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How Kansas City Architects Are Playing The Game As Arrowhead and Other Sports Arenas Reopen

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A packed Arrowhead Stadium is a thing of the past as architects, sports teams, and health officials decide how to safely accommodate a percentage of fans during the coronavirus pandemic.

For a long time, Kansas City has been the epicenter for architectural firms that design sports venues. Lately, those firms have taken on a different role: reconfiguring venues for fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Architects at the end of the day, we’re problem solvers,” says Nate Appleman, Director of Sports Recreation and Entertainment at HOK in Kansas City.

Normally, architectural firms are relied upon for designs from the ground up or for renovations. But HOK and other firms involved with sports venues have been summoned a lot since last March during the start of the pandemic.

“How are restroom facilities going to operate from a physically distant standpoint? How are concession stands going to operate? What is our maximum ability to populate the seating bowl in a physically distant scenario?” explains Appleman as he lists some of the questions firms receive.

The Chiefs' Arrowhead Game Plan

Kansas City will be the center of attention Thursday night when the Kansas City Chiefs open the NFL season against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs turned to Populous, another reputable sports venue firm in Kansas City, to figure out how to accommodate fans.

But Populous declined to comment on its partnership with the Chiefs. Former Chiefs linebacker Scott Radecic is the director of the firm’s NFL market.

The Chiefs will accommodate about 16,000 fans for its season opener, or about 22% of Arrowhead’s 75,000-seat capacity. After the Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20, in Super Bowl LIV on February 2, a packed season opener was expected but the pandemic changed everything. Team members, wearing masks and spaced six feet apart, received their rings last week in an empty stadium.

And, only a limited number of fans will see the raising of the Super Bowl banner.

“It’s not going to be exactly what we wanted, but it is something that’s really important to us as a franchise,” said Chiefs president Mark Donovan. “I will speak for the Hunt family on that. That was a big driver: figure out a way to get our fans in safely.”

The Chiefs came up with their attendance percentage after a dialogue with the Jackson County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control.

According to Jim Rowland, executive director of the Jackson County Sports Authority, the fan sections will be segmented into zones.

“It’s roughly 1,500 people per zone,” Rowland told the board members at their August 18 meeting. “Once a person enters a particular zone, they would not be able to leave that area.”

To accommodate a percentage of Chiefs fans during the pandemic, Arrowhead Stadium has been divided into zones.
Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
To accommodate a percentage of Chiefs fans during the pandemic, Arrowhead Stadium has been divided into zones.

For the suites, the Chiefs received approval from the city health department to allow their clients to fill their suites at 100 percent capacity if they so choose. But all suite guests will be required to have advance COVID-19 testing completed.

NFL teams currently not allowing fans to attend because of the pandemic are closely observing the Chiefs procedures.

“I know six to ten (teams) are contemplating after Week Two or Three and then beyond, so we take the responsibility very seriously,” says Donovan.

The Royals also shared plans with Populous on fan accommodations, but are unlikely to have fans attend this season, which ends with a September 27 home game.

Sporting Kansas City was the first major league franchise in Kansas City to hold home games with fans since the pandemic. Populous designed Children’s Mercy Park, but Sporting instead chose to stay in house to develop its own plan.

Sporting has accommodated around 2,300 fans for two home games or about 14% of its stadium's capacity.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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