Tim Romani onstage at the 2019 VenuesNow Conference in New York City.

CAA Icon’s CEO takes co-chair role with Well Advisory

Owner’s representative Tim Romani has played a key role developing dozens of sports venues over the past 30 years, and he remains confident that stadiums and arenas will hold capacity crowds in the post-COVID age.

“This is a difficult situation we’re in, but it’s not going to impact us forever in the sense that we’re not going to play Super Bowls in front of 70,000 people again,” said Romani, CEO of Denver-based CAA Icon. “Of course we are, so we have to figure out what to do right now to help the progression back to that state. The new normal is not to play NFL games without fans or with 15,000 people. It’s not the answer long term.”

In the short term, Romani is among 40 industry professionals, team officials, scientists and other experts that have formed the Well Advisory on Sports and Entertainment Venues, whose goal is to develop a new health-safety certification program for those facilities. 

It falls under the auspices of the International Well Building Institute, an organization that sets standards for all building types to improve overall health and wellness for its occupants. The institute’s rating system is similar in scope to LEED, a certification program tied to sustainable design and building operations. Rick Fedrizzi, the institute’s chairman and CEO, previously filled a similar role with the U.S. Green Building Council, which administers LEED.

Romani serves as co-chair of the Well Advisory, along with Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th U.S. surgeon general; Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group; Doug Behar, senior vice president and director of stadium operations for the New York Yankees; Mike Biggs, Jani-King’s vice president of sports and entertainment partnerships; Bill Rhoda, Legends’ president of global planning; and Allen Hershkowitz, chairman of Sport and Sustainability International and a Yankees adviser.

In addition, 33 others make up the group’s advisory council, including sports executives with the San Francisco 49ers, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Mets, Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Bills.

The group was announced May 15 and the rating system is scheduled to launch in June, officials said. As of this week, there were few details on how the program works, the scoring system and whether fees will be charged for certification. 

Romani, meanwhile, shared his thoughts behind the advisory’s efforts.

“This is all about building the fans’ trust,” he said. “We know these facility types better than (most) and we understand the physical nature of them, but what we have to do in this process is overlay the behavioral nature of it.”

The advisory council is working with some of the world’s top medical experts on complex diseases to help form the certification process, Romani said, although at this point he declined to identify those individuals.

Initially, Romani envisions a three-step process for evaluating venues tied to health-safety ratings. First, establish the correct protocols and requirements. Secondly, implement them. The final step revolves around validation and certification of those guidelines.

“It’s not just about adding up points and coming up with a score,” he said. “Yes, there will be mathematics to it, but it’s going to be a much more sophisticated algorithm approach because of the infectious disease element. We’re going to make sure that whatever it is that we’re doing contributes to the solution.”

The ultimate solution will be getting back to full capacity in sports, according to Romani. Since his first project, New Comiskey Park in the early 1990s, Romani and his staff have grown to become a leader in sports development. Currently, CAA Icon has a half-dozen sports projects under construction, including Allegiant Stadium, scheduled to open this summer for the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders; MLS venues in Austin and Nashville; and Moody Center, the University of Texas’ new basketball arena.

Romani said he’s heard “a lot of noise” out there about retrofits with reconfigured seating bowls for social distance purposes, but he’s not buying it as a permanent fixture for big league buildings.

“The business we’re in relies upon crowded places; that’s what we do,” he said. “Social distancing has never been part of our DNA in the industry. We have to repurpose a 2 million square foot building built for 65,000? That doesn’t make any sense to me. Ultimately, we will have vaccines to deal with this pandemic, just like we did in the 1950s and in 2009 (with the H1N1 virus).” 

These days, CAA Icon still maintains a heavy project load with some in the early stages of design, but Romani senses a bit of a wait-and-see attitude among other developments. It’s not as bad as it was in 2008-2010 when financing dried up, putting a halt to sports construction.

“Back then, we had two things going on, a pandemic and the subprime mortgage crisis and there wasn’t any sports lending happening out there,” he said. “This is not that kind of environment. Deals that have already been done are continuing to progress forward and money is being spent on design. But it does feel like a few projects we’ve been incubating with clients are going a bit slower and more cautious … just because they don’t feel the urgency.”