Safe standing - the business case

Posh group in AWD Arena3

Above - Bob Symns (chief executive at Peterborough United) with representatives of Peterborough City Council, Jon Darch (Safe Standing Roadshow) and Hannover 96 staff among rail seats in the AWD Arena in Germany.

It’s football's open secret, isn’t it? Every week thousands upon thousands of fans stand in seated areas supporting the team that they love. Here at the FSF we recognise that persistent standing in areas designed for sitting is problematic. Those who prefer or have to sit often find their view blocked. Standing for prolonged periods in seated areas isn’t as safe as the alternative options. There’s a cost efficient, modern, and practical solution to this – safe standing.

The recent Hillsborough Independent Panel report confirmed the findings of the late Lord Justice Taylor’s first report into the 1989 disaster. Standing did not kill any of the 96 who lost their lives on that horrible day. The cause of their deaths was appalling policing, bad design, neglected maintenance, fencing, and crowd management failings. Hillsborough was a stadium without a valid safety certificate.

Of course the final Taylor Report is now remembered for one thing – the recommendation that football grounds become all-seater which sprung from Taylor’s shock at the abysmal treatment of fans by clubs. Taylor believed all fans would get used to sitting and that standing would fade away as fans adapted. He believed they would end up preferring to sit - Taylor was wrong.

Clubs are now waking up to the lost business opportunities resulting from not permitting safe standing areas. The Scottish Premier League has agreed to allow its clubs to pilot safe standing areas (the all-seater law never applied in Scotland) while Aston Villa and Peterborough United have been longtime backers of the FSF's Safe Standing Campaign. Brentford, Bristol City, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Derby County, Doncaster Rovers, Hull City, Watford and AFC Wimbledon have all been welcomed aboard recently too.

So what’s the positive business case? Firstly, it saves a lot of money on ground maintenance. “Rail seats” which are common in the German Bundesliga cost about 30 per cent more than a top quality conventional seat (like those in the Emirates or the AMEX) but are virtually indestructible when compared to plastic.

Many stadium managers bemoan the maintenance and replacement costs of “normal” plastic seats. However, metal rail seats don’t need replacing because the colour’s faded, or because of general wear and tear or (occasionally) criminal damage.

Hannover's seats have been in place since 2005 and they’ve had no breakages at all, even in the away section. The FSF estimate pay-back on investment within ten years from the cut in maintenance costs alone.

International requirements and ticket pricing

By FIFA and UEFA’s rules any ground wishing to stage competitive European fixtures or international games must be all-seater. Rail seats are a modern solution for clubs who would like to introduce safe standing areas but who also have ambitions of competing in Europe or hosting international matches. Rail seats can be quickly converted from standing to seated configuration with minimum fuss. A club can have all-seater for their big European night and standing areas for domestic games. Watch the video on the FSF’s Safe Standing Campaign page for more.

Where space and configurations allow more fans can be admitted to safe standing areas too. Exact numbers will vary from club to club because of different stadium dimensions but the Government’s Green Guide allows for one sitting fan for every 1.8 standing fans (i.e. 1:1.8). The ratio in Germany varies from 1:1.2 to 1:1.8 but let’s take 1.4 as a working average.

Now, say a standard ticket is £25, the club receives £20.84 once VAT is deducted for an area of 2,000 seats. That’s gate receipts totalling £41,680 for the club. In standing configuration the capacity increases to 2,800 which means you could reduce the ticket price to £20 (the club receives £16.67 once VAT is deducted) and still bring in £46,676 (2,800 x 16.67) – that’s an increase of £4,996 or nearly 12% from gate receipts alone.

Then there’s the additional sales of merchandise, programmes and catering from the increased footfall. Yes, there maybe some extra costs from stewarding and policing but the club will still be coming out ahead very quickly. Clubs could expect to break even in less than two seasons based on those figures and generate £100,000 extra every season after that.

So tickets are cheaper, the atmosphere is better and the club increases revenue. What’s not to love? Most significantly of all, the clubs will be giving the ‘customers’ what they want – choice.

Fans want choice

Every opinion survey the FSF has seen shows a large majority support for safe standing areas, including those who prefer to sit. Our own surveys regularly show nine out of ten back the choice. This is supported by polls from the BBC, Daily Star Sunday, The Guardian and Talksport (see #2 of the FSF's Safe Standing Facts page).

It would remove the current conflict between stewards and people who don’t want to sit down. It would improve customer care. Too many fans who prefer to sit have their views blocked by those who would rather stand. Safe standing areas could end that as those who prefer to stand have that option.

Contrary to the Premier League’s assertions the FSF believes that safe standing areas also promote, rather than reduce, social inclusion. Increased capacity means ticket prices can be reduced without sacrificing income. The FSF’s 2012 Annual Survey indicated that one in three women preferred to stand while another third said they might, dependent upon the game.

The removal of the current law would not force any fan to stand as seated areas would still exist. Neither would it require any club to have safe standing areas against their will.  But it would put the decision back where it should be – with the clubs and their supporters.

The FSF believes that it should be up to individual clubs to consult their own supporter base and gauge the appetite for safe standing areas. The Government acknowledges standing is not inherently unsafe – so why not remove the red tape that stops clubs implementing it safely in the top two tiers?

Clubs have spent years trying to ‘manage’ fans standing in seated areas with new stewarding policies or euphemistically titled ‘singing sections’. It’s an understandable approach but it’s a sticking plaster rather than a solution. Every week thousands of fans will continue to stand in stadiums that are supposedly all-seater.

Match-going fans and professionals at clubs know better than anyone that this is a problem and the FSF firmly believes that safe standing is the solution.

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