Remote worker support at forefront for venue IT during coronavirus shutdowns

With almost all work now being done remotely, it’s no surprise that team and venue IT staffs have virtual operations support at the forefront as the coronavirus shuts down most business operations.

In emails and calls to a small group of venue, team and school IT leaders the task of making sure that staffs could work online in a virtual fashion was the one common response from every person who replied to our questions. According to our short list of respondents that task included getting mobile devices into the hands of those who needed them, and setting up systems like virtual private networks (VPNs) and virtual desktop environments (VDI) so that work could proceed in an orderly, secure fashion.

Since many of the people we asked for comments couldn’t reply publicly, we are going to keep all replies anonymous and surface the information only. The other main question we asked was whether or not the virus shutdowns had either delayed or accelerated any construction or other deployment projects; we got a mix of replies in both directions, as some venues are taking advantage of the shutdowns to get inside arenas that don’t have any events happening now. In addition to some wireless-tech projects that are proceeding apace, we also heard about other repairs to systems like elevators and escalators, which are more easily done when venues are empty.

But we also heard from some venues that shutdowns right now will likely push some projects back, maybe even a year or more. One venue that is largely empty in the summer will have to skip a planned network upgrade because it expects that normally empty dates in the fall and winter will be filled by cancelled events that will need to be rescheduled. Another venue said that it has projects lined up ready to go, but has not yet gotten budget approval to proceed.

Following our editorial from earlier this week, when we encouraged venues to make their spaces available for coronavirus response efforts, it was clear that many venues across the world had already started down that path. One of the quickest uses to surface was using venues’ wide-open parking lots as staging areas for mobile coronavirus testing; Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and Washington D.C.’s FedEx Field were among those with testing systems put in parking lots.

Some venues have already been tabbed as places for temporary hospitals, with deployments at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field and New York’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center already underway. Other venues, including Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland and State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., have hosted blood drives.

Using venues to support coronavirus response efforts is a worldwide trend, with former Olympic venues in London being proposed as support sites, as well as former World Cup venues in Brazil. Perth Stadium in Australia is also being used, as a public safety command center, like Chicago’s United Center, which is being used as a logistics hub.

Many other venues are stepping forward to offer free public Wi-Fi access in parking lots so that people who don’t have internet access at home can safely drive up and connect. Ball State University and the Jackson Hole Fairgrounds are just two of many venues doing this.

Venues are also offering their extensive kitchen and food-storage capabilities for the response effort. The Green Bay Packers have been preparing and delivering meals for schools and health-care workers, while the Pepsi Center in Denver offered cooler space to store food. Many other venues have contributed existing stores of food to charitable organizations and support efforts, since those items won’t be used at any of the many cancelled events.

Chicago’s United Center to serve as Covid-19 logistics hub

It seems like many venues are already stepping up to assist with the public battle against the coronavirus, something we wondered about in an editorial on Monday. In Chicago, the United Center — home of the NHL’s Blackhawks and NBA’s Bulls — will act as a logistics hub for first responders and for food distribution.

According to a post on the United Center site, “Our arena and outside campus will be transformed into a logistics hub where we will be assisting front line food distribution, first responder staging and the collection of critically needed medical supplies.”

Minutes after we posted this, saw another item: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland will be hosting a blood drive on Friday.

Any other venues doing anything similar? Let us know if you know and we will add to the list.

Commentary: Venues should step up to the plate to assist with Covid-19

Hard Rock Stadium, home of Super Bowl LIV

Is there a way that sports venues could assist with the public challenges being caused by the coronavirus? I’m not a public policy expert but it seems like there are some inherent characteristics about big, open places that could actually assist in combating the spread of the disease and helping ease the pain it is causing and will likely cause.

Already we are seeing reports of venue parking lots being used as staging points for mobile testing for Covid-19 infection. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, recently home of Super Bowl LIV, is just one place where local agencies are taking advantage of the wide-open parking lots to set up mobile testing areas. Another one is being set up at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the scheduled home of Super Bowl LV. As many venues have dedicated parking lots that basically aren’t being used at all right now, it seems like a good place to set up such activities.

UPDATE: Brazil isn’t waiting: Sao Paulo Stadium to Be Used as Hospital to Treat Coronavirus in Brazil

Shelter, medical care and food?

Let me restate the fact that I am not an authority on any of these subjects, but I am hoping that perhaps some venue types can weigh in and comment on the reality of using venues as possible places for people to shelter, receive medical care or maybe just a meal. I was struck by an editorial I read in the New York Times written by Jose Andres, who is a chef, a restaurant owner and founder of the nonprofit World Central Kitchen. I encourage all venue owners and operators to read his editorial, which basically says that one big way to fight the effects of the disease is to mobilize restaurant workers and use federal aid and large kitchens — like those in arenas and stadiums — to help feed the public.

Some of his bullet points, which represent lessons learned in trying to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria:

In Puerto Rico we used three clear approaches to feed our fellow Americans that can be a guide to heading off an economic and food crisis today:

— Support the private sector as quickly as possible when the economy crashes, as it did after Maria: activate kitchens with federal dollars to serve the people.

— Repurpose and deploy community facilities, while expanding their mission: use the kitchens in schools and arenas to feed more people, more quickly.

— Solve the informational and logistical challenge: Matching demand and supply — by getting food to the people who need it most — is even more challenging than cooking in a crisis. Distribution is the Achilles’ heel of any disaster response.

Since most stadiums have multiple kitchen resources, it seems like venues might be a great place to set up operations for free or low-cost meals that are most likely going to be needed as more people find themselves out of work while most private restaurants face extreme challenges trying to operate on only a take-out or delivery basis. Sports teams and venues have already stepped forward ahead of government in pledging monetary support for the stadium workers who won’t be able to be at events. I would suggest that venues, teams and owners should also take the lead in mobilizing the currently empty venues as facilities for public good, maybe starting with acting as meal centers.

To Mr. Andres’ final point above, it strikes me that setting up larger kitchens and food-preparation operations might be a good strategy as we try to keep supply and delivery systems uncontaminated by the virus. I’m also wondering out loud here but might it also not be possible to use venues as temporary shelters for workers, so that they don’t have to risk spreading or contracting the virus? In-house testing could be set up to keep the venues a sort of enclosed space free of the disease. It might not be the most comfortable place to be, but again it strikes me that venues are somewhat already designed for public distancing, with wide walkways meant to handle crowds that could now serve as enclosed spaces with plenty of room to roam. Most venues also have multiple shower and restroom areas that are relatively easy to clean, perhaps making them easier to keep disinfected.

Again, let me stress — I don’t know what I don’t know about most of this, but I am hoping that perhaps venue owners and operators are already thinking along these lines. I am happy to help foster a discussion, you can use the comments below to chime in, or send me an email with longer thoughts and I will keep this thread going. But I do think, like in the case of providing for arena workers, venue owners, teams and others need to act first instead of waiting for government officials to figure it out.

Update: NCAA cancels Final Four

UPDATE, March 12: The tournaments have been canceled>

In a decision that came to be somewhat inevitable, the NCAA on Wednesday announced that due to concerns about the coronavirus, all its championship events, including the men’s and women’s division 1 basketball tournaments, would be held “with only essential staff and limited family attendance,” meaning that regular fans would not be allowed in the venues.

Though many sports teams are being dragged grudgingly into such bans, the overwhelming advice from medical experts in the past few days has been that “non-essential” large public gatherings like sports events should be canceled or closed to fans, to help combat the spread of the disease. As reports of new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continue to expand, many cities, states and other governing bodies are already taking matters into their own hands and prohibiting any large-crowd events.

What remains to be seen with other sports, especially professional leagues like the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, is whether games will be canceled, moved, or played in place without fans. Also not yet known is whether the NCAA will move its Final Four games from the large arenas where they are scheduled to be played (the men’s Final Four is supposed to take place in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, with capacity for more than 70,000 fans) to smaller arenas. In an tweet from an AP reporter, apparently the NCAA is already considering such moves:

Here’s the full Covid-19 statement from NCAA president Mark Emmert: