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Return to Play

In late 2020, league officials from both the NBA and NHL were looking at ways to protect both the players and fans in their arenas. Ahead of their respective seasons, each league published return to play protocols that included recommended and required measures. These guidelines prioritized measures intended to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and were informed by both current CDC and ASHRAE guidance, discussions with team and arena personnel, and reviewed with medical experts, engineers, and certified industrial hygienists. Each arena and team were required to respond to the guidelines with documentation of compliance. SSR was engaged by multiple venues in both leagues to help with their compliance and response to the issued protocols.


Leveraging our familiarity with the HVAC systems and arena staff, SSR worked with facility personnel from Chase Center (Golden State Warriors), Little Caesars Arena (Detroit Pistons), Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse (Cleveland Cavaliers), AmericanAirlines Arena (Miami Heat), and Amway Center (Orlando Magic) to provide a mechanical systems analysis in response to the league issued protocols. The team then developed a mechanical system report for each facility documenting the steps being taken by the facility to ensure safe entry for patrons. The SSR team also worked with facility engineering staff from Bridgestone Arena and Amalie Arena as they bid to host the Toronto Raptors for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

SSR studied the reset protocols and, in tandem with facility engineering teams, drafted responses to the protocols for each venue’s air ventilation and filtration systems. These responses looked at multiple items presented by the protocols and tried to accommodate the recommendations either by utilizing the existing systems, minor updates, or completely new additions to comply with the guidelines. Some of the key recommendations as outlined by the CDC and ASHRAE were:

  • Increasing the amount of outside air ventilation within the facility accomplished by increasing the minimum ventilation setpoints in the existing arena BAS (building automation system)
  • Disabling demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce outside air supply based on occupancy
  • Viability of using natural ventilation
  • Improving central air filtration to MERV 13 or better
  • Providing a minimum of one complete air turnover with fresh air just before doors open for events, while maintaining indoor temperature and relative humidity requirements
  • Running building ventilation systems 24/7 to maximize dilution ventilation for all spaces within the facility.


Like our experience with numerous NBA venues, SSR was engaged by facility engineering staff at NHL arenas where we have familiarity and existing relationships. Those venues include Amalie Arena (Tampa Bay Lighting), Bridgestone Arena (Nashville Predators), and Little Caesars Arena (Detroit Red Wings). Building on the protocols set forth by the NBA as noted above, the NHL recommended each arena review their mechanical systems to ensure proper air change rates based on CDC and AHSRAE guidelines were maintained. They recommended increasing ventilation filtration where possible. In addition, an independent ventilation analysis (air test and balance report) for all occupied spaces was required. The purpose of this analysis was to confirm supply, outdoor air, and exhaust ventilation rates and establish whether the existing system was performing to the basis of its design, thus ensuring proper airflow rates within the building are maintained. SSR has assisted in the preparation, solicitation, and evaluation of these reports.

From a mechanical view, both the NBA and the NHL have responsibly implemented measures that will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. SSR has additional information on how to safely prepare your facility to return to operations:

Bring your Building Back Online  

Enhancements to Reduce the Risk of COVID-19

Clearing the Air on HVAC Systems in a Pandemic

Air Cleaning and Treatment

How COVID-19 May Reshape the Built Environment – LEED’s Response to Safe Re-opening

Effective COVID-19 Mitigation for HVAC Systems

Chris Loftis bio