Fans as medicine for the premier league: ‘We cannot survive without’

Six months ago, the ball rolled for the last time in the premier league. This weekend the highest football league will start up again, albeit with various restrictions for fans.

On average, stadiums are 23% full, according to a survey by the CCeit among clubs. Despite the low number of spectators, everything is being done to please fans, even with the much-discussed ban on cheering and singing.

For example, FC Twente allows salespeople with special backpacks, from which beer can be tapped, to walk across the stadium’s stands in order to restrict crowd movements. Ajax places orders from supporters from the fan shop on their seats. And various clubs work with QR codes that allow fans who are in the stadium to order refreshments remotely.

“Football in the Netherlands, but nowhere else in the world, can survive without the stadiums filling up,” says premier league director Jan de Jong. “Forty to sixty percent of the income comes from the sale of season tickets, single tickets and income on match days”

“Every time you don’t play with full stands, the whole of professional football costs between โ‚ฌ5 and โ‚ฌ7 million per round,” says the top man of the premier league. According to him, it is vitally important for the industry that stadiums fill up quickly.

But it is precisely that aspect, those full stands, that is what is lacking for the time being. So the CCeit survey of all premier league clubs shows that, on average, 23% of stadiums are occupied, while the protocols in force for football allow for up to 40%.

De Jong outlines the situation as follows: “We are sailing through water that does not have maps”. We therefore need to look at what is possible per region, per club and per seat. For example, it may be the case that the policy of one club is stricter than that of other league members.

Take PEC Zwolle. The tour of the CCeit shows that football is offered there in the most sober way. For example, the fan shop is closed and the catering closes during the match. In Zwolle, there is also an obligation to keep mouth caps until fans are seated – a measure that doesn’t apply anywhere else in the premier league.

“Our orbits in the stadium are narrow. We anticipated a lot of crowds”, says Jeroen van Leeuwen, general manager at PEC. Together with the safety region it was therefore decided to stand on the safe side of the line.

“The first four home games serve as a pilot. After that we can adjust it if necessary”, says Van Leeuwen. “We’d rather relax our policy than the other way round”

Sc Heerenveen also stands out. Together with VVV, the Frisians admit the smallest percentage of fans at the start of the competition. For example, 4000 season ticket holders are welcome at the Abe Lenstra Stadium and 1200 at De Koel. That is about 15 percent of the usual capacity.

“Spectator numbers are important, but in this case safety is even more important”, a spokesman for Heerenveen summarises the situation. Over the course of the season, the club hopes to be able to admit more fans.

The Frisians will kick off the premier league season against Willem II on Saturday evening, with the limited number of fans, at 6.45 pm.