How 3 Centimetres & 5 Minutes Could Save Football

In Focus: One Plan


Sport needs spectators. Crowds bring passion, energy and atmosphere to any sports stadium, which completes the sporting experience. With Covid-19 restrictions professional stadium-based sports such as football, cricket and rugby have had to do away with live spectators; not only reducing the experience of the game, but greatly impacting ticket sales revenue.


As stadiums start to re-open and allow fans through the gates, spectator safety must be the priority. However, venues and stadiums will also be keen to implement strategies that provide the greatest revenue and turnover, whilst adhering to governmental distancing restrictions.


Establishing the optimum social distancing seating bowl capacity is a complex process. There are over one hundred trillion possible seating combinations when taking account of social distancing, brush-past, how people buy tickets and the physical dimensions of a seating section. Some ticketing providers and leagues outside of the UK have taken a blanket, percentage approach or simply applied a set distance between occupied seats, which does not account for varying seat dimensions which are often different across a stadium. OnePlan’s seating bowl assessment provides a bespoke model which can be used for any seating bowl, in any type of venue and can consider individual seat dimensions. 


The OnePlan system has been used by stadiums and arenas all over the world to establish their seating capacity with social distancing. As a result of undertaking multiple assessments OnePlan is able to identify which factors have the greatest impact on seating occupancy. 



For a typical stadium the seat width is often 500mm with an 800mm seat row depth. This results in a diagonal of 947mm, 53mm below the current UK minimum social distancing guideline of 1m. In this scenario spectators will not be able to occupy diagonal seats in the stadium as shown in figure 1. This has meant an average occupancy of circa 23% with a range of 16-27%. For many venues operating at 23% is not going to be financially viable, particularly given the need to maintain full services and keep open all entry points to avoid overcrowding. Figure 1, highlights the overlapping in bubbles on the diagonal. 


Figure 1: Current Seat Diagonal


What would happen if the diagonal social distancing rule was reduced by just 3cm, but maintaining the front to back and side to side social distancing rule at 1m? In most cases, the impact is significant, with occupancy increasing by up to 25%. 


Figure 2 shows the output of a seating block assessment with the diagonal reduced by 3cm. The occupancy increases to 51.48%. This particular model run allows seats to be occupied at the end of rows; however the rules within the model can be adjusted to take account of these not being able to be occupied if required. 


Figure 2: The output of a seating block assessment with the diagonal reduced by 3cm


5 minutes

Half time is an obvious area of concern when it comes to maintaining social distancing. Fans have 15 minutes to visit toilets or concessions. To ensure they get back to their seats for the second half most will make their way to the concourse areas on the half time whistle. Indicative data from a sample of clubs suggests around 20-30% of fans leave their seats at half time. It isn’t financially viable or practical for venues to build more toilets, increase the number of concessions or create more space on concourses. However what can be influenced is time. 


What if everyone didn’t leave their seats on the half time whistle? This would reduce crowd density on concourses; shorten queues for toilets and concessions. To achieve this consideration should be given to extending the half time break by 5 minutes. Knowing there is additional time, some spectators will wait 5-10 minutes before leaving their seat, flattening the curve of people in the concourse areas and reducing queues. As well as reducing crowd density, spectators will also get served quicker and spend less time in queues. Technology can also play a part here with solutions like Meshh, WaitTime and CrowdConnected being able to give real time crowd density or queue length data at concessions and toilets so fans head to quieter concessions.


An additional 5 minutes of half time will enable queues to be more manageable and more likely that social distancing will be maintained. If stadiums are able to fill seating bowls to 50%, an additional 5 minutes may be critical to help support social distancing on concourses.


OnePlan regularly delivers free to view webinars on planning for social distancing. Go to to view a recent webinar on the lessons learnt from seating bowl assessments and planning stadium ingress and egress.