I can completely understand the desire of football clubs to want to allow fans back into stadiums and they must have had a celebrating moment when it was announced last week that stadiums could open as early as October but the reality of the situation makes you wonder just how possible that really is.
Let us use the example of the Liberty Stadium. A stadium that holds a little over 20,000 people in a typical bowl format served by one concourse around the inside of the bowl with upper tier and lower tier seating sharing the same stair wells to reach that concourse.
If you were to assume that stadium’s opened with 25% capacity then that would mean just over 5,000 people in the Liberty to watch the game but with the following challenges
- Keeping to social distancing guidelines. If we assumed that to be 1m by the time October came around that would mean a two seat gap in all directions between supporters. Families could, I guess, sit closer together but how you manage that when setting up the tickets to be sold is almost impossible to manage.
- Standing would clearly not be allowed (to maintain social distancing) nor would leaving your seats during the game, or possibly even at half time, to protect the social distancing. In addition to this the stadium would need to have a “one way in, one way out” policy for all of the stands and exit after the game would be in a controlled environment.
- Entry would be more of a challenge. Although you may have a ticket for the game you could (and likely would) find yourself sitting in the next available seat according to the available seat map. This could overcome some of the family challenges mentioned but not fully as I suspect seats would be marked as “Ok to use” or “not to be used” which still creates the same problem.
- Time of entry may prove to be an issue as all clubs would be keen to avoid congestion outside the stadium which creates as much of an issue. Would a ticket have a time of entry on it as well as a “one entrance only” option to eradicate those points of congestion outside the ground?
- Toilet facilities would need to be carefully monitored with restricted numbers in each one and it is possible that catering would be very limited, if available at all. For those that use the East Stand we can all vouch for the congestion there on a normal game so controlling that will be absolute key.
These are just five things off the top of my head that I can relate to having spent some time discussing the potential of opening our working premises on the day job. We reached a simple conclusion that we wouldn’t re-open them until there is substantial relaxing of the rules and logically that is how football stadia should work.
When do you think stadiums will open again
- Next year (82%, 47 Votes)
- October (12%, 7 Votes)
- November (5%, 3 Votes)
- December (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 57
None of the above takes into account how you ensure people’s safety should someone – who sat in the East for the last game – test positive for Covid and therefore which people sitting around them should self isolate as a result (if indeed any should) which then takes away the ability to take the next available seat. It also dismisses completely the more vulnerable to the condition of our fans (those with underlying health conditions) and of course the comfort of people in attending stadia in a mass gathering as early as October.
Then you have the challenge of who are the 5,000 (if this is the magic number)? Do you start with those who have renewed their season ticket, those who are most comfortable or is it simply a case of first come first served.
One thing I do know is that I would not like to be the person/people who have to work out the logistics of spectators returning to stadium any time this side of Christmas at the earliest. It feels a thankless task and one that will never have the right answer or even possibly any answer at all.
I completely understand the total desire of clubs (especially at our level and below) to get back to the stage where crowds are coming in at the moment. Income has been slashed, jobs have been lost and futures are uncertain but this feels a logistical nightmare and not one that I am sure that football (or any other mass spectator sports) can overcome without the risk of peaks having been largely overcome.