In recent years football stadia have gradually evolved into modern venues, providing a safe and comfortable environment for fans to enjoy a match. A key element of this transformation has been, in many cases, the replacement of large standing terraces, which were unavoidably connected to tragic incidents of the past, with all-seater venues.
Standing terraces have been a taboo subject for some time, but the successful implementation of new terracing designs in various European countries, most notably in Germany, has encouraged fans to campaign for the adoption of similar models in their domestic leagues. In this article, KPMG’s Football Benchmark team investigates safe standing regulations across major European leagues.
It is widely believed that a more vibrant and exciting atmosphere results from the ability of fans to stand at matches. With clubs becoming increasingly aware of the dynamic aspect of standing supporters, it is now common for stadium architects to design new venues with the optionality to accommodate safe-standing areas. For example, this factor is being considered for Tottenham Hotspur FC’s new stadium, but also, outside the traditional footballing nations, for Orlando City SC’s new 25,500 capacity stadium, opening in 2017, and Western Sydney Wanderers FC's new 30,000 venue, planned for 2019.
Stadia in the Bundesliga, the only major European league currently allowing safe standing, are often praised for their unique atmosphere and considered as the optimal case study for this phenomenon. In the 2016/17 season, 10 out of 18 stadia in the German top-division included areas able to host more than 10,000 standing fans. Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, with its famous ‘Yellow Wall’, leads the ranking in this regard, followed by local rivals FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Vfl Mönchengladbach.
On the other hand, national legislation in England, Spain, France and Italy, each with their own characteristics, all highlight a venue’s obligation to provide a numbered seat for each spectator. Thus, while not strictly referring to the right to stand of those in possession of a numbered ticket, it does not permit the introduction of safe standing areas. However, despite similarities in legislation, the actual approach varies across the different leagues.
Article 13 of the English Football League ground regulations, followed by Premier League and Championship clubs, explicitely state that “nobody may stand in any seating area whilst play is in progress” and a similar statement can be often read in the code of conduct of Italian stadia.
However, despite such rulings, attempts to implement the strict enforcement of seating policies have often resulted in confrontation between clubs and fans, most notably in the recent case of West Ham United FC’s London Stadium. In fact, the tighter regulatory environment, higher utilisation rates and higher ticket prices at Premier League stadia explain why English supporters organisations have led the campaign to change legislation.
Last November the French Association of Football Supporters also expressed its support for the implementation of safe standing. The approach of French clubs seems less coordinated in this regard. While some clubs specifically refer in their ground regulations to the prohibition of standing while play is in progress, others such as SM Caen, Valenciennes FC or AS Saint-Etienne have adopted alternative solutions, providing fans with numbered seats specially designed to allow standing alongside them.
Similarly, clubs in Spanish LaLiga also recognise and encourage the creation of specific supporting areas for those keen to stand and actively support their squad, although still in areas with numbered seats. As a result of this mixed approach, Spanish fans had been until now less vocal for the return of standing areas, but, last month, a group of minority shareholders of Real Sociedad, whose stadium will soon undergo a significant renovation process, also issued an official request to modify current legislation.
In addition to providing an intense match atmosphere, there is certainly a commmercial case for safe standing, especially in stadia with high utilisation rates. Moreover, fan organisations have demonstrated their support for the introduction safe standing and a few clubs, especially in England, have been more willing recently to approach the topic and have entered into consultation with their supporters. However, the question remains whether this will be enough. Indeed, in their latest report on sports strategy, the British government confirmed it remains unconvinced by the case for reintroducing standing accommodation, confirming that such a process will undoubtedly be very time-consuming.
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.