Toronto Wolfpack to use contact-tracing wristbands when fans return

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Like other local sports teams, the Toronto Wolfpack doesn’t know when or if they’ll be able to play in front of fans any time soon. But the city’s pro rugby team is making preparations for the day they can. 

The Wolfpack has made a deal with TraceSafe, a Vancouver-based wearable tech company recently acquired by Blockchain, to provide fans with contact-tracing smart wristbands if and when they can return to Lamport Stadium for a match. 

“With us, everything is about fan experience,” says Wolfpack CEO Bob Hunter. “We’re a pretty casual game. We’re an 80-minute game, it’s fun for the family, we’ve got a great beer garden. So we’re always trialling new things to enhance that experience. And with COVID, this can be a bit of a safety blanket for our fans.”

The Wolfpack aren’t likely to play at their home stadium right away even when games resume. As the only team not based in England or France in the Super League, they’ll likely play fan-less games in the UK before returning home. Hunter says that though the team can’t be sure of any concrete timelines, he’s proceeding as if the season is restarting in early to mid-August in closed stadiums and hopes that the Wolfpack can have fans back at Lamport by October. 

“That’s going to be tough, but we’re still holding hope for at least four or five games,” says Hunter. 

Ontario has started easing COVID-19 lockdown measures, but large events are expected to be among the last sectors to resume.

The Wolfpack is dealing with restrictions in both Ontario and the UK, and it’s also uncertain how the TraceSafe technology might be implemented. But the team is getting samples next Monday and are trying to “remove all the question marks” around personal privacy, regulation and cost as much as they can before they become an issue. 

The bracelets act as two-way radios that can be used for contact-tracing,  giving instructions for physical distancing, and guiding fans to specific seats or areas of the stadium. Postgame, they can tell a fan if they’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and let them know to get tested or self-isolate and check for symptoms. 

TraceSafe bracelets are currently being implemented or explored in different parts of the world as regulations loosen. In Hong Kong, they’re being used to enforce self-isolation for all incoming travellers.

Though the Canadian government is exploring options for a contact-tracing smartphone app, these wristbands would better protect fans’ privacy, Hunter says.

“The fan would enter their own personal code, and that’s like a band code,” he says. “The stadium and team doesn’t get their info. And then if they’re exposed, it’s a matter of us texting them that someone around them has tested positive. And that’s the end of everything to do with it.”

Hunter doesn’t expect to play in front of 10,000-capacity crowds or use that many wristbands. If it’s 20 per cent, it would be more like 2,000 people. Maybe they’d start by playing just for season ticket holders. It all depends on Ontario regulations and where they’ll be in October. Until then they’re figuring out logistics – if fans have to opt-in to using a wristband, if the cost is built into the ticket, etc. 

“As you can imagine, rugby is a very high contact sport so it’s likely going to be a phased approach [to returning], but we’re trying to get to a point that when the government says ‘you can go, we’re ready to go right away,” says Hunter.

And he hopes that given the team’s recent success, getting promoted to the Super League after a 26-1 season, they can keep up the hype. 

“There was a lot of excitement and momentum around the team, so hopefully we can keep it going even if we don’t play games in Toronto right away.”

@trapunski

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Richard has covered Toronto’s music scene for over a decade. He was once called a “mush-brained millennial blogger” by a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and “actually a pretty good guy” by a Juno-nominated director.

Read more by Richard Trapunski

June 11, 2020

4:27 PM