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Advice

Behind the Operations of the Monster Energy Supercross Series during COVID-19

by Chris Carver
on July 13, 2020
Photo courtesy: Feld Entertainment

INTRODUCTION

This next interview is an incredible example of how resilient the people in our industry are and how much knowledge they have to share.

We had a chance to sit down with Dave Prater and Sean Brennen of Feld Motorsports about what it took to safely finish the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season in the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Even if you don’t don’t produce motorsports events, I highly recommend grabbing a notepad.

WATCH THE RECORDED ZOOM CALL

 

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION


THEY SHARE SOME INCREDIBLE INSIGHTS ABOUT:


SOME FUN QUOTES:


"I don't know who came up with the phrase "dirt cheap", but dirt is not cheap"

"When we arrived in Utah and arrived at our host hotel, it was like the biggest welcoming committee. They were just so happy to see people."


"You're gonna have to set up an event perimeter just like you would if the President of the United States was coming." 

"You think you're a good communicator until you're forced to communicate more and you realize how important it is. Even if it's five minutes."


READ EDITED TRANSCRIPT

0:00:44 Chris Carver (CC):

I'm excited to introduce the Director of Operations at Feld Motor Sports, Dave Prater & Public Relations Manager at Feld Motorsports, Sean Brennen.

In your own words, what do those roles entail? 

0:01:19 Dave Prater (DP): Basically, my role entails just the day-to-day operations and making sure that our Supercross day-to-day operations, as well as the broadcast is running smoothly

We actually produce the television broadcast for NBC so I oversee that as well and then oversee our Supercross Futures program, which is our amateur racing program. I also liaison between the race teams and the athletes, as well as our sanctioning bodies, the FIM and the AMA.

0:01:54 CC: It's interesting, with all these diverse conversations we have, I see more similarities than differences in the event world when it comes to operations. I could be talking to the NFL versus a festival about managing talent, whether it's a writer or it's a artist, it's crazy how many similarities there are.

And Sean, how about yourself? How would you describe your role? 

0:02:25 Sean Brennen (SB): As the Public Relations Manager, I deal with everything from our endemic media to international media, mainstream sports and even the 10 rounds prior to us getting into this pandemic, local media as well. So it really covers a spectrum. We're fortunate, we do have a fantastic press corps that follows. I like to use the term beat writers which we're still fortunate enough to have so it really is a mixture of media and we have an overall strategy with each one of those, with the continual objective of growing the sport.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (17)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations strategies during COVID

0:03:07 CC: In a normal year, what is your typical Supercross season like? 

0:03:22 DP: We start the first weekend of the year each year. Typically for the past 17 years, we've started our season in Anaheim, California, Angel Stadium. We race every Saturday through the first weekend of May. So 17 events in 18 weeks. We take Easter off but as Sean can attest, we... And really the event world can attest that it's really... There is no off-season. We just finished up our seven rounds and our championship as a whole in Salt Lake City and now we're focusing on to 21 already.

0:04:41 SB: If you're not familiar with Supercross, January through May is our season. If you equate that 17 races out of 18 weeks to an NFL season, the NFL season is 16 weeks with a bye week, so they play 16 weeks out of 17 (if they don't make the playoffs). However, they have eight home games. We don't have any home games because we're criss-crossing the country and are in a different city every week, which is fantastic. Dave can speak to all of that behind the scenes stuff and logistics that go into moving, but we have 16 semi-trucks that are just for us. That doesn’t include the race teams and the athlete motor-homes and things like that. Which would really equate to an arena tour or festival tour. It's a pretty big road show.

0:05:58 CC: What is your load-in typically like? 

0:06:09 DP: We get there on Monday sometime during the day, unless we’re going from East Rutherford, New Jersey to Seattle, but we try to make those trips as Few and far between. We'll move in on Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM. We'll start to protect the field at 8:00 AM and then typically ready for dirt at about 10:00 AM. At that point, we start importing 500 dump truck loads of dirt into stadiums and building the track from there. We aim to be done by Friday at noon so Sean can take. That said, it's really a three to three and a half day build.

0:07:14 CC: And then what about break or load-out? 

0:07:25 DP: Some venues like State Farm Stadium in Glendale have a field that actually slides out so we build right on top of the concrete. In a situation like that, we'll be out by Sunday noon to 1 o'clock, at the latest. If we have field protection down, plywood and plastic, that's usually 5:00 PM on Sunday. There have been times when I was going city-to-city, that I slept in a little bit on Sunday, came back at noon and it basically looked like it did the day before we moved in and it still just blows me away considering, as Sean said, 16 tractor trailers and overall with race teams and sponsor activations and all that, we're at about, on any given year, 50 to 55 18-wheelers on the road. To get all of that out in one night is just incredible. Even after 20 years, I am still surprised.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (10)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations strategies during COVID

0:08:24 CC: I want to go back to a comment you made: “500 dump truck loads of dirt”. Are you sourcing dirt locally at each city? 

0:08:37 DP: We actually own dirt in every city that we race in so...

0:08:40 SB: We’re the largest dirt owner in the world. There's a little fun fact for you. Feld Entertainment owns more dirt across the globe than your big development companies.

0:08:57 DP: It's pretty interesting because dirt is our largest line item. I don't know who came up with the phrase "dirt cheap", but dirt is not cheap, at least moving it and trucking it is not cheap. So we've come up with some interesting ways to store and cut those costs. For instance in Anaheim at Angel Stadium, if you go out, if you're familiar with the parking lot and the big A, the sign outside, their employee parking lot is adjacent to that big A and their employee parking lot is raised four feet. Well, our dirt lives under that year-round. We put it... It's in a big basin if you will and we put the dirt down, flatten it out, asphalt over it and then right after Christmas, we go in, peel the asphalt back, take the dirt inside, finish with it, build their employee parking lot back.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (12)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment 

0:09:55 CC: Wow!  [laughter]

0:09:57 CC: Not to belabor this, but how many miles is your team putting in during a typical season?

0:10:07 SB: Oh my goodness! Yeah. I do have that on an infographic [laughter] but it's been a while since I've looked at it but between the criss-crossing, it's pretty extensive. I wanna say 112,000 miles. After all is said and done, don't quote me on that. I can't give you the actual fact but it's definitely six digits for sure.

0:10:31 CC: That's awesome.

After the interview Sean sent me this: 
SB: I did fact check myself and the actual miles driven in a season is actually 981,448. I was WAY off. 😊 

image003 (1)

0:10:34 CC: Walk me through, your COVID timeline. When did you start to talk about things internally and when did you start thinking about coming back?

0:11:10 DP: Going into 2020, it was a fairly status quo. We knew obviously that Wuhan and Coronavirus was happening and it had affected some of our international ice shows, Disney on Ice and such but I don't think anyone was prepared for it to get to the level that it did. We were keeping an eye on it, especially our legacy tours, which is Disney on Ice and Marvel Universe Live and those things from a company perspective but it was more the international side of things. So going into 2020 was really kinda status quo. We expected to do our 17 rounds and just be a normal season and then probably late February, early March, we started considering what we would need to do if something did come about and then that first weekend of March was when Seattle started really flaring up and started conversations, moving into Indianapolis, it was status quo. Sean had riders and athletes in the studio, Thursday...

0:12:43 SB: That morning.

0:12:46 CC: Crazy.

0:12:49 DP: That morning promoting a race at Lucas Oil Stadium, I was actually driving to work and they called and said, "Hey, we need to get on the phone and discuss some things." I knew what was coming. Sean and I got on the phone at noon, we had made the decision we were gonna run that weekend, that was March 14th, we were gonna race without fans and got off the phone, literally went to another meeting, got a second call from Lucas Oil and the Mayor of Indianapolis and that's when we decided about 4:30, five o'clock, Friday that we're gonna have to pull the plug.

0:13:31 CC: Between the two of you guys, how do you then manage the communication to the riders, to your team internally? 

0:13:44 SB: Extensive.

0:13:45 CC: Yeah.

0:13:44 SB: And if you don't mind, let me just back up because we were having a record season prior to all of this happening. Beginning of the year, Anaheim 1 was a sell-out.  The first three races had three different winners. Ken Roczen had his first win in two seasons so it was on every level, our television ratings were up, our ticket sales were up. We had made a lot of improvements to our FanFest, which takes place during the day, which is what it says, it's a festival for the fans and that starts at 12 o'clock and goes five hours as we build up to race day.

0:14:33 SB: Those numbers, we averaged 20,000 fans at that and you can think about it and you guys... You deal with a lot of high-end festivals and things but 20,000 fans just for that one aspect of it was a pretty big deal. We were averaging almost 50,000. I think it was like 49,998 fans per round and that is a difference between a Major League Baseball Stadium, which is smaller than an NFL stadium. In Arlington, Texas at AT&T Stadium, we had over 62,000 fans which was a record at that stadium. We had over 60,000 in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz stadium. We're having a record season and then to Dave's point, we started really hearing...

0:15:36 SB: China was where we first started hearing things obviously about this from our international teams. Disney on Ice was touring there, Marvel was touring there so that's when we really first started hearing about it but to Dave's point, we really didn't think it was going to have as big of an impact on Supercross here in the States like it did but then yeah, probably around Arlington, Atlanta and then really the Daytona, round 10 which again from a sport standpoint, Eli Tomac and from a storyline standpoint, Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen were tied in points going into that round so we were... Again wow! We're having just an amazing season.

0:16:32 SB: By that point, we started thinking that yeah, we're probably gonna have to make some adjustments and that's really when Ken Roczen came out and publicly announced that he wasn't going to sign autographs and his agency that represents a lot of international soccer players made it a policy that all of our athletes are not going to do any more autographs. But when Ken made that announcement, I think... And Dave, you can attest to this, that's when we really knew it would affect our FanFest and some of the things that we were doing behind the scene there but that's when I think it really came into focus that this is gonna have bigger implications on us and here in the United States as well.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (11)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment

0:17:30 CC: Got it, got it.

0:17:33 DP: The other thing that was unfortunate as Sean said, we were having such a great year and we pride ourselves, the sport of Supercross prides itself on accessibility to the rider and so we had made some changes where fans could get even closer to the rider. We had a rider theme that was essentially like the Cowboys do in Arlington where the fans can line the entryway when they go into the stadium. So the fans lined the entryway and as the riders went into the tunnel and came back out of the stadium, could high five 'em or just interact in general and so obviously, this was 180 degrees from what we were in March.

0:18:22 CC: This might be a loaded question but it sounded like on Sunday that you guys made the decision. Was it Sunday that you made the decision? 

0:18:27 DP: Friday.

0:18:27 CC: What was the sentiment of your core operations team at that point? What were you thinking? What were you talking about? 

0:18:36 DP: We were extremely naive at that point.

0:18:42 CC: Sure.

0:18:43 DP: We still had seven rounds to do and our next event was in Detroit at Ford Field and we were literally making plans to race on Saturday and Sunday back in Detroit to make up for that. Obviously that quickly turned in the next few days. We realized that hey, this is gonna be a longer pause than we realize.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (1)-1
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment -Event Operations strategies during COVID-19

0:19:07 CC: Strategically, how did you guys internally start to educate yourself and plan for what was next? 

0:19:26 DP: I think it was just a lot of meetings, a lot of phone calls. It sounds crazy but we would literally meet with our executive team as well as our core Supercross team and then adjourn. Each one would have a different person or venue or team that they needed to discuss it with and an hour later, come in and discuss what we had learned on the phone, taking the different venues or different athletes, different agents, whoever it may be and it just developed that way and it was ridiculous, the changes and how quickly they were coming. I made the remark to someone, I would go home and come back in the next day and things would change. Well, this was literally meeting-to-meeting things would change and you'd be discussing something and someone in the meeting would go "oh actually... ".

0:20:33 DP: It was crazy and it was definitely fluid and it continues to be fluid but I think what was key was communication and like the rest of the world, Zoom calls became a daily, hourly occurrence and we had bi-weekly calls with all the race teams and all the athletes together and then we had calls with all of our venues, the ones that we were planning on racing with still. We had seven venues that we hadn't gotten the opportunity to compete in and then after we realized where they were, we went back and started discussing things with Anaheim who we'd already raced in 2020 but discussing where they were and discussing where Major League Baseball was or the NFL. It was a lot of communication on a race team level, venue level and other racing series and other leagues.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (6)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment

0:21:30 CC: Got it and what were some of the factors or criteria that led to picking the location?

0:22:00 DP: I think initially, it was just investigative work and calling all the venues and seeing where they were at and after probably a week and a half of discussions, we decided "Look, it's probably best that we just pause the season" and we're in a unique place with our athletes because we actually share our athletes with outdoor motocross. They race Supercross and then in the summertime, they race 12 outdoor motocross events. We knew we were booking with dates and they typically start the second weekend of May so that was another little obstacle that was thrown in our way and we were obviously discussing it with them daily but I think really, the thing that accelerated the process and actually kind of jump started us getting started again was Major League Baseball and the fact that they were discussing Arizona and Florida, talking about playing in those two states.

0:23:15 DP: We got on the phone with the State Farm Stadium in Glendale and they introduced us to the governor's office and the health department out there and that's really where it started. The Governor was aggressive when it came to the company. We started investigating that and doing the seven events in Glendale and from there, either we were contacting stadiums or stadiums were contacting us and we actually, at the end of it, were going down five parallel paths. We were talking to five different states, five different venues and to be honest, our deciding factor was whoever gave us the green light first. Salt Lake City and Utah were the ones that were able to green light it.

0:24:14 CC: Interesting and when you think about that process right up to being green-lit, what are the biggest hurdles that you had to get around during that process? 

0:24:26 DP: I think it was probably just the education of not only the health department educating us but we had to educate the health department on what the sport was, how the athletes interacted, how the teams interacted. We were lucky in three of those five states there was a Supercross, super-fan or in Arizona's case, two that were in the State Health Department. It was nice because they knew how it worked. They knew the logistics of how the riders got to the starting gate. They were counseling them and were actually working right alongside us in developing a plan to prevent or mitigate the risk that we were gonna take without us even having to explain the details to them.

0:25:24 DP: I think that was the biggest thing though for the others, for the states that had never experienced Supercross, didn't know how the event worked. That was one of the biggest challenges.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (26)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations strategies during COVID-19

0:25:36 CC: And you talked about education. What was the strategy for community education. How did that go and what was your strategy there? 

0:25:50 SB: For local? 

0:25:54 CC: Yeah.

0:25:56 SB: I think we always considered that. Dave can dive a little bit deeper,  at one point we were going down, five different venues, five different states, five different health departments and each one of them had a different tweaks with CDC guidelines and things like that and I think that really from a community standpoint, the biggest question was testing, number one and not taking away from the local community. That was always high on every conversation because we obviously did not wanna come in and take away resources from the local community and I think time certainly helped us on that. If we were given a green light as early as maybe April, supplies were not there yet.

0:26:54 SB: By the time that we reached Utah, we're in a completely different spot with that but I think that was the biggest question from a community standpoint. I think everybody realized and understood the economic benefit of having sports back from an emotional standpoint and a back to normalcy standpoint but obviously in, Dave can attest to this as well, when we arrived in Utah and arrived at our host hotel, it was like the biggest welcoming committee. They were just so happy to see people. "What can we do for you?" And that really put it in perspective.

0:27:41 SB: Think about being in the hospitality industry and having full hotels to literally zip, there is nothing. Obviously downsizing and those different types of difficult decisions they had to go through but even just from a human to human standpoint, they were just so happy to see us. I think from a community standpoint, all of those states really understood the economic impact which we certainly wanted to help with and contribute to but I think early on, the biggest thing was definitely the health, the PPEs, the testing and all of those things. Once we got to those points later down the line, we had most of those in a good spot.

0:28:41 CC: Dave how did you end up setting it up for fans coming in to make sure the ingress and egress was in line with what you wanted? What was the deciding factor for that? 

0:28:55 DP: We actually raced without fans.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (35)-1
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations in the face of COVID

0:29:03 DP: While we were there, we were contemplating it because we'll be back in Utah in '21 but as far as the athletes, we have a larger back gate as some sports so we've got about 700, 750 people that actually compete with us, whether they're athletes, race teams, support staff and the likes so we had one entryway and one exit. Before everyone got in that day, they had to be screened. They had to take their temperature, make sure their temperature was 100.4 or below before they were granted access and prior to that all 750 folks were sent a health and screening questionnaire, a health and safety commitment that they had to sign and fill out and then once they arrived on site everyone had to be tested for COVID-19 and then we waited 48 hours to get those tests results back and once you get your negative test result back, then you were allowed to come to the registration trailer, register, sign two more waivers and then make your way to security check.

0:30:28 CC: And this is each day?

0:30:30 DP: Each day. The test was only once, the actual COVID-19 test, the questionnaire and the health commitment were once for the three week duration. But as far as checking in, you had to check in prior to each race. We had two races per week. You got a wristband for each race. When you came back to work inside our secure perimeter, you had to go check in again and get an additional wristband saying you had done all those things prior to.

0:31:06 CC: Wow! 

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (42)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations strategies during COVID

0:31:06 SB: And going back even a little bit further, in all five of these states, governors and health departments, one thing that we really didn't plan on was the plan that we had already put together so that was a big part of this equation is that we had produced. We had to go from the middle of March to oh my goodness! We were cancelling events, to get through all of that to okay, so now we really have to think about how we can go back, when we can go back and if we can go back.

0:31:48 SB: One of the big things we worked on in that downtime and Dave certainly spearheaded this was the 27 page mitigation plan or our responsible return to racing plan. That was a big part of the conversation because all of these states wanted to know that we weren't just showing up, obviously we had to have a very detailed plan and Dave obviously spoke to some of those things that were within that plan but even from a credentialed standpoint, we had a finite number of folks that were inside the perimeter, our safety perimeter.

0:32:34 SB: These were all made for TV. Fortunately, we have a great partner in NBC Sports so we were in a position that we could do this but that plan dictated everything, there wasn't one conversation that didn't start with "Dave, what's your plan?" "Well, here it is."

[chuckle]

0:33:00 DP: Yeah.

0:33:01 SB: The plan really went into detail and I think it was probably the biggest factor as to why we were going down so many parallel paths with so many different pieces that we did have a plan in place and I think what is neat now that we're a week, 10 days after the final race, is that one, we're the first sport here in The United States that was interrupted, the first sport that was halted but the first sport to complete their season is a testament to the plan and the plan worked. I think it was the biggest thing, the resounding wow! Everything that we worked on and that we put together. It's one thing putting things on paper, as you know and then executing, but it worked and I think very early on, with the teams and even the athletes and everybody was allowed inside that bubble. You talked a little bit about the communication and Dave can speak a little more to that but there was constant communication with all of our athletes, all of our partners and all of our teams.

0:34:15 SB: One thing that we really honed in on early was; stay disciplined. We have one race under our belt but stay disciplined. We have two races under our belt but stay disciplined and I think that was a big key to the execution that Dave and his team really kept driving home and fortunately for us, everybody did, the athletes, the teams. Everybody bought into the plan and helped us execute it.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (16)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations in the face of COVID

0:34:47 CC: Dave, can you pick four or five things that really stood out as tent poles of really making it a success? 

0:35:03 DP: Yeah, I think to Sean's point, the communication and going down five different parallel paths helped so much because we had five different state health departments, we had five different local health departments and five different venues. The Utah Rice-Eccles Stadium is obviously part of the University of Utah so we had the university as well. All of those entities came together and helped us develop that plan.

0:35:33 CC: Got it.

0:35:36 DP: And a lot of them were universal like the wearing of masks. On our first phone call we spoke with a PGA consultant and the first words out of his mouth were, "You're gonna have to set up an event perimeter just like you would if the President of the United States was coming." That's what we started with and we started with that and we had, as I said, one entry point which half of that was an entryway and half was exit so that's the only way you could come inside the parking lot or the stadium. Hard perimeter all the way around. The testing was key, just making sure that everyone was negative prior to the start of our seven events. Wearing masks so that when you were inside that perimeter, you had a mask on at all times obviously unless you're eating or drinking.

0:36:38 DP: I'd say the key, if not the key item for me was functional groups. So breaking everyone down into functional groups and maintaining those functional groups. So for instance, the television staff, so we have three television trucks. Each of those television trucks were broken into a functional group. The live event announcer or I'm sorry, the television announcers were a functional group so those four talents were a functional group. Each race team was a functional group. We had an executive functional group that myself and Sean were on. The operations team was broken into multiple functional groups.

0:37:21 DP: It's one of those things which you don't really think about under normal circumstances but the more folks that you expose yourself to, the more risks that you have so I think that was key. Everyone did a fantastic job, just maintaining. Each functional group will try to maintain the six-foot social distance but it was 10 feet from other functional groups so you didn't come within 10 feet of someone else who was under competition.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 2.18.37 PM
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment

SB: I wanted to point out in the photo above where the entrance/exit to the paddock was and where the temperature checks took place (white tent).  The tractor trailer behind the tent was our primary will call where all participants would get their new wristbands for each round.  

The photo also shows the secure perimeter. Most of our tractor trailers were staged in another lot off site and/or staged in production bays - TV production.   

0:37:56 DP: I'd say those were key and like I said, I think the functional groups were key. One thing with the functional groups is contingency plans or back-up plans if for some reason someone within the functional group tests positive or developed symptoms, there was the possibility that we'd have to remove that entire functional group so we had a backup producer, director for the television show. We had back up announcers on standby. There's always that chance of someone getting sick with anything during a normal event or a normal season, you have to bring someone in but when it's possible that the director developed symptoms and that entire television truck has to be removed from the event, you better have someone on standby that can come in and fill those positions.

0:38:56 CC: Yeah, Fascinating.

0:38:58 SB: Dave, you'll get a kick out of this as well, there was so much thought and so much planning into all of this that it almost felt like a final exam when we showed up and we actually had to get tested. I remember that Dave was up all night. It's like man, imagine all of this that we have done to bring this sport back and we didn't know but what if my test comes back negative? It felt like a final exam. Am I ready for this? 

0:39:40 DP: Well, it was really your first test. There were athletes in the championship hunt that we were like "Well, if I don't have to... "

0:39:50 CC: I know you said communication is a huge part of that but the day before the athletes get on site, how are you communicating with them when everybody's in Salt Lake? Are they still in their hotel rooms, trailers, on a Zoom call? Are these functional groups together and you're meeting with them individually? How did that work? 

0:40:16 DP: We did everything on Zoom. Zoom was everything. Sean can speak to press conferences but we had. It's been great because I think we've learned so much just overall obviously, the more you communicate, the more you learn but once this is behind us, hopefully soon and we're back to normal, it just really drove home to me how important communication is but we had bi-weekly calls from the time we even began to contemplate finishing the championship through the last event. We had bi-weekly calls with the race teams and the athletes, we had bi-weekly calls with the Health Department in Utah. Once we arrived we met with the State Health Department, the County Health Department, the City Health Department, as well as the university, Rice-Eccles Stadium and Utah Sports Commission and the Governor's office.

0:41:21 DP: Those were really our two operational calls, race teams, athletes, just people involved in the operation of the event overall and then everyone dealing with public safety and the safety of the athletes and everyone involved. Those we did twice a week and they were key because you know, we talked about what was going well and what could be better and to Sean's point earlier, we just reminded everyone that with every successful event, it’s human nature that people will start to drop their guard a little bit. We continued to preach the discipline in wearing your masks, social distancing, staying within your functional group. That helped a lot.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (7)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations in the face of COVID

0:42:10 CC: And Sean, how did you approach the media operations? Obviously, you have your core broadcasting group that I'm assuming some people had to be on-site but then is the entire press conference virtual at that point? 

0:42:29 SB: Yeah. First let's even go back, we had a number. From a plan standpoint, we wanted to be under 900 as our number. Dave can correct me but I think typically we have roughly 2500 credentialed folks that are typical in executing a Supercross race.

0:42:57 DP: Yes.

0:42:57 SB: So you think about whittling 2500 down to somewhere under 800 is where we ended up at. Most of those bi-weekly calls were with the team managers and some athletes. A thing that they did that was very effective is that they recorded a message. All 800 people that were part of the plan had filled out those two questionnaires, we're communicating to them regularly and consistently with any kind of changes as to where to get tested, where to get your results, what we're doing well, stay disciplined, and all of that. We're communicating to everybody directly that was inside that bubble which I think is a pretty significant part of that story.

0:44:00 SB: We knew from a PR and media standpoint that we were going to have to limit the number of media that we had on-site. I do have a press corps of the beat writers that is a mixture of journalists and photographers primarily. There are some videographers that are in that pool but primarily when we're talking about the media and our press corps, it's really the storytellers and the photojournalist storytellers as well. I have upwards of 35 that are part of that press corps that travel to every race for all the large magazines and larger websites. That went down to 13. I had eight photographers on-site and the rest were journalists. All of them had to follow the same protocol as the athletes and other functional groups. Journalists were their own functional group, photographers were their own functional group.

0:45:23 SB: The journalists were housed in the press box. They were all socially distanced. They couldn't stop and mingle. To Dave's point, we had one entrance and exit that went through the paddock but they weren't allowed to stop and do interviews and mingle and those things. It was really going from point A to point B and getting up into the press box.

0:45:53 SB: Photographers as well, we had a media room that was on the first floor of the stadium. We actually had two rooms to ensure that we had social distancing with all of them. The type of access that they had was different just based on where they needed to go but I think that was the biggest thing figuring it out. And for me, I wanted the storytellers, this was really a historic event, that hopefully will never ever need to be repeated again and we probably won't see in our lifetime. I really wanted the influencers, I wanted the storytellers and that was really the criteria.

0:46:36 SB: The A-list photographers that are the best in the business were able to capture all of these historic images but then really the storytellers from a written standpoint, are the hardcore journalists, beat writers that are gonna be able to tell the story as well.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (17)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations in the face of COVID

0:47:00 CC: Did you do anything virtual outside of that core group to make sure you’re engaging with the other outlets?

0:47:13 SB: I think we had over 220 credentials for our very first press conference at the Anaheim Opener so that gives you a pretty good idea of the types of and the quantity of media from an international as well as obviously domestic standpoint. So yeah, we did quite a bit. Photography is the biggest thing. We're such a visual sport. We reduced that number significantly so in knowing that I am reducing the number of very good high-end photographers for a lot of different outlets, I knew that I had to supply photos, I had to do it in real time.

0:48:16 SB: We obviously have our own internal shooters and we always provide a bank of photos to the media but I think that was the biggest thing is being able to supply internally. Obviously with social media being such a huge platform nowadays, that it's not just the race results and the stories in between events. That was a big thing for us. Communication was number one. You had to quantify or qualify yourself. I was having regular communication with all of those outlets and then we gave them about 20 or 25 photographs that really kinda tell the story.

0:49:13 SB: We're providing probably upwards of 200 photos throughout the day, starting with the very first heat race and qualifying sessions so it was much more intense with the quantity but the overall storytelling throughout the day as well.

0:49:35 SB: Photos is just one part of it, the communication and then the access to our athletes as Dave mentioned, we did a lot of post-race press conferences, we do like every other sport, after every event, we have the top three in the 250 class, top three in the 450 class so those six athletes are part of our post-race press conference but then we typically have anywhere between three and maybe five athletes that if something happened with their race but there's still a story that we make available to the media in more of an informal media scrum session, if you will.

0:50:22 SB: All of that went online. We did a pre-race press conference going into the very first race. We did a post-race press conference after every race. I did regular Monday and Thursday media scrums. We did a special one-on-one with Chad Reed who was retiring this year. So I haven't counted all of them but yeah, it was keeping me busy.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (19)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations in the face of COVID

0:50:53 CC: Interesting.

0:50:55 SB: I think that was the big thing that we learned and that we're gonna be able to take into '21 and further was; if you're in Australia, yeah you're up early or staying up late but my goodness, you could still ask all of our athletes live questions where you would never have that kind of an opportunity before. I think that we really learned via Zoom the types of things that we can do that I think will be fantastic tools moving forward.

0:51:35 CC: Yeah, interesting, that's fascinating and Dave, you obviously just went through some really unique stuff when it comes to your operations. I am curious, are there things that stand out that you'll absolutely take with you from here? 

0:52:05 DP: Definitely. I think... And this seems to be the focus today or the key but is communication. You think you're a good communicator until you're forced to communicate more and you realize how important it is. Even if it's five minutes.

0:52:26 DP: Continue to communicate. Just make sure everyone's on the same page. Supercross is unique in that there are so many different teams, different entities all coming and converging on to one city, one venue, once a week but then we all go our separate ways and come back that Saturday so communication's key. Just some of the smaller things which we didn't really see coming. For 20-plus years, we've been doing rider track walks. The riders get out on the track prior to the event and they take their trainers, their team manager, their mechanic and they walk the track for half an hour prior to riding it and due to the social distancing and functional groups, we adjusted it. We allowed a rider and a mechanic into the stands and they could walk around and we called it a track viewing instead of track walk and then we started the first practice and qualifying session with just a two lap roll around.

0:53:35 DP: You had to roll around the track, you couldn't jump anything and I didn't see it coming but everyone said they prefer that over the track walk so we're gonna continue to do that into '21.

0:53:53 CC: Is that because of social distancing concerns because there's a lot of people on the track?

0:54:08 DP: That was really the number one thing. So thinking of a Supercross track, we're building a track in a football or baseball stadium. It's really one lane going down this sideline, a lane adjacent to it coming back. We were gonna actually create a lane saying you can only go in the direction of the track and if it's your functional group and you're gonna let them out and then minutes later, let the next group out. Once we started looking at it, it was gonna be cumbersome and difficult. 

0:54:53 CC: Got it.

0:54:53 DP: To keep people apart by limiting the number, we have 80 riders, 40 per class and then 80 mechanics. We had 160 people in a 45,000 seat stadium that had to maintain social distancing but they could walk anywhere in the stadium to look at the track and then the riders were the only ones that needed to physically roll it.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (28)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations in the face of COVID

0:55:20 CC: Fascinating.

0:55:20 DP: It really was just a social distancing thing.

0:55:23 CC: As you start to see these other sports coming back, is there anything you're seeing that looks interesting? It's like "that's an interesting idea or we did that".

0:55:39 DP: I don't know that there's anything that I would say is interesting. I know they have some unique challenges that we didn't necessarily have. Our athletes we're head to toe in PPE.

0:55:56 CC: Yeah, totally.

0:55:57 DP: Jerseys, gloves helmets and with masks, and goggles. I think what I'm interested to see is a sport like football where you've got 22 guys just really in a scrum at a lot of points during the event. I'm gonna be interested to see how that develops and how they deal with that. But I think overall, it's becoming somewhat universal as to what we did simply because of the amount of people that were involved in developing our plan and while we were developing our plan, other leagues and other racing series were working alongside us and on a parallel path. We have relationships in NFL, UFC, the PGA and just sharing of ideas and really everyone's got these core ideas, social distancing and functional groups, testing, the wearing of masks so as long as that continues, we're gonna continue down a good path and obviously, hopefully we'll have a vaccine but until then, we'll just continue to develop new ways and better ways of doing things.

Feld Entertainment - SLC Rounds 11-17 (32)
Photo Cred: Feld Entertainment - Event Operations in the face of COVID

0:57:28 CC: Do you find yourself interacting with these other leagues? It sounds like there's some internal communication going on. Is it with other operational folks or is that just happening behind the scenes? 

0:57:41 DP: Most of it's happening behind the scenes. It's really across the board. I think all of us, not only operationally but PR, marketing, all of us are communicating and just trying to do whatever we can to share ideas because we're all in this together. I know that's become a cliche but we really are in the event and sports world, we're in this together and I think you started the call with the more you talk to different leagues, different venues, different sports, you realize that so many things are interchangeable. That's been key for me. Like I said, I started with a phone call with a friend from the PGA and it's gone from, everywhere from the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) to UFC to the NFL so it's been great and hopefully they learned as much from us as we did from them.

0:58:43 CC: Last question, I'm assuming it has helped that you're a part of this larger entity that is also in multiple market. Is that how you feel? Are you able to leverage those resources quite a bit? 

0:59:04 DP: Definitely. I think it goes back to those relationships with venues and relationships in the event and sporting world overall. Our company does so many different things and it's got such a broad range of events that we do, anywhere from Monster Jam to Disney on Ice to Supercross so all of those relationships, all of that knowledge, relationships with venues around the world, with governments around the world, that's been key as well.

0:59:43 CC: Well, I can't thank you guys enough, Sean and Dave for taking the time. I know that this is a crazy time but even taking this hour to be able to go through some of these details. I know a lot of folks in the event world are gonna be really interested. You guys kinda lead the charge in some way. Somebody's gotta do it and it sounds like it went off extremely well. I appreciate that.

1:00:12 SB: Somebody had to do it

1:00:14 CC: Yeah.

1:00:15 DP: You guys appreciate it.

1:00:17 CC: What's the next couple of months look like for you? Are you starting to plan various scenarios? Is that what you're in right now? 

1:00:28 DP: Yeah, definitely. Right now, we have just a basic core schedule and plan, if it would have been what we would have done in a normal year. That's '21 plan A, we'll call it.

1:00:47 DP: When we get off this phone call, we’re going into another meeting to start developing Plan B and it's gonna be a challenge obviously because so many things are changing by the hour, and by the day still. It's definitely gonna be a challenge but again, it's just going to be constant communication with different venues, different parts of the country, if not the world and just watching how those things develop and then try to, for lack of a better term, roll with the punches and come out with the best possible plan in the end.

1:01:24 CC: Definitely. Well thank you again and I really appreciate it. This is gonna be awesome, to put this out there.

1:01:31 DP: Great. Thanks Chris.

1:01:32 SB: Yeah, thank you very much. We really appreciate it.

1:01:34 CC: You got it, guys.



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