Like most professional sports venues, T-Mobile Park in Seattle, WA, has spent the last year largely empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As it turned out, this disappointing reality created an opportunity to serve the community in an unexpected way.
That’s because the pandemic also had a drastic effect on Bloodworks Northwest, a regional non-profit based in Seattle. Blood drives taking place at businesses, a typical source of much-needed blood units, came to a standstill as many companies shifted to remote work. What Bloodworks Northwest needed was a big space that people felt comfortable going to, that could accommodate social distancing, and that would be a popular location to draw enough donors to address the supply shortage. Enter T-Mobile Park.
While the initial pop-up donation center at T-Mobile Park was planned to last just one week, the program was so successful that it was extended to two weeks, then four, then several months. Donation time slots were filled, community members showed up to donate in Mariners gear, and the pop-up program won national recognition. Other venues soon followed T-Mobile Park’s example, with similar blood drives launched at Lumen Field, Cheney Stadium, and others.
But just how did a facility with a physical program and operations designed for baseball pull off a successful alternative use in the middle of a pandemic? Trevor Gooby, Senior Vice President of Ballpark Operations for the Mariners, credited both an overcautious approach and strong early communications for the smooth functioning. The team adhered to all CDC guidelines for safety. “You have to make sure stakeholders are involved early,” he said. “Internal ops, sales and marketing, community groups, and housekeeping are all experts in their areas, and we need to know what they all need” for safe and effective events.
Gooby also noted that, with planning and adjustments, the systems in place for professional sports can easily be adapted to broader community uses. “I mean, if we can get 50,000 people in here for a baseball game, we can get 500 in for a blood drive.”
The pop-up blood donation center gave the Mariners an opportunity to make a positive impact using two of the team’s most valuable assets: their first-class facility and their visibility. It is one of numerous ways the Mariners have used these assets to help. For example, throughout the pandemic, the team has worked with County and State health departments to share important information about social distancing and mask wearing to the broader community, including its millions of social media followers.
The experience has also been positive for T-Mobile Park, demonstrating the value of creatively using the space—beyond baseball—in ways that contribute to the community and make smart use of a facility. Indeed blood drives are just the beginning of what Gooby envisions for the park moving forward. “Whether it’s blood drives, vaccines, or concerts, we’re now thinking about new and unique ways to use the ballpark.” As has happened in so many other industries, the pandemic served as a catalyst for T-Mobile Park and many other stadiums to be even more creative, and even more resourceful.
The alternative use of T-Mobile Park during the pandemic is an inspiring case study of how professional sports venues can, with creative thinking, serve the community and challenge the paradigm about what ballpark space is used for. This is not a brand new idea, but it serves as a timely reminder, and as encouragement, for venues to continue thinking about all the ways they can operate, can contribute to their communities, and can sustain themselves in pandemic times and in the (hopefully soon) post-pandemic world to come.