While Boris’ “tis the season to be jolly … careful” word play stole many of the headlines on Monday, there were some proper crumbs of comfort for sports clubs who rely on crowds for income.
Fans will for the first time since “Lockdown 1” be allowed back into sporting venues, albeit in limited numbers. As the country emerges, blinking, from the current lockdown into the new tiered regime on 2 December, sports venues will be able to admit up to a maximum of 4,000 people.
The usual rules around “Hands, Face, Space” will remain; face coverings should be worn in most indoor settings and social distancing measures remain in place. Nonetheless, the new tiered rules represent a significant change for the better for sports clubs and venues. Let’s dig into the new rules:
Tier 1 (Medium Alert): Spectator sports events can take place outdoors and indoors, provided capacity is limited to the lower of 50% or 4,000 people outdoors or 1,000 indoors.
Tier 2 (High Alert): Spectator sports can take place, provided capacity is restricted to 50% or to 2,000 people outdoors, or 1,000 indoors.
Tier 3 (Very High Alert): No public attendance at outdoor events is allowed, although elite sport events without spectators may continue.
The government says it will announce which areas are in which tier on Thursday 26 November. Sports clubs up and down the country will already be planning how they can start to get fans back but it is when they know which tier they will fall in that they can really start planning properly.
Clubs and others will need to do a careful cost/benefit analysis to work out whether or not it makes sense to bring fans back in these limited numbers. There are plenty of costs associated with opening back up, from security and gate staff, to ticketing, to onsite food and drink facilities, cleaners and so on. At the same time though, the price of not doing so goes beyond the simple loss of gate receipts and onsite spend. Clubs and venue and event operators will want to show willing and start connecting with fans once again, enticing them away from that Saturday sofa that many will have started to get used to.
Commenting on the new guidelines the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the government was “taking a cautious approach” to the return of crowds. “I’m confident that sports will take every step to ensure their fans are safe, and fans will play their part and look out for each other until we can safely get everyone back in,” he said.