Feature Article - May 2021
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Emerging Trends in Sports Facility Design

Basic Design Principles With a Post-Pandemic Twist

By Rick Dandes

Post-Pandemic Stadium Changes

While the impact of COVID-19 will almost certainly change the spectator experience, it will not eliminate large in-person viewing in the long term. "The world continues to adapt to new physical distancing standards to support public health, and sports complexes can use the lessons learned from other industries to ensure the safety of visitors," Klaus said. "Changes in cleaning regimens and operational protocols will allow facilities to host spectators, which will continue to provide an economic boost for communities."

Limited stadium capacity is something that is going to be a current state of mind, said Bechtold. "Eventually, as things begin to improve, it will become more about, how can we create a unique fan experience? It will mean elevating the fan experience at all levels, in all sports. Just because a venue is smaller or accommodating less fans, that doesn't change the goal. Even now, with people adhering to social distancing protocols, it doesn't mean that that experience shouldn't be unique and memorable."

Some of the stronger changes we are seeing come out of the pandemic is on the amenities side of things, Bechtold said. "The lines at concessions are a thing of the past, gathering in large crowds, people in close proximity will be frowned on. Folks are likely going to have a sensitivity to close-in crowds moving forward for years to come, because we've lived there for a year with those mitigations."

You will see more grab-and-go concessions, Bechtold said. "These sports facility spaces will become more open. And look for a cashless environment, where there are no lines, no checkout, no interaction. Staffing will be down for the venue, but then you'll have freedom of choice to be able to come and go as you please as a spectator, and be able to pick and choose what you want without having to worry about 'do I have time to get back to my seat at halftime because I am standing in a line with 300 other people?' …All these things are changing and starting to evolve."

The main driver for spectators and athletes during the new normal will be wellness, Bechtold said. It's important at the collegiate level, club sport and high school level in 2021, 2022 and beyond. "You are seeing things implemented in these buildings that allow much more freedom, much more opportunity for having space. But also, you can't lose the camaraderie—you can't lose that within the walls of the buildings."

Take whatever you can that is positive from the pandemic, suggested Jonsson. "Talk to the users of the facility. We need to be sensitive to user experience."

Listen to the experience of your end users—spectators, athletes and staff—and use their guidance to inform your decisions about your facility going forward. RM