Stadia in a post viral era


Tragedies such as the Hillsborough and Heysel stadium disasters in the 1980s changed how spectators watched football in stadia significantly – will the coronavirus have similar impacts on the game's stadia culture? In the past several months KPMG's Football Benchmark practice has investigated, from several different angles, how the pandemic may impact the world of football, with our latest question being how it may influence the architecture and design of stadia in the future, and on its impacts on capacity and revenue.

Architecture has always been an expression of the time, and as such, has to adapt to change, including the new dangers imposed by an illness or a plague, too. Therefore, it is evident that the current COVID-19 crisis will have a major impact on society, and hence on architecture, too – points out architecture studio Fenwick Iribarren in their fresh study entitled „Architecture for a post viral era”. The report provides an overview of how the coronavirus pandemic will affect our use of public and private places, from city infrastructure through public transport, not to mention a remote working environment. Among others, it also provides some vital recommendations for future football stadium developments in the new post COVID-19 era.

A “UEFA Guide to Quality Stadiums” (published in 2011, and co-authored by Fenwick), sets out the requirements for stadium design and construction. Its first recommendation stating that “Stadium design should focus on the need to create people-friendly structures which provide maximum levels of comfort and safety” has never been more timely.

According to the new Fenwick study, post-COVID architecture, in general, will have to address two major issuesdistancing from each other and touching common surfaces/objects.

One of the common health measures recommended and taken universally amid the pandemic has been maintaining a distance of around two metres from others. Simultaneously, individuals sense that their comfort zones, the ratio of “closeness” with which they feel comfortable (which can be rather different in different cultures), has changed, too. Consequently, the need to keep the right distance will be a paramount new criterium for working, living or leisure spaces in future. The size and use of lifts, the width of stairs, the occupation density of public spaces, including the capacity of sport venues, are some of the most important measures to consider in order to implement solutions in compliance with the “standard” comfort zone and recommended health safety zone. Also, creating new spaces for persons at risk (as in disabled areas) could help to improve the comfort of older attendees, the Fenwick study argues.

The other key issue is “touching” – as a virus is spreading through shared surfaces and objects. As all surfaces can be contagious, the fewer surfaces we touch, the better. However, the need to touch objects and surfaces in buildings is almost inevitable, for example, when pushing a lift button, opening a door, holding on to a handrail or flushing a toilet.

Future property developments, including stadia, will need to embrace solutions that require minimum contact with such objects and surfaces. Technology will play a major role, and it is already available in the form of, for example, automatic doors or no doors at all, sensors and infrared detection systems to activate lights or other functions, and, especially in toilet areas, using self-flushing toilets and automatic soap dispensers. The use of hygienic materials and surfaces that are easily cleaned and disinfected will be also paramount.

Moreover, mobile technologies can provide practically a full non-touch scenario for individuals in a stadium and its precincts: access and tickets can be handled online, people can receive food and drink at their seats at half time by arranging both request and payment for F&B online, thus avoiding movement and further contact with others.

The Fenwick study also emphasizes the need for health screening procedures at stadium entrances: measures such as body temperature checks, or even the use of facial recognition linked to a health data base which includes possible at-risk individuals.

Additional focus should be placed on ventilation systems, as air can be a key transmitter of a virus. Present systems, which rely mostly on the movement of recirculated air, will need upgraded filtering, while the implementation of solutions which cause less movement of air, such as cold beam systems, may be essential, too.  Alternatively, buildings will need to “breathe” again, allowing more fresh air into them – which could be a return to “opening the window”, something which modern “green” architecture tends to avoid.

Implementing all of these solutions may be costly. In addition, the cost per spectator to host a match in a stadium will also increase because of the more complex access procedures, food and beverages eventually delivered to one's seat or not being sold at all to avoid the gathering of crowds, etc.

If such aspects, particularly the notion of maintaining a healthy distance, are to be taken into account when future stadia are planned, that would lead to a need for either developing bigger venues with the same number of seats, or reduced capacity. The first option would increase development and later operational costs, and thus is unlikely, while the latter would lead to a decrease in future matchday revenues, which is the likely outcome.

Obviously, matchday revenues are a key source of income for all football clubs. That revenue is affected not only by attendance but also by how a stadium is utilized. Our chart below shows the average stadia attendance and utilization by clubs in the top five European leagues. The German Bundesliga and the English Premier League perform best in this regard, while several Italian Serie A clubs struggle to attract massive crowds to their often old and large stadia.

With football halted in March and subsequently being forced to be played behind closed doors in most leagues, clubs felt the immediate impact of matchday revenues drying up. Our next chart lists the top 10 clubs by matchday revenues – it includes the matchday revenues for their total home matches played in all competitions in the 2018/19 season, and, based on that data, we also provide an estimate of their matchday losses this season due to home games being forced to be played behind closed doors both in their domestic leagues and in a European tournament, if applicable. It is important to note that these calculations give only theoretical figures with the aim of providing a high level indication of the magnitude and relevance of matchday losses these clubs are suffering amid the current pandemic.

If health restrictions prevail, longer-term matchday losses can hit even harder. At the same time, and as mentioned earlier, cost per spectator to host a match in the stadium will most likely increase.

According to Mark Fenwick, who leads Fenwick Iribarren Architects, changes will be apparent when fans are able to return to the stadia after the pandemic: he estimates that a 10-15% reduction in capacity will be generally implemented to ensure a reasonable level of comfort and health security. He believes that future developments also mandate a reduction of these facilities' overall capacity. In a recent interview* he pointed out that earlier examples show how stadiums have managed to adapt even when significant reductions of spectators had to be made: “I remember when the great disasters in England changed stadiums with people standing up to people sitting down and seating capacity was reduced by 30 per cent. Also, after 9/11 the entire process of security changed. All this I think is going to get better. It is necessary to see how the reduction of capacity is made, how the spaces where people mix are treated. But I think it is a sustainable and saleable challenge.”

If those things happen, they will decrease supply – but what about demand changes?
Although there is no metric to forecast this, Andrea Sartori, KPMG’s Global Head of Sports is optimistic.
It is still unknown whether fans will return to watch live football in the same crowded mass as before the pandemic,” he explains. “Experience, however, shows that once the direct and immediate threat of a crisis is gone, people tend to return to their routine activities—even more so if it is their passionate pastime. Alternatively, if a significant portion of dedicated fans turns out to be more cautious and chooses stay at home, live TV broadcasts and OTT services may see an additional boost to their recent, spectacular growth.” 

Sartori also believes that demographic trends, namely the changing consumption preferences of younger generations, could pose a bigger dilemma when stadium capacity is planned for future developments.

He observes, “In the future, attracting the younger generations to live games might be more challenging if stadia won’t be able to provide a high-tech tribal experience that is attractive to the tech-savvy younger generations and ensure a sustainable environment that complies with stricter health requirements.”


- Read our former article, an overview of the major stadia developments in Europe.

- * “This is how post-virus stadiums should be according to architect Fenwick” - an interview by Luis Villarejo with Mark Fenwick, Madrid, Apr 22 (efe-epa).