Note to readers: This article should not be treated as medical or expert advice to participate in, or host any activity. Always consult the most up-to-date recommendations of federal, state and local public health officials. Consult your own qualified health providers or other advisors about any specific issues or circumstances you might have.
June 1, 2020
Never in a million years could any of us have imagined sports, as we know them, coming to a grinding halt. Nobody was prepared, or spared — professional athletes and recreational athletes alike — and the impact this has had on those who make a living in the administrative side of the sports sector is striking. You — the individuals powering sports leagues and events — are the invisible heroes of your communities, because you bring sports to life, and sports create an active, engaged city where people are out participating in their communities and sharing in collective experiences. As we are on the precipice of being able to operate again, how is your adult recreational sports group going to make a safe comeback?
“As we begin to play sports again it will be important to do so in a safe manner that not only protects people from potential spread of COVID-19, but also makes them feel comfortable about what they are doing.” — Chris Hastings, CEO, Chicago Sport and Social Club
Safety is both a real factor and a psychological factor that cannot be ignored as sport organizations think through their rollout strategy. As humans continue to make more COVID-19-informed choices that favor the safer option — do I go to the grocery store that will have a longer line, but is doing a great job sanitizing things and capping the number of people in the store; or the grocery store that has shoppers feeling like they are in a packed club? — it’s the businesses that are creating safe ways for consumers to interact with their products that will prevail.
If you want to come back without any risk, that is just not possible right now, but you can be as proactive as possible with the assistance of some really great practical tools. Throughout this article, we highlight practical ways to take a cautious, measured approach to re-opening your sports business, while putting some extra dollars in your bank account and ensuring that your players and staff stay safe, and that you protect your brand!
“In a time when everyone feels unsure of what’s around the corner, the one-day commitment of pickup as opposed to leagues will make it important once we can play.” — Christopher Wedge, President, Sons of Pitches FC
Over the next few weeks and even months, sports organizers will grapple with polarizing decisions as they try to satisfy the die hards who just want to get back to any form of play, and the folks who want to be cautious and re-enter the sports world slowly, without making an 8 to 10 week commitment. The beauty of pickup games is there is a low barrier to entry, and very low commitment is required from players. If, at any point, guidelines in a region change, an event can quickly be cancelled and attendees easily refunded.
Amongst fear-based considerations that will impact players’ commitment levels, there’s practical and logistical challenges like how many people are allowed to gather together, and which sports can you safely re-launch? To this, Chris Hastings, CEO of Chicago Sport and Social Club commented,
Sports such as Volleyball, Softball, Tennis and Kickball that have built in social distancing amongst most players most of the time will likely be first to begin, with additional measures such as sanitizing equipment, providing sanitizer and keeping social distance on the sidelines being focuses. Outdoor sports will likely be first to begin again as well. Pick up play lends itself to starting again quicker than leagues or tournaments because you can do so with smaller groups which will be important initially.
The smaller group nature of pickup, in addition to the lower commitment needed from players, satisfy the requirements of both maintaining safe levels of social distancing, and keeping gatherings under the local limits. As sports clubs want to run something — anything — in the short term, before it’s safe to run leagues again, we will continue to see pickup sports that are managed through powerful registration and management tools, gaining popularity.
“My feeling right now is that we need to be cautious about returning to sports until we have a better understanding of how we can screen our participants, communicate and enforce our safety procedures, and have some sort of contact tracing system in place in case we are part of another outbreak.” — Lynn Clementi, Director, Grab A Game/Chicago Sport and Social Club
You have heard the phrase, “things will never be the same.” In the case of sports, rules are being rewritten as is the software that helps manage what happens in the physical world. Below are some powerful examples of where technology will assist you in implementing new measures that will help you restart your organization safely.
Traditionally, thousands of sports organizations including indoor sports complexes; open-play gyms like the YMCA; community centres; and pickup/drop-in sports groups, have been running on a drop-in and play model. That is, they have a schedule posted that says “drop-in basketball from 7–10pm” and allow members to show up and play with no advance warning of how many players might show up. This unpredictable, outdated, and now even high risk model can easily be fixed.
Recently, the GM of a multi-program adult and youth recreational facility expressed that COVID-19 kicked off their need for a public skate and open hockey registration platform like OpenSports, because they did not want people just showing up at the facility without a way to identify them and control numbers. While looking for a reservation system, they wanted to make sure they could sell drop-ins online, knowing exactly who is in the facility for every event, and letting customers easily change their RSVP status if they could no longer make it.
By creating an attendee cap for each event and being able to view a list of everybody who has RSVP’d before they show up at your facility/event, you can ensure you are not surpassing the local guidelines for the amount of people allowed to gather together.
The facilities that you rent are going to require more and more of your cooperation in terms of how you are keeping things clean; the information you’re giving them on the people that are playing; and they’re more likely to require a facility waiver to be signed by all players. As such, some sports groups now require a new waiver to be signed every single time someone plays, while others will require two waivers to be signed (one for the facility and one for the sports organization hosting the game). Having a waiver, or waivers, built into the online registration process streamlines the administrative process immensely, while providing coverage for you and the facilities you rent.
Checking in players electronically will allow you to know exactly who was in your facility/at your game, if anything should happen and you need to contact all players that were at that event. In terms of where check-ins are done, depending on the size and layout of your facility/venue/pitch, you may have to control entrance/exit points to minimize player contact either before an event starts, or during turn-over times between events.
One additional way technology can assist you on the player registration side is by allowing you to send digital questionnaires to attendees a few hours before the event starts. Typical questions asked include: do you have a fever, do you not feel well, etc. This form of initial screening, before people even arrive at your venue and pickup event, can potentially really help reduce the chance of sick people coming to play.
With the World Health Organization recommending that people wash their hands after handling money, it follows that exchanging money is a practice that warrants guidelines even in the recreational sports world. As contactless pickup and delivery apps continue to gain traction across most industries with their built-in payment processing capabilities, consumers will continue to see headlines like “safest way” being touted, instead of just “easiest” or “quickest”.
Recreational sports management software platforms like OpenSports allow organizers to avoid physical transactions, and allow for the near-effortless transfer of money to play sports. Eliminating cash may feel like a big adjustment for sports organizers, but will help recreational players stay safe and confident when getting back into sports.
For clubs that are not going to be running leagues for a while, players may be upset that their credits are held up in league play, or for players who, let’s say, aren’t going to be able to commit to leagues when they do reopen, may just want the flexibility of being able to join one-off pickup games. Players will appreciate being able to use their credits towards various types of event offerings such as one-off pickup games.
To help answer the question, how can people exercise and return to play in a manner that minimizes the prospect of contracting or transmitting the virus, the Aspen Institute created a general info resource to help people of all ages assess risk in a variety of common sport and recreational activities. Generally, across sports, you’re at the lowest risk when training alone, medium risk when in a public space alone or with household members, and highest risk when on a public or shared court with non-household members and not maintaining recommended physical distancing guidelines and not taking measures taken to minimize touching of shared objects.
Some sports are going to have to take a back seat while lower-contact sports will make a quicker comeback. Complementing Chris Hasting’s thoughts about sports such as Volleyball, Softball, Tennis and Kickball likely beginning first, Lynn Clementi expressed, “Soccer and basketball seem riskier in my opinion because of how close players get to one another, while sports divided by a net seem safer since players are more spread out.”
While sports groups in highly impacted cities like Chicago are still waiting on instruction from their leaders about when to reopen, we can look to groups that have already gone back to play for additional guidance. Based on their local guidelines, OSSO Sports & Social in Oklahoma city, has launched open play sand volleyball and cornhole and uses the OpenSports app to keep everyone playing safe. They also don’t allow guests or anyone not registered, and mandate that everyone needs to pay in advance. More of their rules are included below.
As a sports organizer, you will have to make some adjustments, as you follow guidelines from Federal, State, and Local leadership. Industry level safety guidelines that sports clubs have started to put together for staff, players and bars are still evolving, and are being led by the Sport and Social Industry Association’s task force. Here are a few suggestions based on what we’ve seen so far, most notably from OSSO Sport & Social:
If you have been considering pickup sports, or are considering switching platforms in order to get the support from a company that works with you to build the platform of your dreams, there is no better time to do it. To learn more about what we’re building out to make the sports experience more COVID-friendly, and request a demo of our pickup, tournament, e-sports, and leagues platform, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org :)
Good luck as you continue to monitor and manage this exceptional situation. We are rooting for you!!!
Alicia, Co-Founder, OpenSports