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MLB Opening Day brings fans back to the stands with safety in mind

It was a day baseball fans have been waiting for: Major League Baseball’s Opening Day 2021. After the COVID-19 pandemic kept fans out of the stands for most of the 2020 season, MLB’s ballparks were welcoming them back in limited capacities Thursday as all 30 teams were scheduled to play their season-opening games.

redsopener1-6169628Nearly all teams announced they will start the season with their stadiums at 20% to 30% capacity, allowing groups to socially distance in the stands.

While weather postponed several games on Opening Day, four ballparks where Delaware North Sportservice provides hospitality services were up and running for the first time in over a year: Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers); American Family Field (Milwaukee Brewers); Petco Park (San Diego Padres); and Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati Reds).

As fans return to the stands, Delaware North continues to implement its Play It Safe program to keep guests and associates safe at the ballpark in accordance with federal, state and local COVID guidelines. For associates, it means mandatory proper personal protective equipment (PPE) use and enhanced service styles to maintain social distance and serving food safely. Limited menus have also been adopted to allow for simplified preparation and service. Guests and fans will see newly implemented cashless technology, mobile ordering and socially distanced setups at walk-up concessions.

Despite the limited crowds and safety protocols, fans are ready to take in live baseball again. Findings from a study released by Oracle last week stated that 93% of consumers were nostalgic about stadium food – but many want operators to rethink current service models. Mobile ordering, in-seat delivery, cashless transactions and pre-ordering food were all cited as ideal replacements for traditional service styles — and Delaware North has adopted a mix of these at all 11 MLB ballparks where it provides hospitality services.

Joe Rembold, director of technical innovation for Delaware North, was featured in the Oracle study and also provided his insights about the 360-degree fan experience during the SportsTechie “State of the Industry” webinar, which can be viewed here.

Ballparks will continue to host their home openers next week, including the Texas Rangers, who are expecting more than 40,000 fans at Globe Life Field on April 5. 

PHOTO CAPTION: Delaware North CEO Jerry Jacobs Jr. (third from left) poses with Bob Castellini (third from right), owner of the Cincinnati Reds, at Great American Ball Park on Thursday. Also pictured from Delaware North, from left to right: Andy Worden, Delaware North’s general manager at Great American Ball Park; Jim Houser, executive vice president and chief operating officer; Don Dierig, vice president of operations for Sportservice; and Ken Gaber, vice president of strategic operations for Sportservice.