When it comes to sports fields, a lot of attention is paid to the athlete experience. And that’s the way it should be. After all, you want players to do their best and to stay safe.

Beyond that, however, there is another dimension of the field that will require your attention – facilities for spectators. No matter whether you’re trying to accommodate families who come to watch pee-wee players attempt tee-ball, courting sports tourism with travel teams and out-of-town guests or preparing for scouts to evaluate your athletes, people need somewhere to sit. Many fields – facilities in park districts, for example – lack formal seating facilities, prompting spectators to set up folding chairs and picnic blankets along the sidelines. But that’s not optimal. Multiple options exist for those who want to provide seating.

Multiple options exist for sports field managers who wish to provide seating for spectators.

  • Bleachers: Bleacher systems are smaller, lower systems designed to seat a limited number of spectators.
  • Grandstands: Grandstands are what one typically finds in larger facilities, where crowds are expected. They are typically higher and wider than bleachers, and often feature multiple aisles and sets of steps to allow spectators to come and go more easily, without having to displace everyone in a row.
  • Informal seating: Many fields are designed to offer additional seating on nearby hillsides or berms, in case of overflow.

Bleachers and grandstands are available in permanent and portable models, and in various configurations, designed to accommodate crowds of all sizes and needs. Smaller seating areas for team use should be located below the spectator seating, and situated in such a way as to allow athletes privacy from spectators’ comments.

Portable seating may be an outstanding option for a school, sports parks or other locations where several fields are in use at one time, with varied numbers of spectators. Seating can be collapsed and moved between facilities to allow for maximum flexibility on a limited budget, and without the commitment of new construction.

Seating can be as simple or elaborate as budgets and needs dictate; for example, lower- cost options will be the standard “bench-style” seating; however, other models may offer individual seats, contouring, back rests, custom colors, canopies and more. There are also ADA-specific seating set-ups (and field managers must keep in mind the need to accommodate all individuals with challenges). In addition, codes in specific areas may require hand rails, fencing and more around seating; in some cases, this will be dependent upon the height of the seating structure. Because many older facilities still have wooden bleachers, seating companies offer retrofit kits, including metal planking or cladding. Again, codes in individual areas will dictate the applicability of such materials.

Every effort should be made to locate seating for maximum visibility while taking into account spectator safety. Ideally, each event should be viewable from any spot in the bleachers or the grandstands.

The size of the field will, of course, affect the location of the spectator seating. Any field that will host multiple sports must be built to the standards of the governing body for the sport(s) requiring the largest possible space.

Also, take into consideration the aesthetics of the field when doing a layout, since often this means the seating (which have been set up with proper clearances for soccer) may be set further back from the edge of the football field than spectators might like. This, in turn, may lead to fans migrating down from the stands and trying to edge onto the sidelines. Officials will have to set clear boundaries in these cases.

Another design consideration inherent in spectator seating – this relates more to overall facility construction – is drainage. Water – whether it is in the form of precipitation or overzealous sprinkler use – tends to run down the spectator seating and toward the field. Any responsible seating plan should include appropriate water- handling systems in the form of perimeter drainage.

Just like the grass on your field, well-maintained spectator facilities can make an experience more fun. And, after all, it’s the fans in the stands who give your athletes the incentive to perform their best.