How crowds could return for sport at Australian stadiums

Cameron Voss  |  Monday 18th May 2020

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As covid-19 restrictions begin to ease, major Australian sporting codes are preparing to return to play in front of empty stadiums, but plans are already being made to bring crowds back to stadiums.

The NRL season resumes on May 28, with the full fixture now released, while the AFL season will resume on June 11, with the fixture to be announced on May 25 and published on Austadiums.

While all major sports events will be played behind closed doors initially, talks have begun to re-introduce crowds to stadiums, albeit in a reduced capacity.

The Melbourne Storm has approached the Victorian Government about being the first professional sporting code in the state to have small numbers of fans attend matches.

While AAMI Park can seat over 30,000 fans, its capacity would be more than halved, to allow fans to safely attend taking into account social distancing protocols. Contactless ticketing, staggered entry and gaps in seating would all need to be considered.

There has also been some talk of AFL Finals games at the MCG being able to accommodate some fans. The AFL Grand Final could be played in front of 30,000 fans at the MCG.

Industry sources say it would be possible to seat people in a stadium at a safe distance from one another and allow families to sit together. They are more doubtful about the cost of opening the entire MCG and its facilities, for instance, while only part filling it. Less than 20,000 would not be viable, more than 40,000 might not be advisable. In any event, tickets would be likely to cost more.

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Due to South Australia’s two AFL clubs being based on the Gold Coast initially, the SANFL has raised the prospect of kicking-off its season at the vacant Adelaide Oval and allow up to 7,000 fans attend games with strict social distancing measures in place.

While the eight SANFL teams (Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide have withdrawn from the 2020 season) want to play most of their games at their suburban venues, they have largely backed a plan to kickstart the season at world-class Adelaide Oval, knowing it’s the most realistic option to seeing a return to play. (SA have recently changed their stance and Adelaide Oval is now in operation for the two Adelaide AFL teams)

The revamped 14-round season is expected to commence in mid/late June and if fans were allowed to attend, it would likely only be for members. Under the radical plan, crowds could be ushered in at one end of the ground and out the other, with a 45-minute changeover between games.

The Supercars season will resume on June 27 at Sydney Motorsport Park and while fans won’t be able to attend that race, discussions are underway to allow campers at Winton and Bathurst – see the updated Supercars schedule here.

US-based architect and engineering firm DLR Group has suggested stadiums would require necessary renovations to obey necessary social distancing guidelines.

The firm found that “loge box” seating, with four seats separated by six feet (1.8 metres) in all directions from other people in the seating bowl sections, would honour distancing rules. Fans would require pre-assigned seating when purchasing tickets.

The entry of fans would need to be staggered so security isn’t overwhelmed. Stadiums at a fraction of their capacity would help social distancing take care of itself, while similar tactics already in use at supermarkets such as markers on the ground would also help.

 

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