As a result of the global Coronavirus crisis, no UK football fans have stepped inside a stadium since early March. Even after the season resumed months later, it was behind closed doors. So when will football fans return?
When will football fans be back?
Fans around the country will be disappointed at recent news that stadiums will only be allowed to open at a maximum capacity of 33 percent come October, with some estimations being as low as just 17 per cent.
The news comes following a recent Government briefing, outlining proposed new rules for music and sporting events, as well as the introduction of the first pandemic guidance draft from the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA.)
Lock-down measures have been relaxing as of late and, with the reopening of socially distanced pubs, restaurants and small gatherings, many football fans were anticipating a higher number of filled seats come next season.
With all pandemic procedures in place, football and rugby clubs alike were expecting to see stadiums reopen at 50 percent capacity, both for the sake of fans and for their financials. However, the SGSA guide has essentially advised teams not to get their expectations too high. The outcome of a series of test matches and ‘limited capacity pilots’ will determine stadium re-opening procedures for the following months.
Why the limited capacity?
The Government has issued a series of concerns for allowing stadiums to reopen at higher capacities. The most obvious is the grounds ability to keep fans at a safe, two-metre distance, as well as the capability of stewards to keep fans who attempt to congregate together or gather in large groups apart.
Other concerns that have been raised are the number of entrances or access points a stadium has. Accessibility is a big logistical issue for clubs as preventing bottle-necks is a must to ensure everyone is kept distanced at all times.
Smaller stadiums, and even larger ones that do have more access points, would have to implement staggered entry and exit times to keep crowd sizes to a minimum. If the government guidelines of today are anything to go by then queue spacing, fan check-ins and temperature checks means those that do get their hands on limited tickets would likely be arriving earlier and getting home far later than past seasons.
Lower league concerns
Big clubs naturally have more capacity and resources to plan for such measured but when will football fans return to lower league clubs? A big fear for guidelines surrounding stadiums reopening is the impact it will have on lower league clubs. Although we might have become accustomed to seeing games played behind closed doors on television, a lack of ticket revenue can have serious repercussions for teams of all levels.
Those sides in the lower leagues typically occupy older or smaller grounds, meaning their ability to open the doors and see in fans, even at a limited capacity, will be incredibly difficult. Fewer access points and smaller stands make social-distancing increasingly unlikely.
Depending upon capacity percentages following pilot matches within the coming weeks, if the numbers are as low as 17 per cent, some clubs may even decide it simply isn’t viable to re-open doors at such low numbers.
Concerns around how to fairly distribute tickets, gathering health information from fans upon entry (and whether people would be willing to provide it), season ticket seat allocation, travel to and from matches and away fan entry are all points that clubs will need to discuss and address in the coming weeks.
These are all issues which every club will have different solutions too, and some may find it not feasible to accommodate for until they are able to allow larger numbers inside.
Final thoughts on when will football fans return
Reopening stadiums in Football is a much more difficult task than other sports due to the sheer number of fans at each game. There will always be the fear of allowing people back too soon and being faced with another Adria Tour crisis.
Premier League teams with newer stadiums will have an easier task, but there is careful consideration to be made, especially for those in the lower divisions. There is definitely more to the issue than simply keeping fans distanced in their seats. So when will football fans return? Probably not fully for a long time but let’s hope for a return to the old ways sooner rather than later.
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