FOXBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — Masks, social distancing, partitions, wellness screenings and more are part of the proposed “new normal” to reopen Gillette Stadium to fans this fall.
The Foxboro Board of Selectmen on Tuesday unanimously approved the reopening plan, which still needs approval from state and local health agencies.
Jim Nolan, Chief Operational Officer of Kraft Sports + Entertainment, presented the plan to the board showing why it’s safe to bring fans to the games and how it would be “radically different” than what fans are used to.
Earlier in the year, according to Nolan, both the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) said stadiums can host games with fans in a limited capacity if approved.
Foxboro’s police and fire chiefs and Dr. Eric Goralnick of Brigham and Women’s Hospital are drafting medical protocols. Nolan says Gillette is an outdoor venue, which health officials have said can be a safer environment for the virus, compared to an indoor arena.
“We’re not TD Garden, we’re not Fenway Park,” he said. “We have oodles of space that don’t impact public roads, where we can space people out getting to the gates and getting people back to their cars.”
How the plan was formed
Nolan says Kraft Sports has engaged “many experts” to help them with the reopening plan including infectious disease, building planning, fan movement, disinfection and cleaning, thermal imaging, and air quality safety.
Synergy and Honeywell will advise on whether the air inside Gillette has been filtered properly and in the right volume to keep patrons safe, Nolan said.
“Our overall approach, we call it the Swiss cheese approach, because there’s no one strategy which can protect people from getting COVID,” he added. “But like Swiss cheese, if you layer slices of Swiss cheese on top of each other, what you do is you begin to eliminate the holes and gaps.”
The reopening plan allows for only season ticket holders to attend games, which the group has indicated would be the safest option.
“We want to know everyone who is in our building,” Nolan said. “The problems come from the people who aren’t our season ticket holders, more often than not.”
Anyone who is at risk is encouraged not to attend, and no matter what type of ticket holder you are, if you don’t want to attend, you don’t have to. Nolan says ticket holders will not be charged, and season ticket holders who opt out can keep their seats for next year “at no penalty, no questions asked.”
Nolan told the board the Patriots were the first team in the NFL to announce this policy, and “many have followed” their lead.
Despite the pandemic, Nolan says the group has knowledge that both Patriots and Revolution fans want to attend games this fall. Additionally, employees also want to return — this fall is one of Gillette’s highest years of having part-time employees want to return to work, according to Nolan.
If seats are not filled by season ticket holders, Nolan says tickets will open up to those on the wait-list, which he says “some of whom have been waiting around since 2003.”
Rather than physical tickets, if the plan is finalized and approved, tickets would be electronically assigned with the closest seating area to what they have previously purchased in the same price range.
“If they go down a ticket price because they have to, or potentially they choose to if we give them some options, that’s the only amount they’ll pay, the face value of the ticket they get,” Nolan explained.
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There are more than 22,000 licensed spaces at Gillette Stadium, which can accommodate more than 56,000 people.
Nolan says the stadium side of Route 1 will be for those with parking passes only. The other side of stadium parking will be free to eliminate a contact point: collecting cash.
If fans don’t want to tailgate, they can park at Stop & Shop or Patriot Place, which are designated as “park and leave” spots. For those who want to tailgate, every car will be given three spaces to allow for physical distancing.
Nolan says fans are going to be asked to stay in the group they arrived with and there will be no tailgating once the game is over.
Face coverings are required to be worn by everyone both in the parking lots and inside the stadium, with the exception of when seated and actively eating or drinking.
Fans will be screened when arriving at the gates before going through the metal detectors and ticketing processing. This could include fans verbally answering questions about how they are feeling, or screening through an app answering various questions in addition to getting a temperature check.
Nolan says fans can maintain social distancing through all facets of the operation since there are more than 2.7 miles of marked pedestrian routes from the parking lots to the stadium.
Capacity at games would be reduced from roughly 65,000 to around 14,000, and with the knowledge that there are always “no-shows,” the group believes the number of people in the stadium will be closer to 12,000 to 12,500.
Nolan says despite the lower capacity, a “significant number” of gates will be opened to prevent backups. Typically, normal game days have about 90 gates open, according to Nolan, and the new reopening plan would utilize more than 50 gates for the 14,000 capacity limit.
Bike fencing would also be set up to allow for six feet of distance between each line of people going through the entry process.
In the stands, Nolan says there will be pods of seats — groups of two, four or six — and each pod would be six feet away from other pods, with two pods per row.
“People who have chosen to come together, we call them ‘family units,’ can sit together, but they’re going to be six feet, in the stands, away from every other patron,” Nolan said.
The first seat in every aisle has been eliminated, and capacity in clubs and suites would also be reduced.
Ushers will be posted in the aisles to make sure no one stops and once the game ends, they will release fans row by row.
Nolan says what they call “buffer zones” and “queuing zones” will be set up for fans to get food and beverages and use the bathrooms, which will be spaced six feet apart, with distance markers showing where to stand.
Every bathroom in the building will be open but every other urinal will be taken out of service, and partitions will be put in place between each sink.
Nolan says there will be a cleaning attendant in each bathroom inside the stadium to continuously wipe down high-touch surfaces.
Portable bathrooms in the parking lots will have hand sanitizer, and Nolan says they will look into having attendants sanitize them periodically. However, he noted operational hours in the parking lots would be reduced.
Nolan says he believes fans will want to comply because they are not going to want to lose their status as season ticket holders.
“We’re aggressive at policing and if people screw up, we have a warning system where you get a warning card, and if you get two warning cards, you get ejected,” Nolan explained. “If you get ejected, you’re dealing with our revocation committee.”
Nolan says all season ticket holders are known to Gillette, and if they are sold on the secondary market, their contact information is forwarded so they can be emailed.
“Between the power of the media, our social media, NFL and MLS amplifying the message, we’re going to get the message out,” he added.
On game day, you can expect increased communication through message boards on Route 1 and signage in the parking lots, at the gates, and inside the stadium.
The Patriots’ home opener is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 13, against the Miami Dolphins.