Limited capacity fan attendance at College Park Center succeeds during pandemic era

Spectators sit among cardboard cutouts during a volleyball match against Arkansas State University on Oct. 16 at College Park Center. Visitors were required to wear masks at all times while in the building. 

The sound of shoes squeaking, nets swishing and volleyballs spiking sounded louder inside the College Park Center for the 2020-21 athletic year with a limited number of fans allowed inside the venue. 

In August, UTA Athletics announced no fans would be allowed inside College Park Center for the volleyball team’s home matches. However, there was a pass list that allowed student-athletes’ families to be in attendance. 

In October, the department announced fans would be allowed in a limited capacity to watch the men’s and women’s basketball games. 

That limited number turned out to be 624 people per game, at both men’s and women’s basketball games for the 2020-21 season. 

Fast forward to March, and with both volleyball and basketball seasons over, many of UTA’s higher up officials consider the seasons a success. Jason MacBain, associate athletic director for communications, praised the university for how it handled safety protocols.  

“We did very well. I think it’s a testament to not only our athletic department and all the staff responsible for that, but certainly College Park Center officials,” MacBain said. 

When it comes to the players, he said the new normal caught on quickly. 

“They adapted pretty well,” MacBain said. “The majority of them realized that it is what it is, and this is our ‘new normal.’” 

MacBain isn’t the only one that saw success after each team’s seasons finished. Jon Felmet, associate athletic director for facilities and game operations, praised the custodial crew at College Park Center, adding that not many games were canceled — unlike others around the country — due to the staff’s work. 

Felmet added that the messages and newsletters he got from campus officials seemed to be positive.

“I think campus had a really good plan, and I think they followed it through,” he said. “I feel comfortable from an operational standpoint that, as long as our players, coaches, parents and our staff feel comfortable being at our events then I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”

Felmet said a bulk of the work came with trying to minimize the amount of people allowed in College Park Center. Allowing a certain amount of people made it easier for contact tracing, if anyone were to have caught the virus at the events.  

Part of making sure that events ran smoothly was meeting up with the return to play committee, Felmet said. As well as discussing plans, he said he bought five electrostatic sprayers and gave them to different trainers around UTA to sanitize. 

When it came to the safety of the general public, the staff at College Park Center made it the highest priority. One of the catalysts behind decisions and safety is Jeff Davis, executive director of special event facilities. 

“The process really involved starting early on with how could we do this and how could we do it in a safe manner,” Davis said. “We erred on the side of caution.” 

According to Davis, UTA spent roughly $500 to $600 more per game on custodial efforts. When it came to specific cleaning plans, College Park Center staff followed procedures precisely.  

“Part of those [standard operating procedures] included having dedicated teams that were focused on nothing but high touch point surfaces,” Davis said. “It was pretimed and prescripted that we would touch these touchpoints at this time period of every event.”

One of the additions to the stadium were pods that had full six-foot spacing from all directions. 

From that point, Davis was confident it would fill the lower bowl and keep fans from having to watch from the upper half of the arena. 

The only true struggle, Davis said, was the decision to keep the retractable bleachers, due to no way of strapping them off. He said they were fortunate enough to not have to close that section. 

Looking to the future, Davis said there are plans to ramp up attendance to 50% in the summer, and he is hopeful for 100% capacity in the fall. College Park Center does not plan on hosting just UTA Athletics. There is also talk of the WNBA team making its return. 

“We’re in discussions with the Dallas Wings and the WNBA and what their season will look like,” Davis said. “We’re already working behind the scenes on what those protocols are going to entail.” 

When it comes to an expectation for the fall, Davis is optimistic about a full capacity in the future. He said he feels confident in whatever decision is made regarding capacity. 

“The next three to four weeks is going to be very telling for us, to see what the reopening of the state looks like coupled with spring break,” Davis said. “That’s going to be a major factor in how much we reopen for summer.”  

@D_Tineo4

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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