NCAA softball tournament: Women's College World Series to have 100% fan capacity
Last year was supposed to be the grand unveiling of a renovated and expanded USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium before the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to the complex’s premier event — the Women’s College World Series.
Friday, as OU and Oklahoma State began their postseason runs they hope lead them to Oklahoma City, USA Softball announced it would allow 100% capacity for next month’s WCWS.
The path for the announcement was Wednesday when the NCAA announced that local public health authorities would determine fan capacities after recommendation of the NCAA’s COVID-19 medical advisory group.
The eight-team WCWS is set for June 3-9 at the newly expanded stadium.
Organizers were originally expecting to host this year’s event with 25% fan capacity before recent updates, said Sue Hollenbeck, director of sports business for the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We were all thinking it was going to stay at 50% with a small chance of 100,” Hollenbeck said. “But we have the utmost confidence to be able to do what needs to be done.”
Declining COVID-19 numbers, and the increased vaccination rates in the state and nationally, helped lead to the change.
The most recent numbers available from the Oklahoma State Department of Health showed just more than 1,600 active cases in the state, with fewer than 170 added May 15, the most recent day available. At the peak of the pandemic, in January, more than 3,800 cases were added in a day.
Nearly 1.3 million in the state have been fully vaccinated with nearly 1.6 million receiving at least one dose of vaccine.
This will be the 30th WCWS in Oklahoma City and the first since a stadium renovation after the 2019 event expanded the permanent seating at Hall of Fame Stadium from 2,000 to 9,000. Fan capacity for the event is more than 13,000 after the addition of temporary bleachers behind the outfield wall and standing-room-only spots.
Much of the added permanent seating capacity came from the new 4,000-seat upper deck with chair-backed seating.
Hollenbeck said event organizers were originally expecting to host the WCWS next month with 25% fan capacity. Hollenbeck asked that fans remain patient as officials work through the changing logistics of hosting the event.
"We were all thinking it was going to stay at 50% with a small chance of 100," Hollenbeck said. "But we have the utmost confidence to be able to do what needs to be done."
Hollenbeck said it was unlikely tailgating would be allowed at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex and that the Convention and Visitors Bureau was working with officials to arrange a shuttle service for fans parking at nearby Remington Park once again.
"We're just happy, one, that we're having it, and two, that fans will be there," Hollenbeck said. "I just want everyone to be patient as we move forward."
The upgrades at Hall of Fame Stadium — a $27.5 million, three-phase improvement financed by bonds and approved by voters in 2017 — also added suites, locker rooms and media facilities as well as a new playing surface with improved drainage.
Losing last year’s event meant a loss of about $24 million in economic impact for the Oklahoma City metro area, Hollenbeck said.
About 70% of fans attending the event come from outside the state, Hollenbeck said, increasing business at hotels, restaurants and other attractions.
“It was a huge loss for us last year,” she said. “We’re really happy to have it back.”
The Big 12 Tournament was recently held in the stadium, with an announced crowd of 3,789 watching the title game, a 10-2 Sooners win over the Cowgirls.
"It's been a long time since we have felt what it's really felt like (to have a full crowd)," OU coach Patty Gasso said earlier this week, after announcements by the NCAA and OU cleared the way for full attendance in the postseason, including at this weekend’s regionals in Norman and Stillwater. "I know masks are kind of going away and things like that, so it's going to look normal, it's going to sound normal.”
Single-session tickets will go on sale at 11 a.m. Thursday at ncaa.com/wcws.