Getting Fans Back to Sports Facilities – IWBI Works on an Answer to “Healthy Venues”

Richard Minasian

Jun 09, 2020
Getting Fans Back to Sports Facilities – IWBI Works on an Answer to “Healthy Venues”

As the pandemic of COVID-19 continues to ripple through society and as we think through how to restart the economy, sport and entertainment facilities are emerging as a clear challenge.  How can owners and operators of these facilities plan to keep attendees and fans safe enough, so that operations can resume responsibly?  Fortunately, the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), has begun working to develop a health safety rating in response to COVID-19, and to additional healthy building/facility concerns that have become increasingly clear during this crisis. When finalized, the new standard will hopefully be clear and powerful enough to allow sport facilities and entertainment venues to put the health and wellbeing for all participants first. A drastic response may be needed for both health reasons and to build confidence sufficiently that attendees feel comfortable enough to return. 

A common question concerning these sport and entertainment facilities is when will the public feel comfortable in attending a game or venue with tens of thousands of other individuals? A Morning Consult poll conducted in April 2020 found that 22% of sport fans predict that they will only feel comfortable going into a stadium in January 2021 or later. This was just behind the largest proportion of responses at 30%, who answered that they did not know or had no opinion. With these levels of fear and uncertainty, sporting industry leaders know that in the short-term they will have to continue without any physical spectators and attendees. But as society continues to move forward, in the long-term, sports must be able to adapt to coronavirus and other health threats that may emerge and be prepared to open up their doors to fans.

Since 2014, the IWBI launched the WELL Building Standard which is a performance-based system for buildings, interior spaces, and communities with the mission to measure, improve, and certify human health and wellness through the built environment. WELL also looks to integrate leading practices by giving out certifications in building design, construction, and management.  

Now with the dramatic economic and cultural impact that live sporting events have, IWBI has brought together high-profile sporting organizations in order to form an advisory council which will establish policies to put into place to help neutralize the safe return of spectator sports. At the lead of the new initiative, former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Richard Carmona, and co-chairs, have worked on a new rating system. On May 15, 2020, IWBI who is the world’s leading certification for healthy buildings, announced the launch of the WELL Heath-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management. With the complexity of Covid-19, individuals from a number of industries and disciplines were involved into making a task force to help guide the process. Approximately 600 participants collaborated to come up with solutions, including virologists, mental health workers, designers, engineers, building scientists, real estate professionals, and many more to help construct such as task.

IWBI President, Rachel Gutter, tells The Sustainability Report, “these venues employ so many people within a community, typically hourly workers who are not considered essential and aren’t working right now and struggling to feed their families”, “but beyond that, sports is what holds us together and we’re all craving some degree of normality right now. We’re trying to create the best cases possible, so these venues have a roadmap for getting back into business.”

IWBI assisted in discussions between advisory board members by creating an online portal to talk about such challenges many are facing. In addition, multiple ‘in-house’ experts will be available to help facilitate IWBI’s 10 concepts – air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, community, and innovation – and better develop solutions. The next step for will me administering a WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management scorecard to oversee the progress and determine where the gaps in the improvement of venue safety are needed. The scorecard will feature “cleaning protocols, emergency preparedness, and sport venue specific venues, such as ticketing, entry and interacting with various surfaces”. In addition, this new Health-Safety rating will be applicable to other market sectors like offices, hotels, retail, grocery stores, warehouses, manufacturing, theaters, recreation, restaurants, schools and many more. Rachel Gutter assures that the rating will involve “strict criteria” and “unlike our (standard) WELL certification, which is a series of optional features alongside a handful of preconditions, on this scorecard everything will likely be treated as preconditions”.  

Chairman and CEO of IWBI, Rick Fedrizzi stressed the importance of feedback provided by stakeholders. Fedrizzi said, “critical feedback from leading industry stakeholders is crucial to the reinforcement and further development of the WELL Health-Safety Rating”. This collaboration will lead the forefront in a total market transformation to better facilitate this global pandemic.

The health of athletes is also a major concern that must be part of the conversation. owners”. Environmental science advisor for the New York Yankees and one of the co-chairs of the task force, Allen Hershkowitz, agrees and recognizes that the WELL Health-Safety Rating is the best policy for the industry because of “professional sport’s high-profile, highly-visible place in modern society”. According to Hershkowitz, “tens of thousands of people getting together in close proximity with some of the most valuable personnel assets in the economy’ can be an uncomfortable thought for team.

In a New York Times article, written by James Wagner and Mark Stein, many athletes spoke out about their concerns about returning to close venues too quickly with the possibility of endangering their “health, performance and life at risk”. In addition, when talking about Major League Baseball, the articles states that there are multiple players around the league with “type 1 diabetes, a history of cancer treatment, colitis or heart conditions”. Diversity seems to be another major concern within the disease as Troy Deeney, who is a Premier League footballer, points out that the coronavirus appears to effect non-white individuals disproportionately. In an early U.S. study, data suggests that about 33% of Covid-19 hospitalizations were African American. This deepens the concern around Covid-19 regulations regarding non-white players. In a 2018 study conducted by the Institute of Diversity and Ethnics in Sport, showed there are about 42.5% MLB, 80.7% NBA, and more than 70% NFL players who are non-white. These numbers are also without including non-player personnel, such as staff and other spectators who come from black, Asian, or Latino backgrounds.

With all these challenges facing the sporting and entertainment industry, it is believed that such actions provided from the WELL Health-Safety Rating will work as a catalyst to incorporate good health and wellness for athletes, staff, and spectators within these facilities. Working with the IWBI should further ensure a safe return and provide the “necessary tools, training, and world-class industry standards” to sporting environments, CEO of Oak View Group, Tim Leiweke says.

In 2018, the IWBI estimated that approximately 134 million square feet of buildings were registered for the WELL Building Standard. There has also been over 10,000 WELL Building Accredited Professionals (APs) and registrants around the world. Through the years, many large U.S. sporting facilities have been able to apply to the U.S Green Building Council and achieve LEED sustainability certifications, which mainly focuses on materials, end-of-life, water conservation and carbon footprint.

Rachel Gutter recognizes that this is a new concept for these sporting facilities. As Gutter seems to be very optimistic, she states “I think what these teams feel they have been doing is anything and everything to support the health and wellbeing of players, but the physical environment was off the radar”, further explaining “they weren’t necessarily thinking of the deeper attributes of a healthy building.”

“For example, sports arenas have always thought about acoustics, but not from a human health perspective but a game winning perspective. Sports facilities thought about food from a revenue perspective more than a health perspective. It’s putting a different filter on priorities already in place and, in the end, long-standing practices that are appropriate in perpetuity could have performance-enhancing effects on our athletes, but could also be hugely influential for motivating healthier behaviors in the fanbase.”

Thus, improving athlete performance, and the comfort and health of athletes and fans should persuade team owners to incorporate healthy building action. At the force of the pandemic Allen Hershkowitz, states that “we had momentum of healthy buildings even before the pandemic”,

“It was shifting towards that direction. I know that is true in sports because certain organizations have been paying a lot of attention to make sure their locker rooms and clubhouses were healthy”. “In fact, some have communicated that in their efforts to attract A-list players, one of the things they demonstrate is taking care of the players’ health better than other teams do. Being a healthy venue is now a competitive advantage.”

Existing examples of healthy building related sport venues have been practiced by numerous teams around the country. The New York Yankees have partnered up and demonstrated such good practices on the WELL Advisory on Sports and Entertainment Venues with PlanLED, providing Yankee Stadium with “lighting that is not only energy saving, but allows for an ‘enhanced visual environment’ for players and fans”. The NBA team, Atlanta Hawks, have also done their part in partnering up with Emory Healthcare to establish a “first-of-its-kind” training and sports medicine center, which gives the team the opportunity to offer players an off-site care in performance and health research.

Rachel Gutter delineates three ambitions for sports venues in the aftermath of covid-19.  One, for teams and leagues to adopt the WELL Health-Safety Rating before adopting full WELL Building Standard Certifications. Two, for companies and individuals with more than one facility to scale the WELL program and benefit from the efficiencies that brings. And lastly, to leverage sports to raise mainstream awareness and shift consumer demand for healthy buildings. She concludes this statement by saying “any sports organization can get involved in this new movement; ‘raise your hand and let us know you’re ready to contribute’”. The WELL Health-Safety Rating will be launched in June 2020.


For additional information:

WELL Health-Safety Rating Operations and Management 

Sustainability Report - Can sport’s response to Covid-19 accelerate a shift towards ‘healthy venues’?


Thumbnail image:

  • ( 5887 ) views
Richard Minasian // Student

I am an upcoming senior at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, majoring in Marketing with a minor in Global Studies. I am the current Treasurer/Fundraising Chair of the Bryant Marketing Association and I have been a past Treasurer of my AYF chapter and I am currently on the executive board of the Armenian Internship Council. I studied abroad in Seville, Spain and traveled through Europe for four months, gaining a great understanding of the world. I also had a Marketing internship in Yerevan, Armenia in summer of 2019. I have always dreamed big and known that I can always do more in life.

  • ( 0 ) Ratings
  • ( 5 ) Discussions
  • ( 0 ) Group Posts

Reply/Leave a Comment (You must be logged in to leave a comment)

Not a Member Yet? Register and Join the Community | Log in