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Bridgeforth Stadium is home to JMU football for the past 46 years.

Stadiums and arenas were hit hard by COVID-19. Sports and entertainment events ceased for months, and crowds of people no longer packed the stands. 

With the return of sports late last year and spectators allowed back at games, changes were made in order to safely facilitate game day experiences. As more people are vaccinated, things will eventually return to normal — but some of the safety protocols within stadiums should stick around for years to come. 

Touchless payment and ticket scannings have been growing in popularity through recent years, and the pandemic increased the use of these methods. More stadiums are shifting to touchless payments in fan shops and food kiosks. 

Those who attend a game will most likely purchase food or a beverage at some point during the contest. Previously, that’d include long lines that can take 30 minutes to get through, especially during intermissions when more people usually leave their seats. 

Mobile food ordering is already common practice for restaurants, and the next step could be implementing it in stadiums to eliminate crowding. Even when spectator limits are lifted, the convenience of mobile ordering changes how one enjoys a favorite game day meal, like hot dogs or popcorn. SEATSERVE is an in-seat delivery service that allows fans to order from any food kiosk in the stadium and have it delivered to their seat. Liverpool F.C.’s Anfield Stadium is one stadium that uses SEATSERVE to provide a safe and efficient dining experience.

People might not feel comfortable with aspects of game day experiences returning to normal, such as stadium capacity. Similar to how some stadiums — like AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — have a standing room only section, some stadiums may create social distancing sections. Mitchell Ziets, chief executive of the sports advisory firm Tipping Point, told the Wall Street Journal he can envision stadiums providing more alternate ways to watch games other than in the stands. 

When fans couldn’t attend games in person, the virtual viewing experience was improved. Television providers added cameras throughout the stands to recreate a fan’s typical view. Also, because there was no in-person attendance to create crowd noise, the audible experience changed drastically, as one could hear the players and coaches.

“You can talk to the dugout from the mound,” Lotte Giants pitcher Dan Straily told ESPN reporter Joon Lee in a phone interview last June. “You can hear everything … it’s just dead silence.”  

When fans are back in stadiums at full capacity, more emphasis should be put on the virtual experience. The extra cameras and microphones allow fans at home to feel included and present, which increases viewership and benefits both teams and network providers. 

In the weeks leading up to all sports pausing in 2020, attendance was already dropping as people started worrying about the severity of the pandemic. To counter this, many franchises offered incentives, like discounted concessions or a free T-shirt to motivate fans to attend. When one invests anywhere from $100 to $500 on tickets, receiving perks is a nice bonus. As people grow more comfortable returning to stadiums, these incentives may stick around to help raise attendance. 

Stadium infrastructure had to quickly adapt and implement COVID-19 protocols to ensure safety when sports resumed. The industry learned too much from this experience and found ways to grow as a business to revert back to how life was before the pandemic. As time goes on, some things may return to normal, but some aspects of the fan experience are better now and are here to stay. 

Contact Courtney Ryderryderce@dukes.jmu.edu. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.