Sports Builders: Are You Being Asked About Safety Precautions in Facilities?

There has been plenty of coverage in the wake of an Atlanta fan falling to his death from an upper deck at Turner Field – something that came just days after a Massachusetts woman filed a lawsuit because of the injuries she sustained at a Red Sox home game in Fenway Park in 2014 when she was struck by a ball while sitting an area that should have been (but wasn’t) protected by impact-resistant glass.

Safety at sports facilities has always been a concern, and that concern has been growing lately. In July of 2015, a class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco seeking to have Major League Baseball install protective netting down the baselines. (Currently, such netting is typically used only directly behind home plate.)

So here’s the next question: Are any sports builders hearing questions from facility owners about putting safety precautions into their sports facilities? Is anyone being asked about having their facilities retrofitted with railings or with safety netting?

Presently, decisions regarding safety measures are left up to the facility owners. And to a certain extent, whether or not safety measures make their way to youth baseball or softball will depend on governing bodies’ views of liability. This has been a bad season for baseball spectators. (It has been a bad year for baseball as a whole, considering the death of a Kansas batboy who was hit by a swinging bat.)

But Fenway, already in a precarious position after the 2014 incident, was the site of two more injuries in 2015 – one when a woman was hit by a piece of a broken bat, suffering life-threatening injuries, and another when a woman was hit by a foul ball, necessitating 40 stitches. And in late August, a woman was struck by a foul ball during a Detroit Tigers home game, and had to be removed from the stadium by EMTs. It prompted a flurry of Twitter comments, particularly from Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, who urged MLB to make changes “before it’s too late.”

According to an article in USA TODAY SPORTS, MLB is taking notice. “We are in the midst of a comprehensive study related to fan safety and are evaluating a number of issues,” said Pat Courtney, chief communications officer for Major League Baseball. “If MLB and its clubs determine changes are necessary, then it is anticipated that a complete proposal would be made this off-season, ahead of the 2016 season.”

If MLB parks decide to implement safety precautions, it may send a message to college, high school, Little League, rec league and others to take steps of their own, given the facilities, the sport and the level of competition. What will those mean to sports builders? Will it mean renovating or retrofitting facilities to add netting or extra railings? What do you think?

And as a side note, should baseball and softball wind up making it back into the Olympics, it will be interesting to see what kind of spectator safeguards would be in place for that level of play.

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