DT: So what do you think is actually going to happen? Can you look into your crystal ball – I mean as much as anybody can at the moment with tiers and different rules, seemingly every week? When do you think fans might be allowed back to, say, Premier League club venues?
CL: That’s an almost impossible question to answer! We were we all working towards a return last month. A lot of our clients would be working towards - in the Premier League here – some kind of return, with obviously reduced capacities.
DT: And how reduced is that?
CL: Well, it really depends on the venue. But you're probably talking about crowds of maybe 30% but with differing capacities in different bits of the stadiums. And then that’s very different depending if it's a new stadium or an older stadium. So, it’s really nuanced on the venue itself.
DT: Is the main challenge in circulation and the alcohol selling areas; the mingling areas?
CL: Well, I think the main challenge is all the way back. If you think of getting to a new stadium like Tottenham, for example, it's looking through the transport infrastructure; how you get people to the venue and then outside the venue. How you do the health screening, the PPE provisioned sanitization bit, on top of the normal stuff we would have to do with security, the ‘mag and bag’ checks – all of that piece?
And then, yeah, once you get inside, obviously a lot of the work we’ve done is looking at helping our clients switch to as much touchless as possible. Touchless tickets, purchases, all of that piece as infrastructure changes there. And then obviously maintaining social distance in concourse spaces or restaurant spaces much the way you would do in a restaurant or bar. Then there’s the wearing and provision of PPE, how you enforce that, what sort of operational protocols. There's an enormous amount of work globally with people ultimately repurposing technology. From CCTV work to robots who roam around corridors making sure people are staying two metres apart (laughs) or whatever the distance is.
Then, once you get into the seating bowl, it's a little bit easier. Obviously you're sitting in a certain place; you can work out the distances between seats and to maintain social distancing there, but obviously ins and outs and re-purposing what we call the vomitories – which are the tunnels that get you into a seating bowl to be one-way rather than the two-ways that they are normally designed as. So, it's a pretty holistic view all the way, almost from leaving your home to getting to the venue and then leaving again, on how you can provide a safe and secure environment.
DT: As a practice I think you have been involved with some work in Sydney and New Zealand actually live-trialling some of these kinds of arrangements. What's been the main learning to arise from that?
CL: Well, about a month ago we held a game at Bankwest, which is the new (rugby league) venue which opened in Sydney. It went remarkably well. But the whole team really globally worked towards that. It was a great test case and it went fantastically well. I mean, the numbers went relatively well and everyone was well behaved; there were limited alcohol sales. The game at Bankwest went really well, so they were very pleased. I think they weren't too far off full.
DT: So what of the hybrid experience? You’ve been doing work there too – what's the scope there, and could you explain it to some of our readers as well?
CL: There are lots of technologies which have already existed in many forms that have been accelerated during this pandemic, and virtual augmented stuff is one of the big ones. We have seen great games in empty stadiums with everything from very cute cardboard cut-outs to zoom calls in Denmark but I think ultimately a lot of the work has been accelerating what already was happening. If you look at a Manchester United, I think they get something like a million, two hundred thousand or a million three hundred thousand people through Old Trafford in the year, but, you know, 650 million people around the world claim to be Manchester United fans…
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