As Covid-19 vaccine programmes continue to be rolled out globally, there is optimism that more stadium turnstiles will begin to creak open again soon, allowing spectators who have been starved of a true ‘live’ experience for more than a year to return, at last.
The early signs are undoubtedly encouraging in terms of an appetite for tickets.
At the time of writing, the average 2021 game attendance at the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field – the first Major League Baseball stadium to open at full capacity this year – was above the average registered by the team during the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. Other entertainment attractions in various markets, from theme parks to zoos, are reporting a surge in demand after reopening.
However, there is a broad acknowledgement that the behaviour of many ticket-holders, and their expectations of the live experience, may have changed considerably as a result of the pandemic.
According to Nielsen Sports Fan Insights data, more than two-thirds of football fans expect enhanced hygiene procedures when they return to stadia, while 69% would feel more comfortable with social distancing at sports venues and limited crowds for the foreseeable future.
The onus is therefore on stadium operators to adopt solutions that can lower barriers to entry for spectators who want to stay as safe as possible during the live experience.
The England & Wales Cricket Board, for instance, appointed CSM Live to deliver a ‘bio-secure’ plan for the return of international cricket at various stadia last July.
Measures that have been established include health checks and sanitisation points for personnel, vehicle screen areas, welfare units, perimeter fencing, temporary walls and temporary accreditation checkpoints, as well as wayfinding and signage to ensure an efficient flow of spectators.
Visitors should also have confidence in the bio-secure aspects of the new stadium experience, and the opportunity to team up with hygiene-related product suppliers that are recognised – rather than unbranded – can help to reassure spectators.
For example, Lifebuoy, which is owned by Unilever, is working with CSM Live to provide branded sanitisation products and dispenser units at stadia.
“At Unilever, we have invested heavily in Lifebuoy in the UK over the past year to ensure it is a brand that consumers trust,” Benoit Roger-Machart, Marketing and Business Development Director for Lifebuoy UK & Ireland, tells Fan XP.
“In turn, this trust enables our sporting partners to offer reassurance to their visitors that hygiene and cleanliness are priorities. By working with CSM Live, there is an opportunity for the Lifebuoy brand to reach many thousands of sports fans whilst ensuring their return to the places and activities they love is as safe as possible, creating a powerful and positive association.”
Teaming up with a sanitiser brand that fans will know and trust as part of enhanced hygiene protocols is just one practical step that stadium operators can take to boost confidence in the match-going experience for returning spectators.
Numerous other measures can be adopted, including staggered entry for fans, contactless payments, in-seat ordering and temperature checks at the turnstiles.
Restricting movement once spectators are in the venue and utilising clear branding, wayfinding and one-way systems to encourage social distancing where possible, alongside strict capacity management, can help to ease and enhance the fan journey.
“After more than a year of living with a global pandemic, it is natural for fans to feel cautious as they begin to congregate in crowds again, so it’s important stadium operators are sensitive to this,” CSM Live Business Development Director David Bull tells Fan XP.
“As capacities are increased, it becomes more of a challenge to retain a bio-secure environment. However, there are still measures stadium operators can take to minimise risk.
“If fans see stadium operators are taking hygiene and cleanliness seriously, it can only serve to build trust and reassurance, ensuring positive momentum is maintained to increase the likelihood of hitting future key milestones on the roadmap.”