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Smart stadiums: setting standards

We look at how industry standards are evolving and the continued diversification of stadiums as operators look to maximise profits and transform venues into 'micro-cities'.

Previously we looked at the latest thinking when it comes to stadium audio design, before considering the technical changes required when stadiums are used for non-sports events. Here we look at updates to standards and the continued diversification of stadiums to maximise profits.

While they contemplate the stadiums of the future, operators and their consultants also have plenty of standards-related matters to bear in mind. Compliance with EN54 is a given and has been well documented in Installation over recent years. Next on the horizon is a comprehensive update of BS 7827, which provides recommendations and guidance for the design, specification, maintenance and operation of permanently installed sound systems used for emergency purposes at sports venues.

Roland Hemming, founder/consultant, RH Consulting, has been engaged in the revision project as a committee chair for several years now, and confirms that the updated standard “will have a wider remit and cover all large public buildings, for want of a better term.” In particular, it will offer more explicit guidance on complex evacuation scenarios, such as instances involving “a combination of internal and external areas, which haven’t really been clarified before. There will also be an expanded environmental section and additional guidance on the issue of back-up power.”

The end result, says Hemming, will be a code of practice that brings “clarity to a lot of issues related to more complex projects”. The updated standard – which may be published before the end of 2018 – is also set to incorporate guidance related to counter-terrorism and measures that venues can implement to ensure their audio systems remain effective in a host of possible attack scenarios.

With the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack having only just been marked internationally, the need to have extensive planning in place should be at the very top of venue operators’ and consultants’ priority lists. However, Hemming clearly feels there is some complacency about the issue in the wider industry, suggesting that awareness of the latest UK Home Office advice – such as the ‘Guidance to Improve Your Security Stance’ issued last summer – remains minimal.

Not surprisingly, this latest Home Office guidance is likely to inform the relevant sections of the new version of BS 7827, which will address issues such as “how to keep people in or moving around the building [during an attack], or maybe bring them in from the outside.” The effect upon, and utilisation of, staff during such an emergency will also be tackled, along with the steps that should be taken to create an effective risk assessment whenever a new system is established.

“There is a real obligation on consultants to be up to date on these issues, and therefore be in a position to provide [venue operators] with the necessary information. Without that there is a risk that some venues are not well protected at present,” says Hemming.

Smart ‘micro-cities’?

In turn, these very real and pressing challenges may encourage further diversification by stadiums to ensure a minimum of non-event days as operational costs continue to rise. Guillermo Wabi – professional sound application design manager, Bosch Building Technologies, Communications Systems Division, puts it succinctly: “Sports venues cost lots of money to build and maintain, and if they are used just for sport [there may not be sufficient] profits to maintain the cost of operation year-round.”

Expanding upon his vision of the stadium of the future, Wabi envisages the nurturing of “‘smart micro-cities’, built around the stadium and following the evolution of the ‘work, live, play’ lifestyle, all implemented in one interconnected IP-based area.” Extended partnerships with food and beverage outlets, shops and hotels in the surrounding environs are bound to be integral to these ‘smart micro-cities’ that have stadiums as their hub centres.

It’s a tantalising vision, but one that will call for an even more consistent focus on audio quality, not least to convey the commercial messages that will be fundamental to these sites’ financial viability. Therefore, the smartest of the smart venues will be thinking not just about the fan engagement expectations of the next few years, but the likely habitational and behavioural patterns of their customers a decade or more into the future.