We often pride ourselves with the ear splitting decibel levels that can be reached, both naturally and artificially, in stadiums and arenas around the world. manufactured chants, loud music, amplified sounds of every kind can bombard the senses. Try to find a quiet moment to chat sometimes may even require leaving your seat, but it’s the type of environment many fans thrive on. After all, you never hear an announcer saying, at least in a positive way, that the crowd reached a deafening stillness, do you?
However for people—especially children—with sensory issues, arenas and stadiums can be very difficult places to enjoy even a few minutes, with all that goes into game presentation. One team, the MLS New York Red Bulls, has taken a bold new step to try and find a happy, and maybe quieter medium.
In 2017 the team unveiled a sensory-friendly area for families affected by Autism and all those needing it. The team joined up with the Family Services team from Autism Awareness to design the room, which provides space for families to enjoy Red Bulls games while sitting inside, away from the bulk of the noise and energy of the arena. It occupies space previously used as executive offices, which overlook the pitch near midfield and is carefully painted and arranged to give those people who need it a break without missing the action. The room features dimmed lighting to offer a soothing effect, along with visual aids, fidget toys and other activities.
“Our General Manager, Marc de Grandpre, had the idea and vision to create a sensory friendly environment for people all season,” said Christina Giunta Quarino, Sr. Director, Field Marketing & Community Relations. “As an advocate to bring awareness to Autism, Marc knew that many places do not offer this for families. Thus, most families are only able to attend events as a family on an awareness night. We want to give families the ability to attend our games all year long.”
Quarino said the response to the room has been, well, overwhelmingly positive…
“The support of staff directing me to the Quiet room and Sensory room for my son who has autism was excellent. The sensory room itself provided my son with a much needed space towards the end of the match. I am much appreciative of Red Bulls arena for making a permanent space like the sensory room for children like my son. Previously we were nervous about taking him to the stadium, but knowing that this room exists, makes it more likely that we will attend future events as a family.”
This was just one of scores of messages the team has received in the first few weeks that the room has been available.
To gain access to the Sensory Room, families and fans do not need a special ticket to the games. All fans need to do is approach Fan Services at a Red Bulls Game and they will assist them to reach the Sensory Room on the 5th floor.
Thus far, the team said it has received numerous requests from teams, especially those looking to provide more special services and redesign space, about the use and viability of the new room. While some may say a room like this occupies prime sellable real estate, the MLS team is quick to point out that the real value of the room is not in its cost, it’s in its usefulness to address a need that fans, especially families, have, and addressing that need can both set precedent and build infinite good will and consumer loyalty well beyond a monetary value.
Score one for the Red Bulls with a new initiative that should be trending upward with teams sensitive to their fans needs around the world.