We spend a lot of time talking about the fields themselves — how they should be cared for, how to address problems and how to stay on top of the trends that affect our business. But when you think about it, the biggest groups of people to enter our venues will never walk across the turf, much less score a touchdown or throw someone out at home plate. They’re spectators, and in just about every case, it’s their support, tickets and enthusiasm that make the whole industry tick. So every once in a while, it’s good to examine their experience in the facility and to figure out how to make it better.
While there are plenty of fields (venues in parks, for example) that see parents bringing folding chairs, yoga mats and picnic blankets to set up camp just outside the sidelines, we’re going to focus initially on the more formal options for seating – and yes, we’ll come back to the folding chairs.
If your facility includes a stadium, it’s likely you have either grandstands or bleachers. Grandstands are the higher and wider rows of seating, often including multiple aisles and sets of steps that facilitate the spectators’ ability to get in and out more easily, for trips to the restroom, concession stands or souvenir vendors. Bleachers, meanwhile, are the smaller and lower systems that seat a limited number of spectators.
The range of options – and the choice of which to take – are limited only by the owner’s budget. Lower-cost options will be the standard bench-style seating; however, other models at various price points may offer individual seats, contouring, back rests, custom colors, canopies and more. There are also federal Americans with Disabilities Act-specific seating setups (and field managers must keep in mind the need to accommodate all individuals with challenges). In addition, codes in specific areas may require handrails, fencing and more around seating; in some cases, this will be dependent upon the height of the seating structure. A qualified field builder will be able to advise owners on codes and other regulations, and it’s a good idea to seek out this sort of expert advice prior to making any purchase.
As venues have evolved to host an ever- increasing number of sports and, as a result, an ever-changing demographic of spectators, it has become necessary for owners to keep their options flexible. Both bleachers and grandstands are available in permanent and portable models and in various configurations, designed to accommodate crowds of all sizes and needs. There are also retrofit kits available from sports field equipment companies; these kits include metal planking or cladding and are designed to be put over old bleachers for spectators’ comfort and safety.
Many colleges, as well as sports parks, are discovering the economic and logistical advantages of portable seating, particularly in cases where multiple fields exist and on any given day, a field may host more spectators than its permanent seating accommodates. But it’s essential for the owner or sports field manager to be aware of scheduling challenges. In other words, you need to know which games will be more heavily attended and to allow for adequate time to truck in and set up the extra spectator facilities.
Seeing is believing
One of the challenges of seating, whether permanent or portable, is providing optimal sightlines for spectators – and as more facilities are designed to host an increasing number of sports, this creates its own conundrum. After all, if a field will host football (which has a standard length of 360 feet and a standard width of 160 feet), as well as field hockey (300 feet long and 180 feet wide), the field must be, as a minimum, large enough to satisfy the standard length for football and the standard width for hockey. This in turn means that spectators for a football game will be farther back than they prefer.
Unfortunately, in the age of the smartphone – and of parents and others who want photos – this often leads to spectators trying to edge out of the stands and onto the sidelines in order to take pictures. Post signage warning against this, and have security or other officials ready to escort fans away from the playing area if they’re putting themselves or athletes in danger – or even just interfering with other fans’ view of the game.
Many sports facilities offer not only formal seating – bleachers, grandstands and the like – but informal seating as well. This may include adjacent hillsides or other grassy areas where spectators gather to sit on blankets or camping or folding chairs. This type of landscaping can actually provide an excellent amenity since it allows families with small children or other groups to have picnics and to enjoy the spectator experience in their own way. It’s also a great way to allow extra viewing room without bringing in extra seating.
As long as these informal seating areas do not infringe upon or interfere with the playing area (meaning field owners and managers should be aware of all setbacks and safety zones), informal seating can add to the aesthetic appeal of a facility.
As with all other aspects of sports fields, spectator seating (in any form) benefits from regular walk-throughs by the field manager to check on the condition of the facilities and make any notes of repairs or problems that are needed. The bottom line is this: Keep your spectators happy and they’ll keep coming back.