Mask enforcement biggest challenge as fans return to pro sports

Although capacity restrictions are trending in the right direction, a welcome sight for the sports industry, this has not come without hurdles in the reopening process. The biggest challenge is mask enforcement. In our new sports reality, it is not uncommon for more fans to be ejected for not wearing a mask than for excessive drinking. In multiple cases, teams have needed to stop selling concessions, such as popcorn and peanuts, as fans would leave their masks down as they walked the concourse while eating. Teams have been creative about leveraging staff, utilizing signage and other means to remind fans to wear masks and increase compliance with all necessary health and safety guidelines. 

These were among the insights shared by six CFOs from professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer teams. They recently gathered virtually with KPMG for the second in a series of forums to share leading practices and discuss what’s top of mind in 2021. Among the top challenges and focus areas are the following insights:

  1. Enabling Social Distancing – as could be expected, social distancing was a key challenge, particularly as fans waited to enter stadiums and arenas. Entering and exiting sports stadiums are both a health and efficiency challenge. Small changes to an operational plan can make a big difference. One effective solution was implementing so-called “Disney lines” consisting of cordoned-off lines with spacing between fans.  Another CFO discussed how, in order to combat congestion on the concourse post-game, they sectioned off areas so fans could only go out the gate closest to their seats and could not loiter. As a result, social distancing was much easier to enforce.
  2. Communication, Communication, Communication – CFOs agreed that communication with fans is critical. Mask enforcement and other protocols need to be repeatedly and frequently communicated. Some teams are sending “Know Before You Go” messages to communicate new protocols or encourage fans to join virtual viewing events for games. Others are exploring push notifications through fan apps. It’s always imperative to keep fans engaged in and out of the facility, but in this period of change, communication cannot be over-emphasized.
  3. Fans over Profits - Returning at limited capacity is a business decision. CFOs know their franchises can lose money by just “turning on the lights,” especially if fan capacity is too limited. After all, in order to facilitate social distancing protocols, in many cases the entire facility is still used even if capacity is limited to only ten to 15 percent. To execute enhanced protocols, staffing levels exceed what would have been previously expected based on fan capacity. The consensus among CFOs at our forum was that bringing fans back is more than a financial decision, and it’s best to stay engaged with loyal fans, even if the game generates minimal revenue.
  4. Collaborating with Local Government – CFOs shared the challenges facing pro sports teams as they work with state and local health officials and their own league officials. They said that having an established relationship with state and local health officials enabled a smoother reopening process and close collaboration was necessary throughout. They also encouraged others to push back on regulations if there was discrepancy between government and league policies or when implementation was not practical or necessary. These executives agreed their teams are willing to go above and beyond the required protocols to ensure health and safety of players, fans, and staff.
  5. Ticketing Upgrades - For ticket sales, less can truly be more in today’s environment. The consensus was that teams are going to market selling in “pods” of two or four tickets only. One team had the experience of the two-ticket pods selling more frequently, as fans were hesitant to come to games in larger groups, whereas another team had the opposite experience of the four-ticket pods selling better – but they observed that in many instances, only 2-3 fans were attending so they could have more space.
  6. Optimism Abounds - In spite of the challenges, there was a sense of optimism among these pro sports executives as some normalcy has started to return. After all, the most welcome sound at games is the cheering and support of fans back in the stands. CFOs are hopeful that fan capacity will continue to increase as their respective 2021 seasons progress.

Overall, many of the new policies and protocols instituted due to the pandemic may prevail as new best practices going forward and set the foundation for a sustainable return to sport that is more resilient than ever before.

To arrange an interview with KPMG’s Shawn Quill, please contact Mike Alva. You can read more KPMG insights on the sports industry here

Media contact

Mike Alva

Mike Alva

Director, Corporate Communications, KPMG US

+1 925 878-5488



Shawn Quill

Shawn Quill

National Sports Industry Leader, KPMG US

+1 201-505-3565

Related content