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How stadium technology will work after COVID-19

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, from being out of use during shutdowns to hosting matches without fans to now introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

Aderassa Sports & Entertainment specialise in advising sports venue owners and operators.

CEO of Aderassa, Oliver Mazé told TheStadiumBusiness.com the business models for stadiums have changed due to COVID-19.

“Stadia and arenas are facing, and will face, two real challenges. Firstly, how to keep venues safe for attendees. If venues are not safe enough for attendance at least until 2022, authorities should not authorise them to be open,” Mazé said.

“In terms of attracting attendees, this pandemic is a real trauma for all of us and will leave a footprint in our mind for decades. The fear of crowds will be in our minds for a long time, because nobody can guarantee it will be gone forever. We need to live with the virus and provide the safest places as possible, and communicate this to show attendees they can come, enjoy and be safe.”

There are several areas in which stadiums have adapted and will continue to be managed during the pandemic and into the future.

Hygiene

Stadiums have moved to becoming contact free – contactless payment at food and merchandise stalls via tap and go has become the norm during the pandemic. Online ordering of food and beverages is another innovation which has become important, allowing for people to order their food whilst avoiding large crowds at stalls.

At some stadiums, contactless technologies are being introduced for doors and bathrooms.

The installation of hygiene stations with sanitiser also help to keep fans and safe and minimise the spread of infection.

Chief Technology Officer of Los Angeles FC, Christian Lau recently spoke to fcbusiness of the technology innovations at the Banc of California Stadium

“Coming into the stadium, we’re installing new access controls via our partner Axess Control based out of Austria. We’ll be adding a thermal scanner to check people’s temperature along with mask detection,” Lau said.

“So upon arrival visitors will have their ticket scanned, temperature checked and checked if they have a mask on before the turnstile opens up.”

Ticketing

Michal Pyda is the Business Development Executive at Roboticket. In fcbusiness, he spoke of how the company is working to provide ticketing solutions.

“Pre-COVID, the normal situation is to maximise attendance whilst minimising the gaps between fans sitting together, so we already had the mechanisms to keep people sitting tight on the stands. In order to create an automatic buffer between each transaction we implemented a reverse version of the algorithm covering complex geometrical models allowing us to shape any buffer around each transaction,” Pyda said.

“Crucially, this mechanism is flexible so it can be adapted to work around any changes to social distancing rules that are created by law or the FA. This customisation is also required to be adaptable to the individual requirements across different territories. Today we may have a two-metre separation rule but tomorrow it might be one metre so the mechanism needs to be flexible.”

COVID-19 has also increased the use of mobile ticketing. Research completed by Juniper Research last year suggested that there will be a 64% increase to $23 billion in spending on mobile tickets for sporting events by 2023. This will be a major increase from $14 billion in 2019.

Staggered entry and exit times will also become common to avoid large crowds gathering at gates outside games, this also helps to spread the times at which people access public transport to get to and from matches.

Digitalisation

Managing director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for stadium architect Populous, Christopher Lee told SportsPro in May that there is potential for the in stadium experience to be recreated virtually.

“We’re anticipating the integration of some kind of remote audience, whether that’s VR (virtual reality), how they’re portrayed in-bowl itself,” Lee said.

“If you look at any of the big clubs, Manchester United, they’ll get a couple of million people physically through their doors [per season], but social media says they have 650 million fans around the world. A reasonable percentage will watch a game live somewhere, and it’s how you then bring that remote audience into a live stadium audience – so using screens and boards – and I think you’ll see more of that.

“We will see more sophisticated ways of watching your favourite team, whether it’s using VR, or AR [augmented reality]…and having that represented in the stadium. I think that is something that will stay much longer than just to do with Covid.”

Digital screens around the ground and scoreboards are being used to provide alerts and to remind fans of social distancing regulations that they need to follow.

Some football leagues are already using facial recognition technology, Serie A have previously used the technology to identity fans who are responsible for racist behaviour at matches.

Artificial intelligence and facial recognition can be used to monitor crowds at concession stands or look back and identity who has come into contact with a positive COVID case.

“There are more sophisticated versions that also add a track and trace overlay on top of that, so it tells you if you’re within two metres or eventually if you’ve been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. [There is also] a lot of work on robots linked to CCTV cameras and central command posts where they can enforce social distancing,” Lee said.

Football Australia and stadium management will be looking to introduce as many of these innovations as possible to allow spectators to attend matches while ensuring the safety of those fans who do attend matches.

Daniel Foley is a sports junior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and micro industry matters.

Jamie Harnwell driving the game forward in Western Australia

Jamie Harnwell is Perth Glory’s record appearance holder, with 256 games across three decades. Now Chief Football Officer for Football West, he spoke to Soccerscene about the changes from the NSL to the A-League, the challenges of running a football federation, and his favourite footballing moments throughout his career.

So firstly, what’s the biggest challenges facing Football West at the moment?

Harnwell: I think it’s interesting. Football West is in a really good position, being very fortunate with COVID over here and able to get out and play. The challenges are more for our clubs I suppose, and then Football West supporting them. Facilities are always a challenge for every sport, but certainly for football. We need to make sure there are enough grounds and space for people to play, but also aspects like lighting, adequate change rooms, and those sorts of things are suitable for clubs. We have a number of them almost putting up the closed sign because they have too many players and not enough space for them to play.

The other challenge for Football West and the clubs is the increase in governance requirements. We are basically a volunteer sport in many ways. And the increasing legalities and issues across that for volunteers to deal with can be difficult. So it’s time that we at Football West need to be able to support our clubs, make sure they’re adhering to good practice, and doing the right things so that they can continue to grow.

How has professional football in Australia improved since you first debuted with Perth Glory in the late 90s?

Harnwell: I think it’s actually professional football now. You know when I first started playing, I think there was ourselves and maybe Carlton who were actual full-time professional clubs. The rest were part-time as people were still working during the day, going to training at night, and trying to juggle the two. So certainly the transition into the A-League and full-time professionalism for all clubs has been huge, and just the continued increased coverage and media around the game has made us much more accessible. It’s easier to see and has a much better chance of building that supporter base across the game here in Australia.

What areas do you think the game can continue to improve on going forward into the future?

Harnwell: There’s always talent development and making sure that we stay on pace with best practices and what’s happening in other parts of the world. We are a smaller nation in the grand scheme of things in football, so we need to be smart about how we approach those sorts of things and make sure we get bang for our buck for everything that we do. The other thing is we need to try and increase the commercialism of the game and make sure that we continue to get funds into the game that can assist in the youth development that can help in costs for clubs and all those types of things. So that’s the way I know Football Australia is working hard on it. They’re starting to bring more and more partners into the game. But if you look at the mega machines like AFL, then we probably still have some way to go in that.

How can football win across young athletes into joining the sport over others?

Harnwell:
I think we’re really lucky as a game. I can’t speak for other states, I suppose – but the numbers here at Football West in Western Australia just continue to grow year in year out. We are a very attractive game for parents to pick for young boys and girls. It’s a very easy game to choose and very easy to play and train. So we’re certainly well-positioned in that respect – making sure that our clubs provide positive environments that they enjoy what they do. There isn’t the overarching focus on just winning games, but more a longer-term development based approach that will make sure talented young players will stay in football rather than going across to other codes.

On a personal level, what is your most memorable footballing memory?

Harnwell: There’s probably a few, I suppose for myself as a player – it would have been the first NSL Championship that we won. We’d had a couple of cracks at it before and sort of fell away in the Grand Final. So that first win in 2003 was huge, and really got the monkey off our back, and managing to score in that game with the massive crowd was fantastic. But I’m also a Manchester United fan, so the treble was pretty good as well. So I don’t know which one ranks better for me!

Carlos Salvachúa: “Playing without promotion and relegation is a big problem”

Carlos Salvachúa was Victory assistant coach under Kevin Muscat, before taking over as caretaker manager. He has coached professionally in Spain and Belgium, including six years at the Real Madrid academy, overseeing the development of the club’s rising stars.

He spoke to Soccerscene from Spain about his impressions of the A-League, where it could be improved, and how Australian youth need to play more football to reach their potential.

What were your first impressions of the A-League?

Salvachúa: Sometimes the big issue is knowing if it’s a professional league or not – and definitely the A-League was professional. I’m talking about games, organisation, talking about flights or hotels, and training. I was lucky to arrive to Melbourne Victory – one of the biggest clubs there is – and everything in the club was like in Europe and in Spain. Good facilities, good organisation, and a lots of staff in the office. For me the first impression was really professional.

What was the level of professionalism like compared to other leagues you have coached in?

Salvachúa: Belgium is a hard competition. I’m talking about the games, not about organisation – it’s similar to the A-League or in Spain in the La Liga. The competition is tough in Belgium if we compare the level of the players, the games and the competition.

After leaving Melbourne Victory, Salvachúa was Muscat’s assistant coach at Sint-Truidense V.V. in Belgium.

What were the biggest challenges you faced while coaching in Australia?

Salvachúa: One of the biggest for me was the distance to play a game. It was funny because here with Atlético versus Real Madrid they travel 15 minutes to go to sleep at home, and for Victory we spend three days away to play a game, for me this was really hard. In the Champions League we spent five days away to play a game in China or in Japan. For me and and European players as well this was hard, because it was not easy. I remember the long pre-season because the schedule of FFA Cup was really hard for us. We trained two to three months before the first game in the A-League, just to play one round in the FFA Cup.

How do you think the league could be improved?

Salvachúa: For me, playing without promotion and relegation, is a problem, a big one in my opinion for the league. You need to improve the league from the basement – you cannot start the building of the house from the roof, you must start building the house from the ground up. I’m talking about the NPL. They are tough competitions, and you need to give promotion to the A-League, and I think that the competition will be better with this system like in Europe. I think a competition without promotion and relegation is only working with the MLS in USA. In Australia I think that it would be great to create another kind of competition to improve the league.

Another thing for me that is one of the biggest issues was that sometimes the players were receptive – they are professionals about training and have a good attitude to learn, but for me as a coach sometimes the players don’t know how important it is to win – compared to a draw or a loss. Without promotion and relegation, in some games as a coach, in the second half the players don’t understand how important it is to get a win over one point. I think that is probably one of the solutions to change the model of the competition.

How would you rate the level of young talent being developed in Australia?

Salvachúa: Like in other countries, you have good players with talent at 14, 15, and 16 years of age, but in my opinion they need more games. Some players arrive to A-League at 19 years old – playing 18 to 25 games – and it’s not easiest time for the coaches to start these young players in the first 11. If they are not playing every Sunday, they need another tough competition. You need competitive games with a second team like here in Spain or with the under 18s or under 19s – it depends. I think that they need more games here. A 14 or 15 year old kid normally finishes the competition in Spain with 45 official games. 45 games is more than the professionals in the A-League. I think one of the big issues is they do not have enough games and training sessions to develop the players. But the talent is there like in other countries.

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