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Kat Steinberg, Associate Director for Sports + Events at Movement Strategies, explains how standing in stadia has evolved, and underlines the value of gathering and analysing crowd event data.
For venue owners and operators, an unrivalled atmosphere is a key part of the fan experience. Whether it be providing the ‘12th man’ that inspires a last-minute goal, a world-class ambience that keeps music fans coming back for more, or an optimum food and beverage offer, getting it right can deliver long-term commercial benefits. One subject currently at the center of the stadium atmosphere debate is safe standing. This article introduces the concept of ‘controlled crowding’ – acknowledging that the fan’s experience extends beyond the seating bowl, and this needs to be reflected in the design of modern stadia.
Safe standing and spectator experience
Over the past few years, soccer clubs and authorities in England have investigated the potential for introducing safe standing areas, in part inspired by the tremendous atmosphere and successful use of the system in Germany by clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, as well as its introduction in the Scottish Premier League, at Celtic FC in 2016.
However, before this is lauded as an immediate solution to recreating a quintessential part of the soccer experience, it must be recognized that many die-hard fans’ perception of standing terraces as they were in the 1970s and 1980s cannot be met by the facilities now being installed. Gone are the days where four or five supporters were packed into a square meter of space – regulated standing terraces provide the same capacity as permanent seating and are themselves dual-purpose seats, specifically designed to facilitate persistent standing.
While those wishing to stand are likely to want to be located behind the goals, lead chants, create a high proportion of noise and actively dictate atmosphere, it is the modern affluent supporter, with increased purchasing power and higher expectations, that contributes most to overall in-event revenues. Modern stadia need to cater for the diverse needs and expectations of all supporter groups without compromising atmosphere.
In the USA, it is not unusual to arrive and tailgate at an event many hours before the start time. Venue operators and clubs have recognized that providing the space and opportunity for supporters to congregate and engage with people with similar motivations is an important part of the event experience. The psychological effect of being part of a crowd of like-minded people is profound, and contributes to creating a special atmosphere – think of choosing between a good, but empty, restaurant or a mediocre restaurant that is buzzing with customers.
More traditional stadia in the UK are struggling to offer spaces to facilitate this away from the seating bowl, and this limits the atmosphere outside the stadium. These venues were built to facilitate regulated viewing of on-pitch activity – concourses are cold and uninviting, with food and beverage offers and other facilities installed for functionality only, rather than tapping into consumer preferences or demand.
Increasingly, venues in the UK are making use of external spaces as areas for gathering of supporters, much like the long-established US experience. During the Rugby World Cup 2015 Twickenham Stadium extended its ticketed boundary to include one of its parking lots and created a fan village for thousands of supporters. This unique space also offset two of the main challenges for any event – queues at security screening and the last-minute rush from local transport – as supporters were effectively already in the venue. The ability to provide this space proved to be of great commercial value, and it is thought that the fan village was a major contributing factor in attracting the NFL to Twickenham in 2016.
With a greater variety of activities taking place at or around the venue, fan behavior becomes harder to understand, predict and plan for. This increased complexity underpins the need to collect and analyze data to identify attendees’ demographics, movement and spending behaviors to optimize operations for each group and each event type.
Technological investment in modern stadia and venues means that we can now reveal more insights into patterns of demand and behavior than ever before. For example, most turnstiles operate using barcode scans or RFID, providing second-by-second data on arrival patterns at specific entry points – this can be used to track demographic profiles, group behavior and any correlation between ticket type or value and arrival times. Club apps supported by in-venue Wi-Fi can deliver content to supporters, while also providing feedback on locations visited, dwell times and journeys made, which can all be aggregated to build up a picture of how people engage with the different spaces and the range of activities experienced. The ability to access and extract insight from these datasets can create a catalyst for improving the fan experience, particularly as the scope extends beyond the stadium boundary.
Movement Strategies advise stadia, clubs and organisations around the world on crowd dynamics, crowd safety & security.