Crosscutters scramble to welcome more fans
The staff of the Williamsport Crosscutters had to throw out many of their preseason plans Tuesday afternoon — but the team’s staff are the first to acknowledge that it’s a great thing.
When Gov. Tom Wolf announced beginning on Memorial Day occupancy restrictions were being lifted, the Cutters’ preparation for a limited spectator season was, for the most part, moot.
With the governor’s orders, 33 of the Cutters’ 34 home games in the first year of the MLB Draft League will be able to have as many fans as Bowman Field can hold. Only the home opener on May 25 will be subject to the current orders, which limits occupancy at sports stadiums to 50% of capacity with 6 feet of social distancing.
The news had the team’s staff scrambling Tuesday afternoon to try and figure out the finer details of the new orders. The key for the Cutters and how many people they could allow into Bowman Field always revolved around the social distancing aspect to mitigation efforts. As they talked with front office members with other teams, it became clear social distancing in the seating area was no longer required, allowing the Cutters to open up all seats in the stadium beginning May 31 against Trenton.
“We knew there would be some sort of announcement at some time, but we weren’t expecting that then,” Cutters VP for Marketing and Public Relations Gabe Sinicropi said. “It’s a great thing for us and for our business. But now we have to undo everything we did. And with it all being computerized, it makes it a little more difficult to undo. But it’s a good problem to have.”
Under the previous capacity limits, the Cutters’ director of ticketing operations developed a seating chart for Bowman Field which would allow the team to admit as many fans as possible while maintaining 6 feet of distance, as mandated by the state, between each section of seats. Budd came up with a pod plan, which grouped seats together in either single-seat pods, two-seat pods, three-seat pods, or four-seat pods. That plan will be in place only for the home opener on May 25 against State College.
The relaxed mandates forced the Cutters to shut down its online ticketing system temporarily. Season-ticket holders were able to begin purchasing single-game tickets this past Monday, but that process was put on hold. The availability of single-game tickets to the general public has also been put on hold until the middle of next week while the Cutters revamp the ticketing system and contact each of its season-ticket holders to get their tickets printed for the season.
“There was happiness when we got the news, but also a little bit of fright,” Sinicropi said. “We had hundreds of vouchers for each game in May and June that had been turned in for tickets from our season-ticket holders, and all that had to be reversed and we have to call all our season-ticket holders to explain all this to them. They’re all going to get their seats back for every game except opening night. It’s a hassle, sure, but it’s a good hassle. It’s way better than calling them with bad news. A couple weeks before the season it’s a little difficult, but it’s a positive thing and we’re ecstatic.”
Sinicropi said the change in directives has the Cutters staff working backwards just over two weeks out from opening day. Not even having just one home game during the opening week of the season gives the team any reprieve as its intention was always to be 100% ready to go by opening night.
But the news has added some life to the staff. As much as it hurt losing its final season in the New York-Penn League in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, just knowing baseball is about to return, and now knowing it will return with a full complement of fans, has given extra life during the season’s preparation.
“I feel different (Wednesday). Even though it feels like there’s more on our shoulders, there’s still a buoyancy in getting ready for something like this and there aren’t limits to it,” Sinicropi said. “We had just come to a final decision (Tuesday) on how we were going to rope off the seats we couldn’t use, and three hours later we no longer had to do it.”
Despite the relaxed mandates, the Cutters are keeping a number of its safety measures in place. Fans will still be required to wear as mask at all times except when actively eating or drinking in their seats. Sanitizing stations will be set up around Bowman Field in high traffic areas for fans to use. Restroom attendants will continually keep the facilities clean during the course of the game.
The Cutters have also implemented as many cashless options for payment of both concessions and merchandise as possible. Fans may also now print their tickets at home or have them delivered to their mobile device and they will be scanned at the gate to mitigate contact between employees and fans. And the team is also using the Fanfood app this year which allows fans to order food from the concession stands and either have it delivered to their seats or be notified when its ready to pick up.
“We’ve gone to touchless points as much as possible,” Sinicropi said. “Those things are still in place from our previous plan. And we hope it adds convenience for everybody and a measure of safety as well. We still encourage people to be socially distant when in line and when they’re walking about the stadium, but we won’t have to be quite as vigilant about as we would have 48 hours ago.”