MOLINE, Ill. – The COVID-19 pandemic, which put a stop to the 2019-20 SPHL season on March 15, is still raging through the United States. While the state of Illinois began to reopen on May 29, reopening is far from complete as restaurants, and other businesses have tighter regulations as to the capacity, availability, and group size.
The Quad City Storm, like every other sports team within the United States, are waiting for regulations and guidelines on how to proceed during this pandemic. Brian Rothenberger, Director of Communications and Game Operations for the Storm, spoke with The Sin Bin recently about how the organization is moving forward during the pandemic.
The Sin Bin: How is the Storm working to develop a protocol for social distancing within the organization, such as traveling on busses, showers while maintaining social distancing, etc.?
Rothenberger: Well, we’ve been playing it by ear, just because things have been changing so quickly. When we have been able to get in the office, we’ve been maintaining social distance, wearing masks when appropriate. As far as plans moving forward, within the team, it’s going to depend on when the season does start, is there a vaccine yet, what changes have been put forth as far as protocols by the CDC. And then as far as what we’ll be doing for our games, that’s mostly going to be decided by the TaxSlayer Center. We’re going to have to follow their set of rules that they’re going to have for events, which from what I’ve heard they’re doing the same thing as us. They’re staying up to date on everything, just being prepared to enforce whatever laws are set in place by the state of Illinois.
TSB: Do you know how social distancing will affect the seating at the TaxSlayer Center, such as a certain amount of seats between fans or anything like that?
Rothenberger: I don’t know of anything certain that’s been decided, I think that just like professional sports teams at the highest levels are doing right now, they are kind of in the wait and see phase, because even the federal government has not yet put down guidelines of what mass gatherings will have to do. I’ve heard possibilities similar to what you alluded to, possibly a certain amount of seats left open between fans, I’ve heard in other states that are planning to host other events not necessarily the scale of a hockey game but larger ones, doing the temperature scans, all that kind of stuff. But again, for a gathering the size of what we hope to have when the season rolls around, I think we are set to be prepared for whatever the government does put forward.
TSB: With the Storm, Rivermen, and Thunderbolts all along I-74 within roughly 6 hours of each other, do you think there will be more games played between the Storm and Thunderbolts because of the pandemic and shorter travel times?
Rothenberger: I think that could be likely. The schedule has not been put out yet, but I would say that that’s something that would make sense to me. Exactly like you said, traveling to teams that are a little bit closer to cut down on travel and exposure.
TSB: When the season does roll around do you think it’ll be in October like normal, or do you think it’ll be delayed because of the pandemic?
Rothenberger: You know, it’s a great question. I think the league has not made a decision yet, and it’s tough, too. Because, you know, we’re learning just like everyone else, and who knows if a vaccine could come out in two weeks that could totally change the trajectory, but at this point, I think it’s still too early to tell. Of course, we are all hoping for a full season that starts on time and allows us to keep everybody safe and healthy, but I think at this time it’s pretty much all speculation as to what it’ll be.
TSB: With the 2019-20 season canceled due to the pandemic and season tickets having to be returned, what has been the general feedback from the fans that the organization has had to return tickets to?
Rothenberger: Well we are very lucky to have the support of all our fans, especially our season ticket holders, who as you know are definitely some of our most loyal fans. Everyone with very few exceptions has been understanding and has also been very excited to be back. I think everyone recognizes the great risks that COVID-19 presents, but I think everyone is also longing for the days when it was not a second thought to go out and have a great time at a hockey game. Optimism, certainly, is what we are getting, and again we cannot say enough about the support we have gotten. It’s made our lives much easier.
Much uncertainty remains as to how hockey will look in the future, but there will be hockey. The Sin Bin remains dedicated to bringing its readers the news about your favorite teams old and new during this time.
Be sure to follow @SinBinStorm on Twitter for updates and the latest news throughout the off-season and beyond.