The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many changes in daily life in the U.S, and athletics are definitely among those areas most impacted by new guidelines for safety of participants and spectators. One such change that was on the horizon, but that is being pushed up for consideration, is that of a move totally away from paper tickets for admission to sporting events.
At WVU, mobile ticketing has been available as an option for a few years now, but given the need to reduce contact as much as possible, Mountaineer administrators are considering an all-digital option for football tickets for the 2020 season. A final decision has not been made yet, but if it is enacted, it would reduce the amount of contact between fans entering the stadium and ticket scanners.
The system under consideration would scan the tickets on a customer’s mobile device from a greater distance than some current systems, such as those seen in airports and train stations. Paciolan, West Virginia’s current ticketing software provider, would install the new system.
In addition to increased safety, the system would provide a cost savings in terms on not having to print and mail tickets, and also eliminate the problems of lost or misplaced printed tickets for fans. Other features of the system will allow group purchasers to share tickets to all members of their group without having to remail printed tickets or meet in person in order to distribute them. In the event of problems with the mobile device on which tickets reside, assistance would still be available at the game day venue.
Again, this option is only under consideration for the upcoming season. Looking forward, it’s not hard to predict that printed tickets will become a thing of the past sooner rather than later, not just at WVU, but across the athletics landscape.
The University of Oklahoma has already announced a move to digital ticketing for all of its athletics events for the 2020 season.
While the first steps of the resumption of college athletics are taking place over the next two weeks, it’s still a long way from scattered groups of voluntary workouts to actual games. There are going to be fits and starts, and perhaps some programs that have to shut down for a bit if a widespread flare-up occurs.
Many of the procedures WVU is implementing to help prevent that are detailed in a document called the Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Action Plan Considerations, distributed by the NCAA. A large number of the protocols and guidelines in this document are principles that have been recommended for society as a whole in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. While the action plan is detailed, though, it’s still not a step-by-step cookbook for what to do. For example, it does not list an ongoing testing protocol for all athletics participants. Most decisions on how, and how strongly, to implement the guidelines are being left up to individual schools.
Details on West Virginia’s actions and plans are still forthcoming, but a few, such as testing prior to return to camps and the breaking up of voluntary workouts into small groups (look for position segmenting) are in place. So too are the procedures to be followed in the event of a positive test for student-athletes or staff.
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With all NCAA Division I recruiting in an extended dead period through July 31, summer events for prospective student-athletes are shutting down. Most recently the EYBL, Nike’s top summer basketball circuit, announced it was cancelling all of its remaining summer events, including the crown jewel of its tour, the Nike Peach Jam.
There is still a push in some quarters for some off campus events in August or September, but limited time to prepare, the huge cost of testing, and the start of the academic school year all seem to be trending toward the conclusion that in-person recruiting visits off campus this calendar year will have to take place (gasp) at the schools of prospects, or at their actual high school games.
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Prior to the pandemic, the Big 12 was expecting another record financial distribution for each of its 10 conference members. In 2018-19, that amount was $38.8 million, and this year’s payout was expected to easily top the $40 million mark, and perhaps approach $45 million. Instead, the cancellation of the Big 12 and NCAA basketball tournaments, along with the loss of other postseason opportunities, lowered the 2019-20 payout to an average of $37.7 million per school.
On the face of it, that doesn’t sound so bad, but more pain figures to come next fiscal year, when losses in ticket sales, concessions and ancillaries and advertising will result in more hits to each school outside of the Big 12’s distribution. So too will budget hits, in the form of cost for testing, increased cleaning, and other items required to limit the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
The biggest factor remains rights revenues for football broadcasts, which explains all of the attention paid to getting a football season underway. The league, within safety limits, will do everything it can to provide the total number of games included in the current rights contract with ESPN and Fox.