One Direction

An image of the recent One Direction concert, held at The Stadium of Light in Sunderland.

It seems that on every TV channel, in every newspaper and magazine and across social media there is reference and comment about the latest boy band phenomenon One Direction.

Their recent “Where We Are” world tour delivered 69 performances and played to a combined audience of 3.4 million starting in South America in April and ending in North America in October 2014.

A production as complex as the “Where We Are” tour presents enormous challenges to venue safety management teams and licensing authorities to ensure the event is as safe as possible for all spectators.

On any large touring production, venue capacities are a major consideration. The cost of touring is high, and filling the stadiums to their maximum safe capacity is desired in order to keep ticket prices at an affordable level.

Early in 2013 and ahead of my appointment with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, I worked with Sunderland Football Ground and the tour promoters SJM to develop a safe layout at the Stadium of Light which was then used as a model for other UK venues.

From the outset the challenges were clear. The audience profile, demographic and scale of the event were completely different to the usual football crowd. The audience profile was identified as 80% fans aged 8-18, with a female to male spilt of 90:10. The remaining 20% of tickets would be sold to parents and adult guardians. There was also a desire from the promoters to permit free standing on the pitch.

The key issues for this event included:

  • Consideration and implications of minors standing on the pitch
  • Setting the minimum age for standing fans
  • Ratio of parents or guardians to standing minors
  • Setting appropriate pitch densities for a younger audience
  • Style and design of pitch barrier protection for minors
  • High percentage of females attending and impact upon stadium facilities
  • Safeguarding issues and dealing with lost/found children
  • Arrival and departure of fans including drop off, pick up and post event meeting areas
  • Medical/welfare provision
  • Enforcement of licensing laws in relation to sale of alcohol ie; proof of identity
  • An overnight operation plan for eager fans camping out ahead of the event.

The plan also needed to take into consideration that this was the opening night of the UK leg of the tour and rehearsals were going to take place at the venue in the days leading up to the event.

The first challenge was to assess whether a safe system for large numbers of children on the pitch area could be developed. In most football stadia the usual standing capacity is an average of 0.4m²/person, equating to 23,000 people in the case of the Stadium of Light

A free flowing standing crowd of 23,000  children and  juveniles was considered to have too many safety concerns. The solution was to reduce the total numbers on the pitch and split  the  area into 4 smaller zones, each with a maximum capacity of 5000. Each quadrant was managed independently of the others, so entry and exit and accessing refreshments and toilet facilities throughout the event was more manageable. To reflect the enormous imbalance of female to male fans, hundreds of portable wc’s were brought in to cater for the expected demand.

To assist in improving the viewing for all on the pitch, a B stage was located in the centre of the field, connected to the main stage by a centre thrust. This meant the band could perform along the thrust and on the B stage, dramatically improving sight lines and providing more “front of stage” viewing, helping to reduce pushing and shoving by fans eager to get close to the band.   

The height of front of stage barriers needed to be considered, as standard barrier designs are based on adult audiences. Sourcing of lower height barriers and providing specialist training for pit barrier stewards in the extraction of children and juveniles from the crowd was carried out.

The formation of smaller quadrants, reduction in numbers and the 0.4m²/person floor space factor made any interventions by security, stewards and medical services faster and more manageable.

Another issue that required much discussion was agreeing the minimum age for standing on the pitch. We settled on a minimum age of 12 for the standing areas and stipulated that 12-16 year olds must be accompanied by an adult in this area.  

As with any event, safeguarding issues are important but at an event with so many children expected, it was a priority. An integrated, multi-agency approach to safeguarding was taken and a specialist sub group formed to address and mitigate the risks. The group had representatives from the club, the police and the city council’s safeguarding team. The detailed plan even included provision of free mobile phone charging points so fans were able to call home and check in with anxious parents.

Pick up and drop off points were controlled by creating sterile areas around the stadium. Using traffic regulation orders to prevent vehicle movement in the restricted areas meant fans could exit the stadium safely.

Large stewarded meeting zones were created with familiar points of reference for quick and safe reconnection of parents and children at the end of the evening. And, to ensure the safety and welfare of fans, a stewarding protection plan was put in place for fans who did camp out overnight.

Twelve months of planning was tested on the night as 51,231 fans enjoyed a great show. The fans behaviour was without doubt the most excited but most compliant crowd ever to attend the Stadium of Light. Whilst there were minor cases of drunkenness, levels were easily manageable and were quickly dealt with to ensure the enjoyment of others wasn’t affected.

The “On the Road Again Tour” rolls on in 2015 to Australia, Asia, South Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe and North America and will be using the blueprint for safety developed in the UK.

The Sports Grounds Safety Authority will be publishing new guidance on alternative uses of sports stadia in Spring 2015.

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