When Flyers and 76ers fans return to the Wells Fargo Center for games, starting this coming Sunday when the Flyers host the Washington Capitals, there are going to be a lot of changes to get used to as a result of the pandemic.
Leave your cash and bags at home. Get ready for specific parking and arrival times. And make sure you have a mask – a real one, and not something substituting as one – on your face as soon as you step out of your car.
I had an opportunity to speak with Wells Fargo Center General Manager Phil Laws and he took me on a step-by-step guided tour to the protocol of being one of the 3,100 fans inside the building for Flyers and Sixers games this spring.
Here’s the breakdown:
“When you arrive at the arena, a lot of our fans sort of have their own parking areas that they like,” Laws said. “Getting out of here at the end of the night, a lot of folks like to be up in D lot so they are right there at the gate. Now, they’re going to have a ticket and a location that’s going to have a door of entry, a time of entry, and that’s going to correspond to a parking lot.”
In other words, if your seats are on the Broad Street side of the arena, you’re likely parking in C as you come in and you are entering on Broad street, you’ll be parking in C lot. If you are coming in the 11th Street entrance (the side that faces Lincoln Financial Field) you’ll be parking in E or F lot.
“That’s all made to get the cross-traffic and walking outside the arena down as far as we can,” Laws said.
Masks – All The Time
“Once you get out of the car your mask is required,” said Laws. “That’s a big part of the safety plan that we presented to the state and the conversations we had with the city.”
And by masks, Laws means a real mask, either a medical mask or a cloth mask that covers your nose and mouth. You can’t wear a gaiter or a bandana.
As you approach the building you will come upon a health perimeter, which is basically a covered tented area.
At that tent area, there will be a quick PPE check to make sure you have the gear that you need and you will be asked to answer a quick symptom self-check.
It’s the same questions we’ve all gotten used to answering and all the symptoms will be listed out. There will be 4-5 questions. After that you are in a chute with a distance marker and you walk up to the doors of the building, where you’ll go through the security gates.
No Bags Allowed
With the exception of a medical bag for insulin, for example, or a diaper bag, no bags will be permitted in the building.
This includes handbags and purses.
“We will allow what would be termed a ladies clutch, as codified in the league guidances, to be x-rayed, but that’s basically a large wallet,” Laws said. “Anything that is a handbag or true purse sizes will have to be locker bound.”
The building does have lockers available for you to leave bags while you are inside the building, so if you are coming straight to the game after work and you have a laptop bag, that can be placed in the locker as well.
Once you are through security, you are on to the ticket scanner, which is a little different than usual. It’s a reader on a pedestal device and your digital ticket (no physical tickets) will be scanned. A staff member who is distanced from you will be able to tell if the ticket is valid and will wave you through into the arena.
Food and Beverage
“Food and beverage was a big question mark for a long time,” Laws said. “We didn’t know what that was going to look like. But it’s a big part of the experience. Despite all the protocols the experience is still supposed to be fun, right?”
For now, the Wells Fargo Center will have 12 different stands open with about 85 point of sale locations, which is a pretty good ratio for this number of fans.
All the queue lines will be marked out and socially distanced. If there is no more room in line, there breaks and there will be a secondary line with a staff member holding you up until the main line clears – just to make sure everybody doesn’t get bunched up.
The bars and restaurants remain closed. All the tables and chairs will be removed so no one is tempted to sit there.
Food and beverage are only allowed to be consumed in your ticketed location, nowhere else.
The only time you can take your mask off is when you are seated in your seat and actively eating or drinking.
“We’ll have some PSA’s for fans to watch because it can be a little bit of a grey area and it’s a policy that we will enforce,” Laws said. “We want to be sure we are up front with what we are expecting from everybody.”
All you need now is your phone. Or a credit card if you don’t have it saved in your phone.
“All the payment this year is cashless,” said Laws. “We’ve upgraded all of our credit card gateways so if you want to use your Apple Pay or Google Wallet – those are now accepted at the stands. We also have a brand new mobile ordering app that’s going in. It won’t be available in all locations, but both sides of the building will be covered. Club boxes and suites fans will have the option of ordering in advance.
“You scan the QR code, get the menu, place your order and not have to wait in line just come pick it up when its ready. That’s something we wanted to do anyway, it’s a system that will grow and become a major part of our concession operation moving forward.”
All levels of the Center will be available to the public except for the Balcony level, which includes the Assembly Room and the Sports Book. This area is being used to house back of the house staff, including the off-ice officials and the media.
(I was told I better not be caught sleeping on one of the Chesterfield Couches.)
Fans will be allowed to be seated in pods of two or four in the Main Concourse level and the Mezzanine level. Luxury boxes can have up to six guests seated together.
How close you can sit will be different for the NBA and the NHL.
For the NBA, fans have to be 30 feet from the court.
For the NHL, the back glass for the benches and penalty boxes have been removed, so that changed things a little bit.
If you are on the radiuses, you’ll be able to be a little bit closer – 12 feet from the glass. If you are in those areas where there used to be back glass for the players, you are going to be at least 25 feet up and there is going to be a new plexiglass wall that’s not normally there.
As such, that area that Gritty has been performing in, will be gone.
“Gritty will find some new hijinx to get into,” Laws said.
The stores will be open operating under the guidance retail falls under in the city of Philadelphia, which Laws said is 20 people per every 1,000 square feet. This limits the crowd to about 30 people at a time in the stores with a line outside.
Expanding The Crowd Down The Road
I asked Laws if the goal was to expand even further beyond 3,100 people later this season – maybe in time for the Flyers and 76ers to make their playoff run.
“Goal is an interesting word,” he said. “Its certainly the desired outcome. However, the best way I can answer is this: At some point in every venue, six feet is six feet and you can’t put any more in without a distancing difference. So, you cap out.
“We would need the CDC and health officials to come out and say ‘Six feet is no longer necessary.’ At some point you need that to take the numbers higher and higher. We’d love to be there for the playoff run and have a full arena, but we don’t know.”
Laws said that they have done the calculations, and as long as the six-foot distance remains a requirement, that “cap out” figure would be between 25-30 percent capacity, so really no more than roughly 6,200 fans.
For more information about the return of fans to the Wells Fargo Center, click here.
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