San Diego Padres raise stadium safety bar



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Kevin Dooley on Coliseum US Image: Kevin Dooley on Coliseum US

The San Diego Padres are an American professional baseball team based in San Diego, US. The Padres compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the National League West division. Founded in 1969, the club has won two NL pennants – in 1984 and 1998. The 42,445-capacity Petco Park in San Diego, California (US) serves as their residence.

The Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization and the oldest major professional sports league in the world. As of 2022, a total of 30 teams play in Major League Baseball – 15 teams in the National League and 15 in the American League – with 29 in the United States and 1 in Canada.

COVID-19 and its deadly variants continues to make mincemeat of the world and the United States is one country which has faced the maximum ravages due to this fatal respiratory disease which has taken a huge toll on its population. Now, the Omicron variant is continuing with its destruction saga in the US.

The sports venue industry has also been at the receiving end of this virulent virus attack with nil ticket window earnings and fans-in-and-fans-out from stadia scenario which has left their balance sheets bleeding white. With the onset of COVID has also come 360 degree change in stadia operations and sports venues operators are walking the extra mile to ensure fans as well as their staffs feel secure and safe once they are inside the facility.

In an exclusive with ‘Coliseum’, Kevin Dooley, Senior Director of Security, San Diego Padres, US, talks at length about some of the challenges that they experienced in going through the pandemic as a facility, and how Petco Park served as a vaccination superstation which was run by the University of California San Diego (UCSD) when COVID-19 had the United States on thin ice – and this brought to the fore the humane face of ‘The Friars’.

He also talked about the challenges the team faced during the restricted access 2020 MLB Season, the MLB Post-Season and the 2021 MLB Season which started on April 1st.
 

Review of COVID-19 and Padres 2020 and 2021 season

 

Petco Park and San Diego Padres

Kevin Dooley joined the organization in August 2019 and soon after he joined the Padres fold, he really started transitioning to “kind of COVID mindset”.
 

2020 season:

  • Projects leading up to the start of the season;
  • Ingress analysis
  • Credential scanning
  • Shelter in place
  • COVID-19-paused/canceled 2020 season
    • Pre-season projects continued
    • 24/7 Software Version 5 vs. Version 4

 
Stated Dooley, “When I joined in August 2019, I did four home stands before we ended up getting ready for the New Year and at that time there were three things which were major projects – our Ingress Analysis which was finding ways to get people inside the ballpark more efficiently and Credential Scanning was to ensure that we were scanning not just all individuals accessing our field but we were able to use technology in scanning throughout and finally a Shelter in Place was for the weather situation that could potentially affect us in San Diego.”

But, like a bolt from the blue, COVID-19 struck in March 2020, and the whole world came to a standstill. Dooley and his team ended up spending the month of March trying to figure out what are the additional projects “We can now prolong as workload as we are now kind of back to a preseason get-ready mode and the biggest thing for us was moving our 24/7 Software from Version 3 to Version 4”.

San Jose (California)-based 24/7 Software provides operations management software to enhance real-time communications, maximize experience and reduces risk for properties.
 

Ingress Analysis

When Dooley joined the San Diego Padres in the role of Senior Director of Security in the year 2019, he and his team were able to get a total of 13 lanes into the property – “We increased the number of metal detectors to 18 and were ready to go in 2020 but the same could not materialize due to the pandemic. But we have been very successful this past season in increasing our ingress by adding those additional lanes.”
 

2020 Season: COVID-19

  • 24/7 Software major areas of focus
    • Location and Section
    • Event Marker
    • Sorting
      • Priority
      • Incident Type
      • Department Assigned To
      • Reports
      • Daily Activity Report
      • Exterior/Interior Checks
      • Event Reports
        • Facility Operations
        • Post-Event Report
        • Security and Medical Report
      • Incident Reports
      • Pass Down Reports
      • Trends

 
He added, “In 24/7 Software, we were focusing on Location and Section and making our ballpark match with our architectural drawings. In the past, we had way too many items that were Locations and Sections and we just couldn’t pull our data and be able to pinpoint what had occurred on any given day in specific areas and locations of the ballpark. So, we had our locations match our physical architectural maps and then our concession stands and activation space – whether it was a gate, we made that a section so that we could end up just becoming a little more logical in the way we managed our data.”

All Event Markers were also reviewed to ensure those were set up right so that “We could tell how many incidents were happening. And then ultimately getting our incident types and departments correctly. This gave us the edge and we were able to come up with a lot of additional reports and also a daily activity report and track the exterior and interior of Petco Park, carry out inspections, run our event reports specific to things that need to be maintained throughout our facility, post-event reporting as well as security and medical.”
 

2020 Season: COVID-19

  • Workforce changes: Furlough and hours reduction;
  • Ballpark security restructure;
  • Protests;
  • Rumors of MLB season; and
  • Safety Act process.

 

In a furlough fix

Dooley had to do few furloughs much against his wishes as COVID-19 had wreaked havoc on the sports venue industry finances – “We also had to reduce hours for our ballpark security staff and furloughing was not the right thing to do. That was when I presented the project where instead of letting go or furloughing our frontline staff, we decided to take one shift away from each person and keep them in full time stature and have the full team in. We thought that was the right decision and the staff was really appreciative of it. Unfortunately, what we didn’t see coming is that by losing any hour they were able to get Government assistance. So, when we had some turnover and staff began quitting we had a hard time getting a backup team in place and make them work as they were now getting their financial benefits from masses and organizations as well as the Government.”
 

Ballpark security restructure challenges

  • Changing from floating schedule to shift specifics led to major civil unrest issues; and
  • Petco Park became the target of people’s ire and people tried to vandalize the facility.

 

2020 Season: 60 Game Season

  • 2020 Season
    • MLB & Players Union agreed to 60 game season
      • Quick ramp up to include an abbreviated ‘Spring Training’ at Petco and UCSD
    • Tier 1 & Tier 2 Credentialing
    • Testing
    • Restricted access
      • Home locations
      • Visiting locations
        • High risk suites
    • Special Events & Suite Experience
      • Graduations, movie nights, Halloween, Trail and Christmas Village
  • Challenges within Season
    • 9/11 Giants postponed
    • 9/25-9/21: Seattle Series relocated to San Diego
    • Wild Card

 
Added Dooley, “In the 2020 Season, we did find out that the MLB and the MLB Players’ Union agreed to a 60 game season. So, we did a quick ramp up to include an abbreviated ‘Spring Training’ at Petco Park and University of California San Diego (UCSD). For the first time, we were now putting players in our operational staff as for coaches into a credentialing system. Historically, that never happened in Major League Baseball and it became a Tier 1 and a Tier 2. Tier 1 was – ‘You are a player, you are a coach, you are at locker room all the time’. Tier 2 was – ‘Hey you are around these guys, you need to go to the locker room, make sure you go in on a really need-to-go basis or just a desire or a comfort’.

COVID-19 changed the whole equation of how entities function as Dooley put in, “And another thing that changed for us is we had to start administering regular testing throughout each week to ensure the staffs were negative and in a position to attend work. This changed access. We had to create specific task of travel for our home team and visiting team which was different for the culture of baseball as clubs normally integrate together on their entries so that they can spend time talking with each other and getting to know your teammates and other teams and that definitely won our ways as well as we had to create high-risk suites to be able to give locations to individuals that may have pre-existing health conditions or by age not be able to be around large populations.”

Amid the COVID clobber, Petco Park was one of the first places in California to start launching events – “We had our parking lot graduations where we hosted an entire high school and college graduation ceremonies out of vehicles, we did movie nights socially distanced at our parking lots, Halloween Trail and Christmas Village event which offered our San Diegan community the ability to enjoy their holidays while maintaining safety procedures.”
 

Cup of COVID woes overfloweth

  • San Diego Padres game against their peer team San Francisco Giants postponed as a player tested positive on the Giants side; and
  • Seattle Series relocated due to air-controlled issues.

 

2020 Season: Special Events

  • For the Movie Night, food and beverage was served with minimal touchpoints.

 

2020 Season: Wild Card Game

  • Hosted up to 240 vehicles in Lexus Premier Club; and
  • $175 per vehicle included space, gift bag and meal (contactless mobile ordering and delivery).

 
Exulted Dooley, “Two hundred and forty fans were out on the Lexus Premier Club and they attended with their vehicles and we charged $175 per vehicle which included some food and a gift bag and the space to be able to watch the game.”
 

2020 Season: MLB Post Season

He informed that for the 2020 Season, they did not have a separate location for the visiting team – “All individuals coming in were temperature screened as well as moving through a COVID questionnaire before being able to access Petco Park. Even though there were no fans in the building, security service and guest service representatives were there as well as sanitizing stations were set up. Though sans fans, this offered a very heavy staffing call for us and it was quite a challenge because even though it was less than 60 people, finding enough people that were willing to come out to work during the height of the pandemic was definitely difficult and you did not necessarily have the right face in the right place.”

A broadcast campus was also set up and this took place once the Tampa Bay Rays, the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros were part of the AL Divisional and Championship Series.

As safety measures, bike racks were set up and due to COVID “We found better ways of securing our service level and providing player protection. For the visiting team, we set up a secure zone. We really took the people factor on the service level and broke our locker rooms up into very restrictive spaces.”
 

2020 Season: COVID-19 Learnings

  • Big wins
    • Collaborative with all departments and key stakeholders to gain buy-in on all levels
    • Approached the circumstances as a team-building opportunity
    • Memorialize procedures

 
Dooley and his team tried to collaborate with all departments and key stakeholders to gain buy-in on all levels before marching – “I think the biggest win we have got together is the ballpark operations team came up with what we wanted to present to our baseball ops team and when they came with the questions we had the answers and in doing it we ended up executing the plans that we had but from their perspective it really felt like there was a mutual buy-in. During those tough times and challenging circumstances, we found there was a great way to conduct team building where everyone had gone through those hard times together as well as to memorialize our procedures.”

  • Follow-up items
    • Begin brainstorming on how staff will react to COVID changes
      • Will they sign up and work (health or financially)
      • Procedural changes
      • Obtaining staff buy-in
    • Selecting the correct products and solutions to enhance your operation
    • Begin building policies and procedures that are specific for your current staffing models and then adjust from your learnings

 
He said that part of their pattern as they got ready for 2021 was brainstorming on how the staff would react to the COVID challenges and changes – “Will they sign up for work, will they not work due to health or due to financial reasons. The fact that procedural changes were coming and we would have the fine ways for our team members to be bought in and then across each of our annexes I think there were some groups that did that better than others. Our housekeeping team and our guest services team put up a very good show. Our food and beverage team got there but they had to do it by gaining much higher workforce which they typically did and our event security team started off really strong. And then we really started experiencing challenges of what all can be activated, what all can be open based on the number of team members that were there in a given day and then ultimately selecting the correct products and solutions that enhance our operation.”

Dooley continued, “We really reviewed things like ISS 24/7 and things of that nature and launching the projects that were well not just within our operations but within the restrictions we were placing due to health and safety. Our policies and procedures began getting built in a COVID mindset versus just a gameday has been operational mode as well which really tasked us with reviewing everything we currently did.”
 

2021 Season: Vaccination Superstation

  • January 11th through March 26th; and
  • Over 225,000 vaccinations.

Petco Park ended up becoming the first Vaccination Superstation in the United States as well as throughout California. This entire exercise was fully done in partnership with the UCSD and it ran from January 11th to March 26th and “We had almost three months of executing vaccinations”.
 

Challenges

  • By doing 225,000 vaccinations, the streets of downtown San Diego got locked up resulting in a sulking neighborhood and frowning faces during that time period; and
  • For nine hours a day the streets were locked up.

 

Achievements

  • 20 by 50 tents were set up where one could go in and have a drive-up vaccination location there on site; and
  • People were serviced throughout.
    • 2021 Season:
      • Opening Day April 1st
        • 20 percent capacity All Season Ticket Members
      • Dodger Series: April 16th
        • 33 percent capacity: Vaccinated sections
      • Reds Series: June 17th
        • Full Capacity
      • Challenges
        • Execution of vaccinated entrances and seating section
        • Mask enforcement
        • Season Ticket Member seating challenges
        • Fan behavior
        • Staffing levels throughout the organization

 

The 2021 Season Opening Day was set for

April 1st and Petco Park opened up at 20 percent capacity only for the Season Ticket Members – “The next home stand we had was against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 16th and we opened up at 33 percent and this was a huge challenge for us due to the fact that we now opened up a vaccination-specific entrance and had to really have wrist bands, check vaccination records and ensure that vaccinated members and unvaccinated members did not mix up. A big win for us during this time period. Just at 33 percent capacity, we were still on place where all of our guests were Season Ticket Members so we were able to really communicate effectively with that group of any changes we had.”

He further narrated, “On June 17th, we went to full capacity and this was when we first started seeing some staffing issues. During those first two models (April 1st and April 16th), especially on the Opening Day we ran into issues with our food and beverage software where everything was mobile ordered and grab ‘n’ go. Fortunately, once we got to April 16th, those restrictions started to lift where we did not have to do a 100 percent grab ‘n’ go and that improved our food and beverage experiences.”
 

Challenges

  • Executing vaccinated entrances and seating sections;
  • Mask enforcement as fans wanted to remove face coverings once they reached their seats – “That was a battle we had to continue to fight until the County of San Diego lifted that for outdoor areas.”;
  • Season Ticket Members seating challenges – “We had a lot less seats than we had the availability for people. And in doing it, a lot of people didn’t like the seating location they rotate through as we tried to make that fair for everyone.”
  • Staffing issues – “Staffing levels performance throughout the organization was really up and down – the guest services team was really good, events security team did not put up a very good show; and
  • Fans getting into heated exchanges with the situation getting escalated which never happened in the past.

 

Safety matters

Holding games during a pandemic is no mean task and Dooley and his team left nothing to chance -Petco Park had medical staff posted that could escort individuals if it was an emergency situation. The MLB teams were conducting coronavirus tests either every 48 hours or every 72 hours. If fans did not have a vaccination record, they had to have a rapid testing done and have a rapid test included before being able to gain entry to the arena.

Summed up Dooley, “We divided the population through different entrances (which includes the staffs) and got the people in quicker but also maintained a higher level of social distancing and made certain that spectators were spread out.”
 

Closing note

Kevin Dooley knows his onions well – creating healthier spaces in stadiums and he has raised the bar as far as the standards for facility wellness is concerned. He has bend over backwards to provide clean, healthy and safe environments for all staffs, players and fans.

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