacing will get wider.  Sanitation will also jump to a new level.  We see a time coming that will include automated self washing stadiums.  Airflow will become very important and we can ventilate and filter air through the seating decks.  Hand washing outside stations will be the new norm (prison style sinks).”
  • “I think public assembly will come back, but not on the size and scale we’ve become accustomed to for a very long time.”
  • “The first response will be socially distanced seating.  Reconfigure the social and sharing aspect of facilities to accommodate.  Less attendance, greater experimental opportunities.  Smaller venues generate the same revenues with higher end offerings.  In other words, the demand curve will change so the supply needs to change as well.  The real question is, which will be first?”
  • “Your question is intriguing, but I believe the reality is that live sports will resume, but with modifications.”
  • “I can’t imagine we will let an entire industry die, or even lose a full year of play.  Every day is a different prognosis.  I do believe there will be new stadium cleaning techniques and new concessions needs for a while until scientists fully understand this virus and can protect us.  That won’t take years.  Odds are that fans will also be more inclined to hang out in ‘social areas’ like beer gardens and decks instead of packed in seating bowls.”
  • “I think we are an ‘everything generation’, a mix of online, TV, and hand held devices incorporated with live event attendees.”
  • “Nothing will replace the smells, sights, and feels of a ballpark.  A ballpark is more than baseball, it’s a place where people come to relax, enjoy themselves, spend time with friends and family and enjoy America’s pastime.  It will return.”
  • “Sports are about fan engagement and the experience of being able to say, I was at that game when they broke the record.  Sports can survive without public assembly, but it will take creative people and new technology to make it happen.  The die-hard fan will still show up to watch their team regardless of what’s going on, but to the fair weather fan, sports need to become a new have-to watch phenomenon.  This can be accomplished with 360 seating views, virtual tickets and Uber eats dropping off food.  Give the fan the experience of the game without actually having to go to the game.  Merchandise can be sold during the game and ordered with a click of a button.  If you have the right person modeling the team gear then you will get more impulse buys.  When you make people feel like they are a part of the game in the comfort of their own homes you can capture more engagement.  Maybe they get to vote on activities that will happen before, during, and/or after the game.  Keep a chat screen open for fans to comment (although this could get ugly).  Allow fans to vote on lineup changes and have the vote go to the coach.  More fan engagement means more ads sold via TV as well as more product being purchased.  Again, sports are best viewed in person, but we have to think proactively and look past how it used to be played and viewed.”
  • “I won’t be attending another public assembly event until we have a readily available and working vaccine.”
  • “I think public gatherings will come back but there will be forced immunization.  If not, streaming and live services will be the new entertainment such as movie premiers in living rooms.  I think sports will be fine but no crowds for a while like they’ve been talking about for the NBA playoffs.”

The Look Ahead

The common thread from almost every response across the board is one of optimism…”we will get public assembly back”  The gaslighting point of view was pretty clear as well, to paraphrase – ‘there’s too much money involved to let it fail’.  Honestly, both of those perspectives were pretty easily anticipated.  I was actually more shocked by the overall lack of a negative perspective, which likely speaks to our tendency as people to “default to truth” which really is our natural human tendency to default to hope, our desire for something better.  

As designers of public assembly spaces I think the most intriguing responses came from those that default to caution, i.e. “I won’t be attending another public assembly event until we have a readily available working vaccine.”  I’m projecting that individuals with this mindset are likely in an age group that is 60 years of age or older.  Interestingly, those in the 60 and older age group are likely the individuals that represent a high percentage of pre COVID-19 consumers of premium inventory at live sporting events, i.e. premium club spaces, suites, etc.  Business savvy organizations pre COVID-19 were already looking to redirect group sales and marketing dollars a generation back while targeting five year plans and packages that look ahead 10 to 15 years.  

The real juice for me are the individuals with the mindset that looks toward innovation.  How do we influence the game to look ahead?  There are studies in the hospitality sector that suggest business markets normalizing the second quarter of 2023 – meaning, back to full operations.  This tells me that between now and then we as innovators and operators have work to do to assist in gaining the trust of the public with a tangible strategy for enjoying sports in public and in a crowd.  

With food and beverage representing approximately 25% of gross revenues
for facility operators I think it will be at the center of every conversation moving forward.  In the last five years we’ve seen growth in the popularity of the “grab and go” concept in stadiums.  The Atlanta Braves
have incorporated grab & go at Truist Park, perhaps you’ve even seen the concept
developing in popularity at some of the more modern airports, like Detroit
(DTW), St. Paul (MSP), and Atlanta (ATL).  We think we’ll see more of this in the future as the next wave of post COVID-19 concessions in public assembly spaces take shape.  For lack of a better term it’s like walking into a very nice gas station or convenience store and quickly grabbing prepackaged food.  From an operations perspective it reduces staff requirements because there’s a need for only one or two attendants versus the traditional model of one point of sale (POS) for every five linear feet of counter space.  This model also allows for patrons to enjoy an expanded menu of items and brands in a fairly compact area.  Most importantly it reduces the amount of product handling that we think will be required to ease the minds of patrons that default to caution.  Pendulum is currently working with James Beard nominated Chef/Owner Patrick Q. Ryan of Kansas City based Port Fonda and Quinton VanTonder of SPS Technology to develop a modular approach to the grab and go offering.

With sponsorship representing approximately 20%, and ticketing 50% of gross revenues for facility operators, the thought of an innovative approach to social distancing and sponsor brand exposure is paramount moving forward.  If social distancing remains 6’-0” between individuals, that will mean seating bowls will be reduced by approximately two-thirds the current capacity.  

It is not likely that we’ll be removing fixed armchair seats with a view to the future when social distancing is no longer required, but in the meantime perhaps a simple solution could be to add branded inventory inserts in-between fixed seating in the interim. In the diagram at the upper right, the blue seats represent inventory available for use post COVID-19, the red represent inventory that will no longer be available.  The image at the lower right shows sponsor panels inserted over ineligible seating inventory.

Perhaps the traditional revenue model is inverted and sponsorship becomes the 50% share and ticketed seating becomes 20%.  I think this means the value of TV broadcast infrastructure, contracts, and field lighting will need to be improved at facilities that don’t currently have broadcast ready systems in place.  No matter how you look at it this leads us right back to the previously mentioned path of food and beverage.  If social distancing reduces crowds by two-thirds we can only imagine the good old days of $13 per capita for food and beverage and $2.50 per capita for on site merchandise sales are in jeopardy.  

More Questions

Will we see a shift in baseball (MLB and MiLB) and football (NFL) to more dominant sponsor branding on uniforms as we see in Major League Soccer (MLS)?  Time will only tell but I’ll say this, one of the brightest things I heard from those that responded to my quick question was from a four time NCAA Women’s Soccer Champion who stated: “More fan engagement means more ads sold via TV as well as more product being purchased.  Again, sports are best viewed in person, but we have to think proactively and look past how it used to be played and viewed.”  I think there will be many that try to force a square peg through a round hole, hoping to just go back to the way we’ve always done it.  The market is going to demand something different.

I’ve worked hard to avoid writing a book for this first installment of my thoughts on this subject.  This is the beginning of many quick reads that Pendulum will be releasing on this and related topics in the months ahead.  Stay tuned….

 

Jonathan O’Neil Cole AIA, NCARB, NOMA is the founding principal of Pendulum Studio, a Kansas City based firm that specializes in the design of sports facilities with an emphasis on Minor League Baseball, MiLB.  Jonathan is regarded by many as a thought-leader in the sports architecture industry. 

 

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Pendulum Launches New Web Interactive Project Feature!

Pendulum is pleased to announce a new website feature now live in our portfolio.  We are kicking things of with the multi-award wining Dunkin’ Donuts Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats.

Visitors are welcome to drag their mouse or finger across their computer screen or smart device and rotate the digital model in a walking tour of the ballpark.  There are hot spots that can be clicked to launch enraged images and brief descriptions of featured areas.

Jonathan Cole, founding principal of Kansas City, MO based Pendulum stated “virtual reality and 3D visualization is an important part of our daily process from the very beginning stages of design.  We communicate the sometimes crazy ideas rolling around in our head in real time and in a human scale which in my mind is a great advantage over the historic use of scaled physical models.  Our clients no longer have to interpret our drawings because we are placing them in our models at every meeting, it’s an environment that feels very real.  This new web feature also allows us to engage the public/fan and experience the ballpark before they arrive at a game…they’ll know what to expect; we think that’s powerful.”

Click the rotating image above to launch our new interactive feature.  Stay tuned for upcoming announcements, more ballparks will be added.

Pendulum’s 2019 Design Journal Release

Every year for the last nine years Pendulum has completed a new or substantially renovated ballpark in addition to other civic and/or boutique projects.  In the last three years we’ve made a conscious effort to shift our focus from a traditional architectural delivery methodology to a process that encourages a curating of the built environment.

Most of our clients as well as the users of our buildings are heavily influenced by art, fashion, food, music, environment, and automobiles just to name a few.   The combination of these elements in interior and exterior spaces fosters enhanced user experiences.  There is a certain vibe that people are looking for when they attend events in or around our facilities.  Most people don’t spend much time thinking about why something is cool or why it feels right, but they immediately know when something is off, when the vibe is not authentic.

Our job as curators of the built environment is to design experiences that feel effortlessly appropriate and ahead of the curve.  This design journal exposes you to some of our triumphs as well as our process.  It is evidence that we not only talk the talk…we live it.

Design Is Everywhere Volume 02 – Sportswear Passion

For the last 23 years I’ve spent virtually every day of my life working in some capacity on sports projects. That being said, my work has required relentless travel across the nation to service my clients and projects.  One of the many things I learned early in my career from my mentor Henry Stickney (former CEO of Mandalay Baseball Properties) is, “if you’re going to travel – log miles with one airline.”  When we first met we were “logging miles” together on TWA exclusively. He would layover in St. Louis, MO just long enough for me to meet up with him for a flight to Dayton, OH. We did this every week for about two years. After TWA was bought out we started logging miles on Delta. Two million miles later… the rest is history.

This volume of “Design Is Everywhere” is documentation of my travels and a tribute to my many clients over the years. One of the additional lessons learned from Hank, as the owner/operator of several Minor League Baseball teams and the individual who taught me everything I know about the business of baseball, is, when you go to a ballpark, you should always buy merchandise; after all, it’s all about the per caps baby!”.  I’ve kept that lesson close to my heart for the last 20 years. He helped me to understand that my contribution to the ballpark-built environment is about more than just lines on paper. The truth of the matter is that I’m a real fan of the game and a fan of what my clients do. I’m excited about their brands and I proudly wear their gear on the streets of Kansas City all the time. When we design a ballpark, we pour our sweat and occasional tears into what we are doing; as far as I’m concerned we are members of the team even though we’re not playing on the field. As such we find that during the process of design there are a few funny stories that develop along the way. Even more important than that: there are real relationships that we’ve developed and nurtured over the years that are a byproduct of the work. Some of these relationships have absolutely shaped who we have become. So shout out to all the teams featured in this volume; we wouldn’t be who we are without you!

Stay tuned for the next volume release, we’ll share a few stories about how several of our clients have impacted our trajectory over the years.

Credits:

Behr Productions – Original Music Score (instagram @behr_productions)

Kyleigh Rowe – Graphics & Animation

Lauren Gripka – Photography

Lee Frommelt – Copy Editor

Michaela Simpson – Stylist

Pendulum Press Release 8/11/2017

Pictured: Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, CT.

Photo Credit: Robert Benson Photography

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Hartford, Conn., August 11, 2017 – Dunkin’ Donuts Park, home of the Colorado Rockies’ Eastern League affiliate Hartford Yard Goats, has been awarded BaseballParks.com’s “Ballpark of the Year”.  The award was announced in the August 9th edition of USA TODAY Sports Weekly by Joe Mock, webmaster and founder of BaseballParks.com and frequent contributor to USA TODAY.

This prestigious honor has been awarded to new or substantially renovated ballparks for the last 18 years, and this year in particular featured formidable competition. Dunkin’ Donuts Park was selected from an all-star cast of facilities including SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves, and The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the spring training home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

Jonathan Cole, founding principal of Kansas City, MO-based Pendulum, was Architect of Record for Dunkin’ Donuts Park.  He was joined by key members of the design team including Peter Newman, principal of Newman Architects and The S/L/A/M Collaborative’s Rick Bouchard, Chris Sziabowski, and Derek Czenczelewski on the pregame announcement with Joe Mock on the Yard Goats’ radio broadcast.

“As Architects and designers, we work diligently to make positive contributions to the built environment” said Cole.  “When our work is recognized as being significant in the sports marketplace, in the local community, and nationally by an institution like BaseballParks.com, it is incredibly meaningful. Joe Mock has visited 349 ballparks and counting, so when he and his distinguished panel say a ballpark is good, it carries a lot of weight. We are deeply appreciative of this honor.  It’s something we’ll never forget. It was even more special that we were able to be present with the team when it was announced.”

Joe Mock added “I actually visited the ballpark while it was still under construction. I could tell immediately that it was going to be something special.  When I came back to check out the finished product, I was blown away.  Not only is it supremely fun to attend a Yard Goats game, the design of the park itself is spectacular. It has the intimacy of small Minor League park, while providing all the amenities of a big-league stadium. From the YG Club behind home plate to the Budweiser Sky Bar high above center field, every inch of Dunkin’ Donuts Park is well-thought-out and expertly designed. This really sets the bar for any Minor League park to be built in the future.”

Dunkin’ Donuts Park now joins an elite list of award recipients, including Major League Baseball stadium icons like AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, and PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“The design of Dunkin’ Donuts Park is timeless, a generous mix of the baseball nostalgia, that people love coupled with forward thinking amenities that offer our fans a big-league experience in a very compact footprint,” added Josh Solomon, owner of the Yard Goats.  “The fact that the ballpark is creating the excitement that we hoped it would with the fans, which will lead to further transformation of the surrounding neighborhoods, is proof that the city of Hartford picked the right design team for the job.”

“Dunkin’ Donuts Park is a spectacular ballpark that combines the intimate, family-friendly feel of Minor League ball with the architectural quality of a big-league park,” according to Hartford’s Mayor Luke Bronin. “That’s one of the reasons Yard Goats games are selling out week after week and bringing thousands of fans and families to the downtown, which really adds to the City’s energy. It’s an honor to have BaseballParks.com recognize that the result truly stands out among parks across the country, including several Major League facilities.”

-end-

Contact:

  • Pendulum: Jonathan O’Neil Cole AIA, NCARB, NOMA
    • jonathan@Pendulumkc.com
    • (816) 399-5251
  • S/L/A/M Collaborative: Derek Czenczelewski
    • dczenczelewski@slamcoll.com
    • (860) 368-2371
  • Newman Architects: Howard Hebel
    • hhebel@newmanarchitects.com
    • (203) 772-1990

Pendulum Press Release


Pictured: Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, CT.

Photo Credit: Robert Benson Photography

DUNKIN’ DONUTS PARK VOTED BALLPARK DIGEST’S 2017 BEST DOUBLE-A BALLPARK

Hartford, Conn., June 26, 2017 – Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the home of the Hartford Yard Goats has been honored with this year’s Ballpark Digest “Best of Ballparks” award in the Double-A category.  With more than 178,000 votes, baseball fans from coast to coast including Eastern, Southern, and Texas League regions weighed in on a four-bracket-style contest to determine the 2017 winner.  This is the first time a new facility has won a Best of the Ballparks vote.

The design team led by Kansas City, MO based Pendulum (www.pendulumkc.com) as ballpark Architect of Record included a powerhouse of recognized Connecticut-based talent.  BVH (www.bvhis.com) provided mechanical & electrical design services, Newman Architects (www.newmanarchitects.com) designed the exterior facade, and The S/L/A/M Collaborative (www.slamcoll.com) provided architectural services in addition to serving as the Engineer of Record for the structural design of the project.

“Our team is honored to have been key collaborators with the Eastern League, the city of Hartford, and the Yard Goats to deliver what we believe will serve as a catalyst for growth and revitalization of the northern portion of downtown Hartford that was bisected by I-84.  this has been an interesting exercise in urban planning that was always focused on bridging the I-84 barrier and creating opportunities for new development and civic energy,” said Jonathan Cole, a founding principal of Pendulum.  “Beyond the execution of what we consider solid forward-thinking ballpark design, the commitment shown by the Yard Goats to the city of Hartford and all baseball fans in the region is the foundation for why we believe you’ll continue to hear about Dunkin’ Donuts Park in the news as a fan favorite.  Hats off to the owner of the team Josh Solomon and his appointed leadership in the front office, Tim Restall (General Manager) and Mike Abramson (Assistant General Manger).  Despite adversity, they have continuously proven that they believe in Hartford.”

-end-

Contact:

  • Pendulum: Jonathan O’Neil Cole AIA, NCARB, NOMA
    • jonathan@pendulumkc.com

 

  • S/L/A/M Collaborative: Angelica Poprawa
    • apoprawa@slamcoll.com

 

  • Newman Architects: Howard Hebel
    • hhebel@newmanarchitects.com

 

Pendulum’s 10 Year Anniversary Countdown Day 17

Day 17

Today’s featured project is Dunkin’ Donuts Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats located in Hartford, CT.

This project has been under such scrutiny for the last three years that unless for some reason you’ve been stranded on a deserted island or hiding under a rock and missed all the happenings you should be up to date.  If not please check out the in-depth review by Joe Mock  of http://www.baseballparks.com (Joe Mock is a noted ballpark aficionado and freelance journalist for USA TODAY).  With over 7,000 words describing the ballpark we’re not sure there’s anything else we can say about it that he hasn’t…well maybe a few things but we’ll save that for cocktail hour conversations.

The Right Field “Knuckle” 

Connecticare Outfield Group Area

View From Left Field Seating

Premium Suite Interior

Premium Suite Graphic Wall

Team Store View

VIP Lobby

YG Club Interior 

Main Concourse Signage

Stay tuned for our next Dunkin’ Donuts Park post, we’ll be launching a walking tour of the facility.