Johan Cruijff ArenA holistic COVID approach

Video: Coliseum Global Sports Venue Alliance (YouTube)

The 55,000-capacity Johan Cruijff Arena is the main stadium of the Dutch capital City of Amsterdam and the home stadium of football club AFC Ajax since its opening. Built from 1993 to 1996 at a cost equivalent to €140 million, it is the largest stadium in Netherlands.

AFC Ajax is a Dutch professional football club based in Amsterdam that plays in the Eredivisie, the top tier of Dutch football.

Sander van Stiphout, Director International, Johan Cruijff ArenA, Netherlands, gives a detailed insight exclusively to ‘Coliseum’ at the Coliseum Online Week EUROPE Worldwide held in March 2021 on how the ArenA has adopted a totally scientific approach as far as its COVID-19 measures are concerned and, it is not about just the usual fare of wearing face coverings, temperature checks and social distancing followed in most stadia but is beyond that – based on science and technology – and its Fieldlab initiative best manifests the same.

Sander van Stiphout, Director International, Johan Cruijff ArenA, Netherlands, is a Member of Coliseum – Global Sports Venue Alliance.

Venue specifics:


Johan Cruijff ArenA

  • 55,000 seats with a retractable roof;
  • Opened in 1996;
  • Champions League Final host in 1998;
  • Euro hosts in 2000 and 2020;
  • Europa League final host in 2013;
  • Average 22 Ajax matches, four national team matches and 10 large-scale events per year;
  • More than 95 percent occupancy; and
  • It is home to Ajax and host to large international events.

The Johan Cruijff ArenA hosted three group matches and one 1/8 final match during the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Euro 2020 which concluded on July 11th with Italy being crowned the new European Champions after shootout win over England at a nailbiting finals held at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium in London (UK).

The Johan Cruijff ArenA staged Euro 2020 fixtures on June 13th, June 17th, June 21st, and June 26th in which the Netherlands was placed in Group C together with Ukraine and Austria. The fourth country was North Macedonia.

The 2020 UEFA European Football Championship, commonly referred to as UEFA Euro 2020 or simply Euro 2020, is the 16th UEFA European Championship, the quadrennial international men’s football championship of Europe organized by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). It got off to a start on June 11th, 2021 and concluded on July 11th, 2021. The UEFA Euro 2020 was postponed in March 2020 due to the global outbreak of coronavirus.

Sander van Stiphout started off by stating that 2020 was, “Pretty much about no fans in the stands for stadia all over the globe. In a pre-COVID world, as Ajax is the most popular team of the country, we had a very high occupancy rate. Let’s hope we can get back to people in the stands quickly if possible. We had some matches over the summer and we were allowed to have some fans – up to 15,000. We were again being allowed to have 5,000 people in the stands for the 2022 World Cup qualifier between Netherlands and Latvia on March 27th.”

Talking about the public-private Fieldlab initiative, he informed that it was a study during the match between the Netherlands and Latvia in March 2021 which focused on testing policy (rapid testing) and the use of the CoronaCheck App, which was used to check whether visitors have negative test results.


Innovation, context and strategy


Mission and purpose:

  • The Johan Cruijff ArenA mission is to jointly deliver impact, real value for a safer, more sustainable and more inclusive society as Stiphout put in,“We want to be the best stadium in the field”;
  • The ArenA actively act upon and measure its impact on the 17 Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations; and
  • The ArenA looks for including the best partners.



  • Become the best stadium in the world; and
  • Drive true impact on society.


The global goals for sustainable development:

  • Clean water and sanitation;
  • Affordable and clean energy;
  • Decent work and economic growth;
  • Industry innovation and infrastructure;
  • Reduced inequalities;
  • Sustainable Cities and communities;
  • Responsible consumption and production;
  • Climate action;
  • Life below water;
  • Life on land;
  • Peace and justice strong institutions; and
  • Partnerships for the goals.



Stated Stiphout, “It was one of our strategies to prepare for the future because we don’t have the budget to invest in everything that feels right so couple of years ago we started to organize innovation slightly separate in the company and organized a complete team around it to start working on specific themes that are relevant and with pretty much two goals – one is, of course, to become a better stadium and become the best stadium that you can be and also drive impact on society because the City of Amsterdam was a big investor in the stadium. In general, we see stadiums all over the world have been heavily subsidized by the Government. We have only been invested in by the Government in the beginning, we have not been subsidized in any way during operations. But, nevertheless, it gives us an obligation towards society. At least, that’s how we feel it.”

The ArenA ecosystem focuses on common missions that require cross-company collaboration for large-scale societal impact.


Missions and themes:

  • Sustainability – Accelerate the transition towards renewable energy;
  • Inclusivity – Increase equal employment opportunities;
  • Safety and security – Increase cyber resilience of Amsterdam stakeholders;
  • Safety and security – Ensure safe and healthy public gatherings;
  • Visitor engagement – Improve seamless and pleasant citizen and customer journeys;
  • Visitor engagement – Stimulate healthy behavior patterns; and
  • Sustainability – Connect the ecosystem to an open platform.

He added, “We use the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) actually as a common language towards corporate partners. So, this seems that our innovation team is focusing on our sustainability and theirs.”

  • Sustainability;
  • Inclusivity;
  • Safety and security;
  • Visitor engagements;
  • Sports and health; and
  • Smart building and City and the latter obviously facilitating all the others.

He further stated, “It makes sense, safety and security for obvious reasons visitor engagement, etc. We are trying to link those with broader societal challenges. So, safety and security linked towards ensuring safe and healthy public gatherings. Especially in a post-COVID-19 world it has become very relevant because the City has a lot of issues to organize and reinvent how to safely come together, how to have people safely engage with one another. Visitor engagement, of course, has a lot to do with the customer journey. Obviously, there is a broader issue – how do you keep the City accessible. So, that’s why we are trying to connect all the themes that we deal with in a smaller base in and around the stadium with the broader City-like challenges. That gives our part as also the opportunity to scale not only all the stadiums perhaps but also to Cities.”

The ArenA facilitates collaboration, innovation and acceleration with its ecosystem partners:

  • We use open innovation methods to speed up innovation with the right partners globally and collaboratively;
  • We create synergies in an ecosystem of corporates and SMEs to work on big (societal) challenges; and
  • We provide the process, resources, publicity, and physical place to realize your innovation roadmap.



Stiphout informed, “Actually, focusing on three different activities. First, collaborate, so we organized our ecosystem by bringing corporate partners, knowledge partners and smaller, medium-sized enterprises together and trying to find common grounds among them and, therefore, have them use the stadium as a showroom or create new projects and have corporates work together with small and medium-sized enterprises on items that they feel are relevant and they can make a business out of it and on our side it is actually used for us so it helps us and in that case it also helps them.”


He continued, “We use the stadium as the Fieldlab – as that miniature City that is often unoccupied. Hence, we use the entire infrastructure there to do all kinds of technical tests and also do tests during events. Of course, taking into consideration all the limitations that it has and all the security that is needed. We organized our data in recent years quite well and made it very accessible also to third parties. We have that whole legal structure also drawn up and also the data and project governance procedures.”


Challenges-based acceleration program

Stiphout informed that this program is used to actually get in touch with the right solution providers and specifically the scale-up partners – “For that we scout and make efficient use of these challenges.”

ArenA focus


Safety and security

As a leading stadium that facilitates both soccer games and large-scale events, the ArenA’s mission is to optimize the visitor’s experience when it comes to safety and security within and around the stadium, as well as in the City of Amsterdam.


  • One of the main challenges is to ensure a safe journey to and from the stadium as well as a safe experience within the stadium. This will help the ArenA to comply with all requirements and enhance the experience of its visitors as they enjoy the event; and
  • Besides physical safety, the ArenA authorities are concerned with the cybersecurity of the ArenA and the area around, as well as the City of Amsterdam.


Digital perimeter

For Euro 2020, there were a lot of fences around the stadium as Stiphout informed, “We do not have a fixed outer perimeter and these are all temporary structures that we put in. Obviously, it is not very hospitable so it’s our vision that in some point in time we go from a fenced perimeter towards a more digital perimeter. Obviously, a vision and we are not going to reach that in any time soon. However, we got some traction there with the City and with the National Police and they actually saw this as an opportunity and now we have the National Police using the stadium surroundings as their Fieldlab to test-drive new technical solutions that they are thinking of providing to agents and officers all across the country.”

He continued, “And, this works great for us. So, for Euro 2020 we had bodycams in place running on 5G because we have the 5G test frequency and they gain a lot of experience, operational experience with that equipment, further improve it and hopefully it finds its way across the country.This is the way we are trying to bring parties together and on one side have them work for our benefit because we are trying to create a safer and more secure place and on the other side be respectful towards society and use the venue as a learning ground as well.”



Challenge for COVID-related solutions


Football Innovation Platform – reimagine football

Stiphout shared, “One of the first things we started to get together is reach out to our peers, to our clients – Ajax, Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), and the City Football Group, and we started this challenge – ‘Reimagine Football’ – and it is even supported by the European Union (EU) as well and KPMG supported us in the process. The idea behind this is that companies can find us in bringing in a solution, bring it to the platform and engage with everyone on the platform on these specific challenges that we posed.”


  • How to engage fans back home;
  • Keep them engaged;
  • How to reopen the doors of the stadiums and allow fans in;
  • What do we have to do, what kind of measures do we have to take and how do we implement those; and
  • How do we make sure that people do not stop playing football and to keep them engaged even though they were not able to do sports themselves for a long time?

He continued, “So, we are trying to do that. Companies put in their solutions and we engage with them. Although different organizations actually individually engage with their solution providers, ask questions and make sure that everything is clear on what they have to offer.We selected ultimately 27 of the 330 solutions offered and there was a final event online – unfortunately – and we chose several winners but actually with most of the 27 we and the other stakeholders engaged with.”


  1. Healthy at the gate:
  • Impact ticketing – ‘Know the occupant of each seat’
    • Personalized
    • Micro marketing
    • Prevent black trade
    • Reselling, cross selling


Totally foolproof

Van Stiphout said that Johan Cruijff ArenA authorities are leaving nothing to chance and are taking extra shield when it comes to COVID-19 protocols, “Ajax had digital ticketing pretty much in place right before COVID hit. And now that same TixnGo solution for them offers the opportunity to ask all the questions beforehand to make sure that you have not been in touch with anyone that had COVID, etc. And after you answer these questions correctly, only then your ticket will be activated. And right now, we are extending the same exercise to our personnel as well – so, for all the catering personnel, the stewards, security personnel, we designed the similar process, and we use the same solution.”

Fast tests

On March 11th this year, test facilities were planned for event visitors.

Van Stiphout further informed that the Government announced lot of extra test facilities specific for people that are going to visit events and there was a special app “giving you a QR code if you are allowed in. So, for Euro 2020, we checked two things – QR code and the ticket. The whole process is a bit cumbersome but we were happy to be hosting the soccer spectacle with 16,000 fans in the stands”.

  1. Healthy building and stands


UV-C Technology

The Dutch multinational lighting corporation Signify is offering technology withUV-C radiance which disinfects the air and/or surfaces. In this way, the risk of transmitting germs like COVID-19 is reduced. It is a pilot at the moment to clean toilets by using the UV-C light.

Aerosol behavior in stadium stands:

  • Simulate;
  • Validate;
  • Implement air filters; and
  • Validate.

Scientists and employees of the Johan Cruijff Arena joined forces in December last year to gain new insights into how aerosols (saliva particles) spread within sports venues.

As Van Stiphout put in, “The aerosols are the carriers of the coronavirus. So, the Technical University of Eindhoven mimics their behavior. There was a computer model developed that it is going to be validated and can actually make the calculations to see what type of measures we can take in the stadium to increase ventilation and bring down aerosol concentration to acceptable levels so that we can again break through within the 1.5-meter barrier.”

Next-level dashboarding

  • Next-level dashboarding (single screens in which various critical pieces of information are placed in the form of panels) made possible by Calculus;
  • Multiple data sources for uncluttered dashboarding; and
  • All data can be grouped, aggregated, combined, and concatenated for increased overview.

Explained Van Stiphout, “We are looking after a lot of new data sources – combination of how many people are in specific rooms and air quality and that combined. So, we selected a company that gives us that insight very quickly and can also improve insights, bring new data sources, etc. So, COVID showed us that it requires lot of flexibility, lot of speed also, adaptivity and that is something that is being offered here.”

  1. Monitoring and nudging behavior


Behaving responsibly

He added that responsible behavior has become paramount in a COVID-struck world – “It is all about how people behave. We have been organizing traffic around the stadium already for a long time out of our Operational Mobility Center. But now, actually, the question is the reverse. It is not about bringing people together but making sure that they keep their distance and you don’t get a lot of people in a specific location at the same time. And this is what helped the Government develop an overview of what areas of the City are better to go to than others because it is less crowded. We also engaged with the Ajax and the City in specific communication campaigns.”


Social distance awareness

In the tour, we use buzzers that remind people to keep the social distance.

Monitoring social distancing:

  • TNO tooling, studio automated operationalization;
  • Identify location;
  • Visualize duration; and
  • Next: Organize response.

He shared, “We did a complete research with TNO (the Netherlands organization for applied scientific research) to monitor social distancing in the stadium stands. Are people keeping the social distance – and we are now implementing this on an operational level. So, when do you actually go out and address people to change their behavior? How do people respond to it? Again, lot of lessons to be learnt. ”

Security & Safety Things


Face masks detection:

  • Detect if visitors comply with face mask requirement; and
  • Alert staff in case of misconduct.


Occupancy and queue management:

  • Track occupancy in real-time;
  • Alert staff if overoccupancy is risked;
  • Analyze social distancing compliance in queues; and
  • Automatic alerts if 2m social distancing is not complied with.


Social distancing

  • Detect crowds in your stadium; and
  • Alert staff if people are too close.


Video analytics on existing camera infrastructure

Security & Safety Things provides a platform of smart video analytics ensuring safety and security and enhancing efficiency.

The platform Germany’s Munich-based firm, Security & Safety Things GmbH is being piloted in several cameras in the ArenA since February 2021 to see how it could improve health and safety aspects of visitors coming to the ArenA.

He informed, “We test this camera platform whether it can enable us to quickly change applications on specific cameras depending on the need – face mask detection well if it is not needed. Then maybe we monitor social distancing so that we can quickly exchange applications on each camera.”


Provide excellent experiences in the stadium

The Johan Cruijff ArenA (Netherlands) joined hands with the interactive app Close in February this year to make visitors’ visit to the Amsterdam stadium a memorable one and provide them an amplified experience. Close’s direct communication platform will be used to personally inform visitors of the Stadium tour before, during and after their visit.

Close facilitates mobile interaction between an organizer and fans, providing a personalized customer journey, enhancing the experience before, during and after an event. It was also used during the Fieldlab Event Netherlands-Latvia.

Stated Stiphout, “One that I find particularly interesting is that if you attend a match now there is a lot of communication that needs to take place. You have to adapt to your time slot and right now you even have to make an COVID test appointment, then you go in, you cannot have catering/you can have catering, you can go to that area, you cannot go to the other area, so there is a lot of limitations that you have to communicate with people.”

He added, “On the other side, you want to entertain fans as well. So, this platform is basically a social media platform that you run yourself as a club or as a venue or as an organizer and it enables you to actually communicate with groups of fans. So, all the fans that are sitting in one specific section get this flow of messages and fans with transport needs get a different flow of messages and this enables us to ease the pain a little bit with all the practicalities that we enforce on fans.”

  1. Facilitate learning
  • Catchphrase: Tailor-make each crew briefing quickly in the app and easily adjust messaging on the fly and collect post-event team feedback to improve performance; and
  • Safesight: Improved logbook with standardized messages to facilitate evaluations.

Digitalization in the event process got a positive impulse and now enables one to do digital briefings with multiple stakeholders and it really helps.

Van Stiphout remarked, “We see acceleration in adopting these kinds of tooling right now. These tools help to organize and to capture learnings as well. We have to adjust the event organization process – given the current conditions – and the procedures that go with it and therefore we have to have the tools in place to quickly learn and improve.”

  1. Fan experience

He added, “We also selected fan experience measures. VOGO which enables to look at the different broadcast feeds from your seat in the stadium. Technology can go anywhere by the way but in this case it is inside the stadium and we are trying to enrich that feed with more statistics. We are trying to get more companies involved to get richer information to the fans.”

Van Stiphout concluded by stating, “We chose the Fieldlab approach to engage with the ecosystem, to get progress in the different domains that really help during COVID and try to make that societal impact because we can and we should and on the other hand it also helps for partnership activations because it shows that larger market for the partners that we are trying to involve. I think it is also a new way of getting into successful and true partnerships.”

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