As sports and events return in moderation, it’s starting to become obvious where the challenges will come from and where the industry needs to prepare in order to ensure the confidence and comfort of ticket holders.
The key areas needed to consider are safe arrivals, in-bowl social distancing, concourse logistics and organised departures. Each has its own set of challenges but can be challenged logically.
This is probably the easiest of the challenges as ticket holders generally arrive in a steady flow to events, so you’re unlikely to get a deluge of fans coming through turnstiles and gates all at once; particularly with reduced capacity.
However, it is important to communicate this to supporters, perhaps asking them to stagger their arrivals, giving ticket holders ‘waves’ in which to enter and, thus, controlling the flow.
It also may be important to adopt wayfinding digital signage to direct supporters to quieter gates and safer areas of the venue to enter from.
Taking a seat, or six
The major challenge of social distancing in-bowl is that to enable it you’ve got to give up a huge number of seats. Two individual ticket holders will need six seats in their own row to be empty to allow them to distance, plus the row in front and the row behind.
Two people sat in a single row will be immediately surrounded 22 empty seats. That is simply not viable in the long term. Some of this count has been doubled up for the seats in front and the seats behind; this is a huge challenge and a cost burden many sports teams and venues will not be able to tolerate if it continues too long.
Beyond that, the in-bowl experience feels relatively safe, so long as supporters can maintain a modicum of decorum, the chances of virus transmission diminishes significantly and a ticket holder can relax and enjoy the event.
Breaks in play, however, are amongst the most significant challenges.
Maximising F&B Opportunities
Here is where the problems may arise; how do you safely get all ticket holders through your food and beverage concessions and back to their seats having maximised selling opportunity and reduced their exposure to others?
When ticket sales are forcibly down, you need the opportunity to sell to those ticket holders and if you can’t, then you’re getting hit in the pocket twice.
Some stadia are blessed with expansive concourse areas where social distancing is going to be easy, but many older venues will really struggle to adopt social distancing guidelines and still make profit on F&B.
In many venues, stadia and arena concourse areas are covered completely, which with current guidelines means that people may need to wear face coverings depending on the country. But how do you eat and drink with a face covering on?
The ideal solution is to direct ticket holders back to their allocated seat as quickly as possible. This is an option in some sports, but in some countries, such as the UK, drinking alcohol pitch side has been banned for decades.
Other sports don’t have these restrictions, so for them the biggest challenge to address is communications and how to ensure you visibly keep fans informed of their obligations and risk level.
What kind of technologies can help
There are a few things that could be tried. One is good quality audio communications systems and automated announcements, another is via the use of digital signage and TV screens. Digital Signage can link in a couple of ways; one is via EPOS system integration, so when the tills are registering a high number of transactions a campaign can be triggered to direct ticket holders to another concession which is less congested.
Alternatively, digital signage can connect to an automated people counting system to trigger warnings when too many ticket holders congregate, asking fans to return to their seats or to move to another part of the venue. Again, in UK soccer this is where the challenge becomes pertinent regarding drinking in-bowl.
It is quite important to utilise technology as people unconsciously give authority to technology, a security person or other member of staff telling you to move to another area or to return to your seat is confrontational; why have they chosen to ask me to sit down? However, a TV screen with an amber warning telling you the area is reaching capacity might persuade you to quickly move to another area, and a red warning displayed across TVs would spark many into action, alleviating the trouble. When a TV tells you you’re in danger, it is somewhat challenging, and pointless to argue back!
Then the final challenge comes with departure. How do you direct ticket holders out of the venue safely? Sectioning off concourses is one route, ensuring fans do not wander towards other gates and exists, opening more entrances as exit options to take strain off main gates. It is also important to use clear and precise directional signage, with warning screens triggered when crowds are slow to disperse to prevent ticket holders leaving the bowl until it is safe to do so.
There are several challenges, but technology can help to alleviate some of these along with some good faith from fans and ticket holders and solid, forward planning by venues. It is the biggest logistical challenge the industry has ever faced, fortunately there are a few partners out there able and prepared to help.
Tripleplay just happens to be one of them. The team would be happy to help.