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Q and A with Minnesota Ice Arena Managers Association about Covid 19, the pause, and moving forward

11/28/2020, 10:30am CST
By Let's Play Hockey

The Minnesota Ice Arena Managers Association is a volunteer organization of arena managers and related vendors throughout Minnesota, other states and Canada. MIAMA provides communication and support systems for arenas, arena managers and staff to better face issues within the industry. They have been working with several other organizations such as Minnesota Hockey, the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, the Minnesota State High School League and the Minnesota Department of Health in providing safety guidelines and protocols to provide for a safe environment at member arenas.

Mat Hennen is the President of MIAMA and also runs the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria. We asked Hennen several questions concerning the pandemic and the current pause instituted by Governor Tim Walz.

Below is our Q and A with Hennen:

Q: We know you guys have worked tirelessly with all of the strict guidelines with member arenas. How did that process go?

A: In the months leading up to our first reopening in June, our membership held weekly meetings to go over the Executive Orders from the Governor and also taking from the CDC and MDH.  We would share that information to our membership during these meetings on Zoom and also post it on the MIAMA website.  Since reopening in June we have continued to hold a meeting every two weeks for our membership to submit questions in regard to COVID Preparedness Plans or general operation questions. We also invite the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission along with Minnesota Hockey to help answer these questions from the membership on Zoom. 

All rinks are different in that some are operated privately, by a city, or in some small cases the state of Minnesota/University. In keeping those things in mind, each facility had to decide what protocols they would be able to implement with the amount of resources that they had and also get approval from their governing body (for example: a city rink may need approval from a city manager or city council).

Q: Did you find that most arenas/arena managers followed strict protocols put in place by the Minnesota Department of Health?

The Minnesota Ice Arena Managers Association provided and shared the information that was available from the Minnesota Department of Health and Center of Disease Control and feel each arena/facility in the membership implemented what their resources allowed them to do and operate in accordance to the executive orders that were issued.

Each facility in terms of space to spread out to safely to accommodate 6-feet for physical distancing can vary depending upon lobby and hallway size. 

We have continued to adapt as we learn more from MDH and CDC in terms of coming dressed before entering the building, along with the use of face coverings, and the admittance of fans/spectators. Each facility had to work with their governing body to put protocols into place and have plans on how they were going to administer them. While many protocols are similar between each of our membership arenas, some may have more protocols in place then others due to a wide range of reasons but may consist of Staffing Resources, Financial Resources, and Operational Constraints.

We feel rinks have worked very hard in following the guidelines set forth from the Governor’s Office along with the CDC and MDH.

Q: Were there any big outbreaks traced back to arenas? Most associations we talked to said that most positive cases came from outside the arenas.

A: MIAMA has not been informed of outbreaks traced to a specific arena.  Teams are asked to be in pods of 25 or less when inside ice arenas. What those pods turn into once they leave the facility is on each of those individual groups.  There is a need for some personal responsibility from all of us when we leave the rinks and what we do in our everyday lives. If we are operating like we have done before the pandemic, more than likely we are doing it wrong.

Q: What happens with all of the ice time that was purchased and can now not be utilized? What does this pause do to the financial situations of cities/arenas and associations who purchased ice? What about arena managers? Will they still get paid for the next four weeks and perhaps longer?

A: Each rink and governing body for those rinks will be answering those tough questions in the next couple of weeks.  Obviously, like most businesses that have closed down during the pandemic, finances will need to be addressed by each individual facility. A lot of arenas will try to be more efficient in energy by raising ice temps and shaving down the ice sheets so equipment does not have to work as hard to keep the ice surface cold. Other options may be to take ice out completely.  A rule of thumb in the industry has been if you are going to be closed for more than a month, you would want to take your ice out. Tough spot we are in right now so each rink will be making their decision strictly off of their own operation.  As far as staffing goes, organizations may utilize this time to work on projects that normally are done in the spring; or may utilize the staff in other areas within their organization if they have the capacity.  In some cases furloughs of part-time and full-time staff may occur. All of us in the arena industry will be impacted in some shape or form.

Q: Did you find that most players, coaches and parents followed the arena guidelines throughout the state?

A: We would say a high percentage did a great job at following the guidelines. The older kids along with adult teams have had a harder time transitioning to the new guidelines while younger players have adapted well. In the summer months, teams traveling from the Dakotas and Wisconsin also had issues following the guidelines as their states did not have the same guidelines. When you have been operating a certain way for so long, it is hard to fully expect people to adapt to those changes right away. Education of the rules to our players, coaches, and families is part of our everyday operation starting at the entryway. All businesses have new protocols in place and these changes are no different to ice arenas.  

MIAMA will continue to work with the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, Minnesota Hockey, and Minnesota State High School League on reopening plans during this four week pause. Right now is the time to protect and help our health care system. While it’s difficult to put a pause on sports and facilities we all have a passion for in Minnesota, we will respect our state leaders decisions and find better ways to operate when it’s time to open once again.

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