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Crowd dynamics | Key considerations for stadium redevelopment

  • West Ham problems with crowd trouble prove the importance of keeping families and hardcore fans separate
  • Transport assessments increasingly using anonymized movement data derived from mobile phones
  • Arsenal contributed millions to transport improvements when it changed stadium 

Redeveloping an existing stadium or relocating to a different one presents a host of practical and operational challenges. A recent move by West Ham United and proposed move by fellow Premier League club Chelsea highlight fan experience and transport as two such challenges.

The fabled ‘atmosphere’ at a football match is something that is demanded by the modern fan, and contributes to its reputation and success. When a club moves, its fans leave behind many memories and the new venue must be even better. West Ham has struggled on this front, not quite settling into a stadium that worked so successfully during the London 2012 Olympic Games (for a different type of event and a different crowd). Subsequent operational safety and security issues have delayed its desired increase in capacity, with a consequential impact on revenues.

Economics

The economics of stadium moves or developments means they are always accompanied by increases in capacity. When clubs change stadium the seating undergoes manifest changes and new fans visit. As more families, children and tourists come to matches, they want facilities and products that appeal to them, which may be different to what has been provided before.

PICTURE: Crowd disturbances during the West Ham v Chelsea EFL Cup game earlier this season

West Ham sparked some interesting social media discussions surrounding its move to the London Stadium: is it okay to sell popcorn at a football ground? Is it okay to be seen eating popcorn at a football ground? Popcorn is clearly a symbol of a new type of fan, and of a new way to ‘consume’ football. This, and the introduction of fan engagement technology, is seen to be a move away from sort of behaviours favoured by hardcore fans and the sort of people who want to stand at football matches. Consequently, some fans have turned on each other over whether they should be sitting or standing and blocks of supporters that sat together previously have been divided. Planners need to ensure that fans are appropriately seated. For example, “die-hard fans” and families with children should not be placed together.

Clubs need time to evolve into their new surroundings, but they must be sure they can step up to the demands resulting from expansion. Thus far, Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur has done well in terms of fan experience in its temporary transition to Wembley (while its new stadium is being built), galvanising support, creating a good atmosphere to support the team during its residence at Wembley, and ensuring its new 61,000-seat stadium will be full when it opens.

Match-day experience

For spectators, the event starts as soon as they start their journey to the stadium, and is part of the match-day experience. Chelsea’s recent successful planning application for its expanded stadium highlighted the need to accommodate extra demand on local transport and infrastructure.

PICTURE: The extent of Chelsea’s original application site (outlined in red) is shown on this aerial plan

Venue owners and developers want to make sure that fans can get to the stadium on time and away quickly after the match, and in between spend as much time as possible in the stadium and local area to maximise commercial opportunities. Local authorities, transport bodies and other stakeholders will want to see that there is sufficient and quality transport capacity and that use of public transport is maximised while minimising impacts on residents, local businesses and other users of the road and public transport networks.

Additional fans (almost 20,000 for Chelsea) cannot be assumed to live in the same areas or use the same routes and transport networks as existing fans to reach the new stadium, even if the location remains the same or similar. Existing modes may already be at capacity, highlighting the need for longer trains, shuttle buses, increased service frequency or coach parking. Arsenal contributed many millions of pounds to public transport improvements when they relocated to the new Emirates Stadium.

VIDEO: A tour around Arsenal's Emirates Stadium

Transport assessment

To gain planning consent in the UK, stadium owners and developers need to complete a detailed transport assessment based on robust evidence. The assessment must include a forecast for how fans will access the stadium on different days of the week, for different competitions and even beyond sporting events, such as concerts. Evidence comes from season ticket data, off-line and on-line surveys, transport ticket data and increasingly from anonymized movement data derived from cellular and GPS data from mobile phones. Once the stadium move is implemented, travel patterns can be monitored as the transport behaviour evolves and actions take place to achieve the most suitable travel environments.

The ‘last mile’ – getting from the final public transport hub to the stadium, and back again – is an increasingly important area. Are the pavements approaching the stadium wide enough to provide a safe route? Will roads need to be closed? Delivery of local area management plans is now standard practice for new developments.

Clubs must think hard about the effects of stadium redevelopment. Ultimately, fan feedback will dictate whether it has been a success or not. From the front door to the seat in the stadium, their experiences in both getting there, and the atmosphere found once inside, must remain central to any redevelopment process. If done well, clubs will reap rewards from a stadium fit for the future.

Simon Babes is managing director at people movement consultancy Movement Strategies, which provides transport, crowd movement and safety, and movement analytics advice to sports venues.

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