All Change?

Originally published in Panstadia magazine, Q4, 2017

I get mighty irritated by fans who struggle to get out and take a pee during soccer games. Unlike American venues UK soccer stadiums were not designed for this: we have narrower tread depths and the assumption is that spectators will sit tight during play and not disrupt their neighbours through constant ‘calls of nature’. But these calls are getting more frequent as beverage sales rise and bladders strain: drink more, pee more and pee more often. Simple as that!

Revenue enhancement is another driver for change: facility managers want to get people there earlier, retain them longer and sell them more food and beverage.

American football may offer lessons: the match is a festive occasion rolled out over a longer period. Two things are key: first that food and beverage is available for consumption, and indeed often sold directly into the bowl DURING the match which in turns assumes a move towards ‘grazing’ – eating and drinking across the entire time spectrum of the event. Secondly, it operates against an extended match time which comprises 4 quarters of 15 minutes each, played out over some 3.5 hours.

Linked to this is the increasing interest in reducing ‘time wasting’ by players under which our model of 90 minutes of play against 105 minutes of attendance has come under challenge. Studies have apparently shown that out of any 90-minute soccer match only around 60 minutes of the ‘play’ time involves true play. At present ‘our’ clock continues to tick after goals have been scored and during ongoing referee/player disputes. New proposals, if adopted, for video replays to determine uncertain referee calls will serve only to further delay proceedings and further erode time.

So, goes the thinking, why not split our precious traditional soccer game into two ‘30-minute halves’ played out against a clock that would be stopped during disputes, after goals and in many other circumstances such as player substitutions and video replays?

The implications of all this would be profound and who knows where it would end? For example, tv adverts will set the time for restarts after goal scoring (as in America) and I would predict with confidence that before we know it we will be playing two 30-minute halves over 3 hours and more of real time.

If this were to happen the impact on stadium design will be profound even perhaps leading to an increase of terrace depths from our typical 750mm to 1100mm and more to allow spectators to pass along the seating rows during ‘down-time’ or more radically, permit the introduction of ‘in-seat’ hospitality services.

Also, the extent of food and beverage services and the length of concourse concessions and numbers of points of sale, together with the extent of toilet facilities will all be ‘up for grabs’. Currently designed to meet peak half time rushes, venues would need less in the way of numbers of toilets even though more visits will be made over a longer period. Likewise, food outlets will be able to deal with steady demand uninterrupted by playtime, so less speed of service will be required and less demand will be placed on staff numbers and bar lengths as fewer people work over longer periods meeting steadier and higher demand.

Will this happen? Who knows…watch this space. And watch those waist lines if it does!