The Football Supporters’ Federation has welcomed Everton’s plan to build their new stadium with the potential for safe-standing areas that could increase the overall capacity by 10,000 fans.
While John Blain, the chairman of the Everton FC Shareholders’ Association (EFCSA), believes the club’s “flexible” approach to capacity could help close the financial gap to the ‘big six’ and keep ticket prices low.
Everton want to build their new home at Bramley-Moore Dock on the banks of the Mersey and they are proposing a state-of-the-art venue with an initial capacity of 52,000 seats.
But at the Premier League club’s annual general meeting last week, deputy chairman Keith Harris said: “We expect the introduction of safe-standing during the period the stadium is being built, so original capacity has flexibility to increase by 10,000, depending on government legislation.”
Football grounds in England’s top two divisions have had to be all-seater ever since the 1989 Hillsborough disaster but the legislation is under review, with many in the game expecting sports minister Mims Davies to announce plans to relax that requirement soon.
Several clubs have said they would like to re-introduce standing areas, while Spurs have built their new home at White Hart Lane with 7,500 seats that can be quickly converted into standing places. They initially suggested this could increase capacity by nearly 2,000 but have since opted for a one-for-one ratio when converting seats to standing places.
But standing sections can hold up to twice as many fans as seated areas of the same size, as several League One and League Two clubs prove and can be seen every week in the Bundesliga. Despite this fact, every Championship and Premier League club that has talked about standing areas so far has done so on a one-for-one basis, until Everton.
Speaking to Press Association Sport, the head of the FSF’s safe-standing campaign Peter Daykin said: “Using standing to increase capacity has been politically sensitive because it has scared clubs with stadiums that cannot easily be retro-fitted to do this safely and it has worried politicians with mental images of terraces packed with boisterous fans all standing up.
“But the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) gives licences to standing areas in Leagues One and Two with higher densities than seated areas, so if it’s safe there, it should be safe everywhere.
“As long as the areas are properly designed, maintained and stewarded, the FSF sees no reason why clubs cannot go for a greater ratio than one-for-one when they switch seats for standing places.”
Daykin also believes clubs able to increase their capacities with standing sections should be able to lower their prices.
“We are not backing the campaign to give supporters the choice to stand because we expect prices to come down but, obviously, if they do, we will be delighted,” he said.
“We also think if you can increase spectator density, prices should come down and that will help with the lack of diversity at many grounds, as the cost of tickets is one of the biggest obstacles there.”
Blain, whose association represents about 15 per cent of the club’s shareholders, agrees with Daykin on the game-changing potential of a stadium that can safely accommodate large numbers of standing fans.
“But there are others who are not convinced we could consistently fill a 60,000-capacity stadium to justify the extra £70million or so in construction costs and wonder about the negative impact if seats are empty.
“So I believe the board is being smart by still considering the base-capacity whilst exploring a more flexible solution for a standing section that could, subject to legislative changes, provide an absolute maximum capacity of 62,000.
“The other factor is the cost of tickets, always a sensitive issue at the ‘People’s Club’.
“If you go for the smaller capacity and we consistently fill it, as most believe we will, then the usual laws of supply and demand suggest prices will rise. Resisting that could hurt our ability to compete.
“But with a large standing area, which significantly increases the capacity, prices could be kept low.”