Loose-fit stadia the order of the day: KSS



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KSS is an award-winning AJ100 architecture and design practice, celebrating 30 years in 2021. With offices in Central London and Kent, it is one of the leading sports stadia and training center architects with a strong presence in residential, education, commercial, hospitality, and workplace.

Andy Simons, Founding Director, KSS, UK, gives extensive details on how loose-fit stadia – which do not allow spatial issues to arise – are the new mantra. He shares these details exclusively with ‘Coliseum’ at the Coliseum Online Week EUROPE Worldwide – held in March 2021. He also tells that COVID-19 has definitely brought in a shift in design policy of venues.

Andy Simons feels that since COVID-19 pounced on the world in March 2020, “Everyone’s priorities and perspective in life has probably changed a little bit. Looking back, we think what we want from the future. Particularly, the sports world. We are all very adept with screen and screen technology and possibly a little bit too adept and bit too reliant on it now. I think that’s going to stay with us and I think that sort of reliance to having the screen to handle even more is going to play into the way we need to design our venues and think about our venues. We have all upskilled quite a lot.”

Added Simons, “There is no doubt of course that all of our clients and the venues and the stadiums have suffered financially due to the coronavirus scourge. No home crowd has spelt disaster for many and this is all related to food and beverage and merchandise spending as well. I mean who buys the new club shirt or merchandise or who is going to drop in at the mega store when there are no games. So, things need to get back on course very quickly.”
 

Home crowd advantage

Simons pointed out that not being able to play in front of the home crowd has proved to be disastrous for many clubs – “For few clubs the going has been smooth to play in front of the home crowd while some clubs have been bruised due to the fatal virus as they have been forced to play closed-door games.”

Home advantage describes the benefit that the home team is said to gain over the visiting team. This benefit has been attributed to psychological effects supporting fans have on the competitors or referees; to psychological or physiological advantages of playing near home in familiar situations. The home crowd can also intimidate the visiting players by booing, whistling.
 

Reality check

Everybody associated with the sports venue sector and, of course, the fans that were totally shut out of venues for a year due to the emergency health situation caused globally with the outbreak of coronavirus in March 2020 have had a year to reflect on many things related to sports and sports venues.

He continued, “Who could have predicted Liverpool’s streak of home failures, I mean just unthinkable. So, there is a real craving to get back to some sense of reality in our sport (playing in front of fans and getting that energy back into stadia). I think it is a reality check for everybody. We had time to reflect on last year and the clubs did have time to reflect in their office and the fans on what they want. Most fans, of course, would just be delighted to get back to anything but some may return with maybe a jaded eye when you return after a year, you see with a new eye, new perspective or maybe the offer in changed circumstances, maybe with less finances from your own personal side. My feeling not quite the value it used to be and you might look at it with a different eye. So, it has been time to reflect certainly.”

Premier League team Liverpool F.C.’s cup of woes is overflowing as they have lost five home matches on the trot recently.
 

Design perspective

Simons noted, “When it comes to design, of course we are looking two years ahead from major refurbishment or five years ahead from new stadium design. So, for us, we are not really thinking about a COVID road at all. We are thinking about a business case and return on investment model in stadiums which is totally predicated on an absolutely full, raucous, passionate stadium environment. I mean, that’s what everybody wants, the fans want and it is absolutely what the media wants. We want packed venues. We may not be here to affect the quality of what’s happening on the pitch or the outcome but we certainly should be able to deliver to everything we find – the best possible experience – pregame, halftime break and postgame.”

He added, “So, what would change due to COVID-19? I think we are going to have changes now in our stadium design physically, I think we are going to have a very different digital and technological overlay than we had before. It’s a media-driven venue without a doubt and hopefully we have a much greater focus on sustainability going forward.”
 

Fans – football’s raison d’ etre

Simon stressed that the game of football loses its identity if not played in front of fans – “We are going to focus really on which dimension of this stadium experience do we really need to focus about changing and I think it is no doubt the general fans – the 85 percent of every stadium that makes up the passion, the heart, the soul of the stadium and to be honest, the media backdrop as well. It’s these fans that the media really wants in that close proximity, that close focus. So, it’s the experience that we give to them I think we ought to focus on.”
 

Stadium concourses

Stadium concourses in the ‘90s had people almost packed like sardines and the support facilities were nothing to write home about. But, things have moved on and Liverpool (KSS has lent design to Liverpool’s digs Anfield) home ground is a great example of how things have and shouldn’t evolve as a benchmark for the future without thinking on this experience. There is a very different attitude to the quality of interior design, floors, walls, lighting quality with an overlay of branding and generosity of space. If a stadium is loose-fit with plenty of space to, it gives an enchanting experience to fans – and they consider it as a place to which they want to come to a lot earlier and leave a lot later.”

“Areas to one side of the hubbub of the concourse in Anfield – in the main concourse you get in real time, the moment playbacks what’s happening – in the first half, previous matches, and other matches. But, in the sideshoot area where we have retained some of the old wooden seats, you can relive the classic moments of the past in monochrome, of course, the generational groups sitting in a general concourse. That’s how life should be. Off to one side, we have managed to create some breakout spaces. And the food and beverage offer here is a very different experience and this is absolutely the way forward.”
 

Lounge facility

Simon remarked, “The lounge facility is extremely popular in stadia – people just want little bit of comfort, little bit of warmth in their matchday experience. It is definitely trending now. The food is voucher-based – street food and traditional offers. You can have it before, during or after, it is entirely up to you. So, there is flexibility on the offers as well. Break out to much better quality fan zones outside the concourse where people can choose to linger longer outside and enjoy covered and uncovered high quality digital and live entertainment pregame and postgame. This is a big dimension and a lot of the clubs we are working with are moving this way.”
 

Hospitality

Simon maintained that if fans are ready to loosen their purse strings to buy the hospitality package they will be greeted by generosity of space and choice of experience – “There is a lounge, there is dining facilities and there is bar services. You choose where you want to sit and you are locked into your table for the whole event. So, there is a lot of scaling and lot of lifting of experience across whole packages.”

He further observed, “An actual general concourse in stadia will be full of fans celebrating to their hearts’ delight. We are working on two very similar spaces of this with a fantastic diverse street food of a range around the outside with both club-owned and franchise operatives. To that post-match party – win or lose, extending the spend and the fun on into the evening.”
 

Gamification the name of the game

He revealed how various stakeholders involved with the sports venue sector bend over backwards to woo fans – the heart and soul of venues.

Simons added, “Gamification – technological overlay without a doubt. The handheld phone which will never leave your hand and never goes away is now being embraced. Gamification of new food offers by KFC is a fantastically successful initiative. They bought out shrimps alongside the usual offers and did a sort of fruit ninja screen swiping game which hit off with the younger generation and the ones who got the highest vouchers for the food offers and the food offers sold out across all the venues. So, this sort of overlay is definitely coming.”
 

360 digital wrap

Talking about the future, he concluded by stating, “We are going to get into 360 replays in almost real time. People feel they need to be immersed in this. We are going to have potentially a tightening of the bowl and we are going to have a totally immersive digital experience, we are going to see WiFi delivered by LiFi , 5G, in-seat charging 360 screens and, of course, ability to embrace these changes, it’s a must, it’s coming. Hopefully, there is a sustainable carbon-neutral backdrop to all of this. So, loose-fit is the mantra for the future. So, be ready for change and design the capability for change into what we do.”

Simon stressed on loose-fit and loose-fit it should be for stadia what with COVID-19 necessitating physical distancing.

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