The return of fans to elite sports events and the reopening of grassroots sport from 2 December is a welcome relief by many sporting organizations, clubs, and participants across the board. It will enable elite sports to start to generate some revenue but more importantly it signals a small but significantly positive step forward as we start to look to re-build the sports community back to a sense of normality with fan engagement at matches, competitions and races. The announcement from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport says as from the 2 December Elite sports clubs and events hosted can allow:

  • Outdoor in Tier 1 - a maximum of 4,000 fans or 50 per cent of stadium capacity, whichever is lower.
  • Outdoor in Tier 2 a maximum of 2,000 fans or 50 per cent of stadium capacity, whichever is lower.
  • Outdoor in Tier 3 – No Fans allowed, elite sports to continue behind closed doors.
  • Indoor events and fixtures in Tier 1 and 2 - a maximum of 1,000 fans or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is lower.
  • Spectators at non-elite sports will be able to attend events in line with Covid-secure guidance for each Tier.
  • Gyms and leisure centres will be allowed to reopen across all Tiers.
  • Grassroots sports & activities back on in all Tiers, including in highest risk areas with some mitigations and social distancing based on current guidance as below;
  • Indoor sports – Tier 1 - can take place within rule of six. This will mean people from different households could play 3 on 3 volleyball, or four people from different households could play doubles tennis or badminton. Group activities such as training sessions and exercise classes can take place in larger numbers, provided that people are in separate groups (up to 6 people) which do not mix.
  • Indoor sports – Tier 2 - can take place within households, and people can take part in group activity like exercise classes as long as there is no mixing between households. People can play certain sports which do not involve close proximity or physical contact against one person from another household, such as a singles tennis match or badminton match
  • Indoor sports – Tier 3 - indoor sport will be restricted to within your household only, and there should be no group activity such as exercise classes

In terms of football some EFL clubs could see fans at matches on the 2 December and Premier league teams could have fans back in the stadiums over the weekend fixtures of 5th and 6th December. Many elite sport venues and stadiums have been planning and revising plans for this moment. The process of planning and successfully executing a safe return of fans and spectators is by no means an easy task. Most venue and stadium operators will have appointed Covid-19 safety officers alongside their own Health and Safety team and engaging with external agencies such as Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) and or similar independent organizations to ensure they are ready with a consistent and uniformed approach.

Motorsport will also see a return to the track in accordance with its “Getting Back on Track” protocols. Whilst over the last month all non-elite Motorsports was suspended and only selected elite events were permitted to continue such as the British Touring Car Championship. The inherent dangers of motorsport both two and four wheeled present their own additional challenges for both the Governing Body, the motorsport community and the general public spectating.

The Premier league is also working on protocols which fans will be expected to adhere to – this may include the wearing of face masks in all common areas but not whilst seated, allowing singing and restrained celebrations as well as considering if the consumption of Alcohol is to be permitted and or if the half time break needs to be extended by an additional 5 minutes to allow fans more time for movement. As with all protocols expect these to be under constant review and amendments.

If the return of fans is considered a success, then in line with government guidance and along with a reduction of infection rates venues and stadiums can start to plan and prepare for the time when fans and spectator limits can be increased. Some of the challenges and questions venue and stadiums will want to understand may include the profiling of fan time and behavior spent on site. Are fans arriving in staggered small groups or much close together in time due to bar and food facilities not being open and available? Balancing the onsite must haves, such as sufficient toilets which allow for social distancing as against bar and food stands being open to generate additional revenue and of course their natural consequences! Making sure and stress testing any plan so that not only does it meet Covid safety measures, it also does not compromise best practice and non-Covid safety measures. Ensuring that all external partners and agencies such as the local authority, police and emergency services and the stewards are aware of the plan and processes to follow and having a good clear line of communication in place is vitally important. It would also be prudent to ensure such plans are discussed and agreed with any relevant input and adjustment from club, stadium and venue brokers and insurers to avoid any pitfalls.

Whilst we are sometime away from a return to normality assuming venues and stadiums are allowed to start to increase fan and spectators numbers once we head into the spring and summer months, there will be a balancing act of maximizing revenue v maximizing occupancy. Whilst there is a subtle difference, it is nevertheless a very important one and one which will affect how tickets are allocated if venues and clubs are to survive.