DIVIDE AND CONQUER: 4Topps offers its countertop seating with dividers and hand sanitizers for golf tournaments. (Courtesy 4Topps)

Products help venues control size and density of post-lockdown crowds

The pandemic has seating manufacturers taking steps to protect patrons and venue managers. Plastic dividers, seat covers and greater education on sanitation are all part of their focus during the COVID-19 crisis.

4Topps, the Winston-Salem, N.C., firm that has carved a niche producing a four-seat countertop product for retrofits at arenas and stadiums, now makes plexiglass dividers for those structures attached with hand sanitizers for PGA Tour tournaments.

For golf, those seats are typically set up inside corporate hospitality chalets with views to the course. Tournament officials rent them from 4Topps as part of an upgraded experience. Mounting “privacy panels” to both sides of the structure adds 50% to the rental cost, said Deron Nardo, the company’s principal and president.

Nardo would not disclose the costs to rent the upgraded seats. As of mid-June, 4Topps was waiting to hear whether there was interest among tournaments scheduled toward the end of the PGA Tour calendar.

The Memorial Tournament, July 16-19 in Dublin, Ohio, is scheduled to be the first PGA Tour event where fans will be admitted.

The dividers can be adapted to other sports venues. 4Topps officials are discussing permanent installations at sports facilities outside of golf but no deals have been signed, Nardo said.

As teams address the issue of social distance design at their venues, the challenge is to provide protection and maintain ticket revenue.

Irwin Seating, a leading seating manufacturer, produces seats for a variety of public assembly facilities, including performing arts centers and high school auditoriums, in addition to arenas and stadiums. To some degree, arriving at a formula that works depends on the venue and how the operator wants to handle appropriate distancing, Irwin said.

“In some areas of the country, they can start at 25%  capacity and others at 50%,” said Coke Irwin, senior vice president of sales and marketing and a fourth generation of the family that owns the firm. “When you get folks into the facility, how many groups are you going to allow to sit together? Some are saying a set number, per household. What is a household? It’s open ended.”

Camatic Seating produces seat covers with the universal red slash symbol for teams and venues to use as temporary seat kills. Irwin Seating does the same thing. The issue, Coke Irwin said, is fans can always remove those covers to sit in those seats, which doesn’t really resolve the issue.

Another option is installing beam-mounted seats with all seats in a single row attached to a steel beam underneath. Both vendors produce those structures as well, which allow teams to more easily create separation between seats for social distance purposes.

Physically removing seats in the COVID-19 era becomes a delicate balancing act for venue operators, Irwin said.

“Seats are installed on site, so when you take them apart, you’re taking the components apart and then you must find a place to store them and sort all of the stock accordingly,” he said. “Not that it can’t be done, but there’s challenges in thinking about starting to remove seats because all the rows are linked together too.”

By virtue of its core product, 4Topps officials remain confident about the future of their business.

The four-top tables, a spin on the loge box concept, take up a greater amount of space, which is top of mind for all venues during the national shutdown. Plus, those seats are marketed as a premium offering, which allows teams to charge higher ticket prices for fewer seats compared with a larger number of regular admission seats.