The Prime Minister intends for fans to return to stadia in early October. Hearing this instantly stirs memories of live sport attendance as it once was – the excitement, the unpredictability, the passion, the singing, the smell… even the away fans. But, this is swiftly overshadowed by a sense of realism, and with it, a host of questions.
Do fans want to return? Who should return first? What will encourage them to purchase tickets? We asked the Sports Fan Panel these questions to help our partners and other sports rights holders to begin strategy for a return to stadia.
The Government’s ‘Stage Five: Return to Competition – Safe Return of Spectators‘, sets out how to begin opening-up sport’s closed doors. The piloting of spectators, although previously paused, resumed successfully with over 300 fans seated at the Crucible this weekend. Our latest Sports Fan Panel findings reveal that two thirds of fans across 50 different sports are happy to continue their return, albeit at outdoor sports venues. Therefore, it is paramount that sports and clubs understand how best to coordinate this – soon.
We posit that a one-size fits all model will not be successful, as fandom for every sport and club is diverse and unique. For example, fans are three times less likely to feel comfortable attending indoor sports venues, spotlighting stricter safety measures around entrances/ exits or transport options, as food for thought for indoor sports. However, communication is clearly key to easing these anxieties in the first place, and fan insights should be taken into account to inform this.
Our findings also highlight that readiness to return decreases amongst older fans, further evidencing the need for targeted return to stadia communications. Additional reassurances around safety protocols will be needed to lure older fans back, with clear messaging around alterations to stadium configurations and specific safety measures helping to achieve this in the long-term.
If reports of 17% – 33% fan attendance are to become reality, then the demand of two thirds of fans will outweigh supply where there are a high number of season ticket holders and/or stadiums are routinely near to capacity. While supply exceeding demand is nothing new to sports and clubs, this is the first time that so many avid fans will be excluded from attendance. Therefore, who should be prioritised and how can rapport with fans be sustained?
Three quarters of the Sports Fan Panel agree that season ticket holders should get priority access to tickets. However, research shows that 75% of Premier League fans are season ticket holders – a percentile likely to be a lot greater than the proportion of fans permitted through stadium gates under Government guidelines.
Within fan-base analysis must therefore be conducted before clubs decide any processes around ticketing. Amplifying the fan voice and placing resultant insights at the heart of strategy, will make rapidly approaching tough decisions around ticketing, seating, safety measures, communications, etc., much more likely to be successful.
For example, how will fans be selected? Balloting, first-come first serve, fan loyalty measures? And how will those who are inevitability disappointed be communicated with, to manage this disappointment and maintain their loyalty in the long term? Rights holders will need to work in line with Government guidelines, but what fans want should also steer decisions over the next two months.
Club fandom and event goers often fit very different profiles, and for this reason, different strategy for generating ticketing revenue under the imposition of COVID-19 is required. For event organisers, the number one offering that needs to be in place is a guaranteed refund policy, with nearly the entire Sports Fan Panel agreeing that this tops their criteria for return. A refund policy is not previously something that any event organiser would have mentioned much, let alone shouted about – but selling tickets in this new normal is far from normal, so mention it we must.
There are hugely positive signs for event organisers. Given that fan re-attendance piloting is underway, 69% of sports fans are happy to buy event tickets in 2020. This is an exciting figure, as the next three years will go down in Britain’s major sporting event history, owed to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the UEFA European Championships, the inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships in 2022 and the 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
Like a guaranteed refund policy, social distancing guidelines, zoned and distanced seating and access to hand sanitiser would not have been a consideration this time last year. In a sporting world still rocked by COVID-19, these factors are now deemed essential to the majority of sports fans.
The sporting comeback as begun and returning fans provides the special ingredient needed to make sport… well, sport. Listening to them ensures that this is done properly.
If you would like to explore the quick turnaround fan insights necessary over the coming months, please contact email@example.com for further info on how we can support you.