The future of sport as we know it hinges on getting fans back into stadia. This is especially true in Ireland where the IRFU, FAI and GAA rely to a very high level on the income generated by matchday ticketing and revenue.
Each week we will take a look at developments around the world on where sporting organisations, public health authorities and governments are moving in the return to stadia.
FANS SET FOR UK STADIA RETURN IN DECEMBER
Sports fans are set to return to stadia across Britain and Northern Ireland as early as next week.
The Westminster Government has revealed plans to allow up to 4,000 fans into stadia with a capacity of 8,000 or more but only if the area is in one of those where infection rates are at their lowest.
Tier two areas will be allowed half that number to attend, while indoor events and performance will also be able to admit fans and spectators but again at a lower number and depending on the area in question.
Football hotbeds of Liverpool and Manchester look unlikely to be permitted to host fans in the early stages but London is currently looking like Tier Two which would permit 2,000 fans to attend the Guinness Autumn Nations Cup Final on December 6th, likely to be against France at Twickenham.
English Rugby is believed to be considering making tickets available free to local NHS workers and to use the learnings they gain from the operation of the stadium in such limited capacity to form the basis of plans for greater numbers at the Guinness Six Nations.
If London does make it into Tier Two then 2,000 fans could also be permitted for the North London Derby between table-topping Tottenham and Arsenal on the first weekend.
Evidence gained from a small number of test events that took place at a number of football grounds in pre-season is believed to have formed the evidence basis for the chosen number of fans.
Guidelines are set to be distributed by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and the changes will come into effect from Wednesday, December 2nd.
Ulster Rugby face Toulouse in the Heineken Cup at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday 11th December and would be hopeful of having fans in place for that. They then travel to Gloucester Rugby where a potential 4,000 could also be permitted. Their third fixture is the Christmas ‘Derby’ away to Connacht on 27th December, before hosting Munster in the Guinness PRO14 on January 2nd.
With demand for the limited tickets high, Ulster rugby will hold a ballot among their most loyal fans who signed up to the #TogetherUlster membership scheme in place for this season.
FANS SURVEY SUGGESTS VACCINE AN ESSENTIAL FOR RETURN
A major survey of sports fans in the US by Seton Hall University has revealed that 50 per cent of sports fans would want to wait until the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine before they would feel comfortable returning to a sporting stadium.
The number was higher in the broad population base but came down to half among those who identified as sports fans.
The number climbs to 60 per cent if the event was to be held indoors.
The survey took place the week of the announcement that the Pfizer Vaccine had succeeded in clinical trials.
21 per cent said they would attend an indoor event under the current environment, with social distancing and the wearing of face masks, but in advance of a vaccine.
That leaves a major delta between those who would go now, under the conditions being trialled again in the UK from next week and the number that would be needed to make the stadium operations viable again.
It does have to be taken into account though that the survey took place at a time where infection rates in the US were hitting record highs on a daily basis.
SUPERBOWL TO GO CASHLESS
Who knows how many fans will be able to attend the Superbowl in February 2021 but we do know that those who do will only be able to buy goods, food and beverage using cashless technology.
The Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has allowed around 6,000 fans per game in recent weeks.
It has been working closely with Visa to upgrade the necessary infrastructure to provide cashless payment facilities at all points around the stadium.
It will be important in terms of public health measures now but it will also be an important legacy of 2020.
FRANCE PREPARES FOR 30 PER CENT LIMITS
French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested that the number of fans allowed back into sporting stadia across France early in 2021 will be based on the individual ground, the capacity to socially distance in the seats and on the way through the gound.
It is hoped that 30 per cent will become the floor limit for regions where infection rates appear to be under control, though that could rise to 70 per cent in certain circumstances.
Sport for Business Partners