Following President Trump's reelection rally, an event widely criticized due to public health concerns amid surging COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma and Tulsa County, the operators of the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa said Thursday they are considering bringing another large event to the arena: a Professional Bull Riders competition in early August.
"PBR is very interested in doing a show in Tulsa, Oklahoma being one of the more open states," said Doug Thornton of ASM Global, the private company which operates the city-owned arena, during a virtual meeting of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority on Thursday.
"They have agreed to work with us to create a model, you know, for the future," Thornton said. "They want to be very aggressive and forward-leaning, if you will, in terms of the social distancing."
"They are under a bit of a timeline, they want to have their show in early August, so we would need to probably make some decisions on this pretty quickly," Thornton said. (ASM Global said at a TPFA meeting on Tuesday that they would not book any future events without seeking the guidelines of the authority.)
Thornton presented a lengthy "manifest" for policies related to attempting to safely hold events while the pandemic still rages, including sanitizing measures, crowd control, limiting capacity, and other protocol.
TPFA Chair Marcia MacLeod said she found the plans "very comprehensive."
Trustee Jim Coles, Mayor G.T. Bynum's designee on the board, pointed out that, based on ASM Global's presentation, if the PBR event were booked, Tulsa "would have two of the first three events nationally [held] indoors."
Trustee George Sartain asked why ASM could not require attendees to wear masks or other face coverings for the duration of any potential events.
"It becomes an enforcement issue, and it's a difficult one when you've got 5-, 6-, 7,000 people in a building and they choose not to wear their masks -- I mean, I don't know what our legal rights are to eject them or force them to wear a mask," Thornton said, calling it a "grey area" because of the arena's status as a publicly-owned facility.
Thornton said tickets for any future event would include an "assumption of risk," which is common, he said, for events such as baseball games and golf tournaments.
"If you get hit by a golf ball at the tournament, you're assuming that responsibility," Thornton said.
Following Thornton saying that every single person working any event would be temperature checked and be required to have personal protective equipment, including those not directly employed by ASM, Coles asked Thornton how stringent the arena operators would be for performers.
"When Gene Simmons from KISS shows up in October, [BOK Center General Manager Casey Sparks] is going to test his forehead for temperature?" Coles asked.
"I think that would be a question for the agent and the artist. I don't believe they're going to let us test them," Thornton said.
"I'm just trying to get clarity on if people are able to enter the building without being tested, and it seems like there may be a small group of people who can," Coles said.
In response to a question from MacLeod, Thornton conceded that they could include a clause in a license agreement requiring performers be subject to temperature checks by arena staff, but that doing so may dissuade artists from booking at the BOK Center.
The authority did not reach a conclusion on whether or not they would recommend the bull-riding event be booked, instead delaying a vote for a future meeting but saying that ASM should begin discussions with PBR so as not to lose out on the booking in case it's determined the competition can be safely held.
PBR held one of the first sporting events during the pandemic in Oklahoma, an April tournament without fans at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie.