Is the time right for safe-standing?

02.10.2018

For over 20 years, standing has been prohibited at most top-flight stadia across Europe. All-seater grounds have been in place in England and Wales since 1994 and from 1996 in Italy’s Serie A. Tragic incidents and hooliganism were the main catalysts for this transformation in many European countries, but with football stadia turning into modern, security-conscious venues and fans increasingly demanding more atmosphere, there are moves afoot in some European leagues to reintroduce areas specifically for standing.

As sentiment starts to shift in some countries, the KPMG Football Benchmark team provides an analysis of the situation in Europe’s big five leagues and the opportunities that a change in safe-standing regulation may bring.

Convertible

The potential for increasing stadium capacity through standing is evidenced in Germany, where it has never been banned. At a sold-out Borussia Dortmund (BVB) home game in the Bundesliga, over 15,000 more paying customers go through the turnstiles than for a Champions League tie. BVB, for domestic games, convert their stadium from the all-seater configuration prescribed by UEFA to a mixture of seating and standing that German domestic football has always offered. A similar conversion of all-seater grounds may soon be permissible in other European leagues, clearing the way for clubs to increase capacity and, as a result, generate more revenue without necessarily enlarging the stadium footprint.

As in Italy, top level grounds in Spain have also been all-seater since the late-1990s. Although some areas in both countries are often sold as ‘standing accommodation’, there are currently no signs of any shift in the regulatory position that would open-up the potential for increasing capacity. In France and England, however, the situation seems to be shifting.

In France, the government announced a trial of standing areas earlier this year and in September this got underway at AS Saint-Étienne and Amiens SC in Ligue 1 and at RC Lens and FC Sochaux-Montbéliard in Ligue 2.  At Saint-Étienne this meant the simple addition of barriers, while the trial areas at the other grounds have involved more conventional terracing. Capacities are currently unchanged, but at RC Lens, for example, campaigners who have worked closely with the club on the project see scope for a significant increase in due course.

In the United Kingdom another form of modern standing, the so-called ‘rail seating’, has been in use for over two years at Celtic, which, as a Scottish club, is not subject to the all-seater policy of England.  

Ground work

While a current review of policy by the government may soon lead to formal standing areas being permitted at Premier League and Championship grounds in England and Wales, Tottenham Hotspur have announced that when their new stadium opens later this year it will include ‘seating incorporating barriers’, as such seats are called in the new Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (the so-called Green Guide), due to be published shortly by the government’s Sports Ground Safety Authority.

Regarded globally as the definitive reference work on best practice in stadium safety, the Green Guide is expected to set-out specifications for increasing capacity in areas devoted to seating with barriers. While other important aspects of spectator movement - such as access points and the emptying of stadia - must naturally be guaranteed and taken into account, there is also potential to generate much higher gate receipts. Alternatively, the possibility of admitting more spectators may contribute to clubs making football more socially inclusive through more affordable ticket prices in standing areas.

Recent polls reveal that in England, a large majority of Premier League supporters are in favour of the reintroduction of standing areas. A current feature of many English grounds is the persistent standing of supporters in seated areas, which presents some crowd control issues given many stadia have ground rules that claim to penalise people who refuse to sit. This also reflects the growing preference, particularly among younger fans, to reject their seats.

Sensitivity

However, with stadium disasters still fresh in the memory of football clubs, any move to revive terracing or introduce convertible seating would need to be handled sensitively and with safety at the forefront of discussions. However, since the troubles of the 1980s, stadium design, technology and crowd management approaches have certainly moved on from an age where crowds were packed into football grounds with often outdated provision for safety.

Any new ground development or adaption will inevitably come with increased costs for clubs, although this could be offset by cost efficiencies – one of them being saving money through not having to replace broken seats every season – derived from more flexible and robust stadium accommodation. Historically, standing admission prices have been lower than seating, but in the medium-term clubs could decide to recoup their investment through the turnstiles. Other benefits are more aesthetic, ranging from a dynamic ambience due to the reintroduction of standing, producing a more vibrant product that will undoubtedly appeal to TV broadcasters and sponsors – with La Liga’s introduction in 2016 of fines for clubs leaving empty seats in view of TV cameras recognising this.

With the ongoing trials in France, the government review of its all-seater policy in England, the continued success of standing in Germany and the imminent publication of new best practice guidelines, this is certainly a period of change in the stadium landscape in some of Europe’s top leagues. Many issues – with spectator security at the top of the agenda – are at stake and the continuing shift in the regulatory position gives club Chief Executive Officers and other stakeholders plenty of food for thought.

Further investigation into this and related topics, as well as analysis of industry data, can be undertaken for you by KPMG Sports Advisory Practice. Our subject matter experts can also assist stakeholders in assessing and interpreting the potential impact on their organizations of any particular piece of research, identifying the underlying reasons behind specific trends or developing potential solutions and considering future scenarios.