It’s Gonna Be A Bright Sunshiny Day (But The Sh*t Still Hits The Fan)

Darren Young

@fanexperienceco

Darren is a director at The Fan  Experience Company.

He has a background in working on customer service excellence projects in the UK and Europe, and an MBA that included studying in the United States. 

A UEFA Mentor and fan experience and engagement consultant, Darren works with associations, league and clubs across Europe to improve the match-day experience and increase attendance through engagement with fans. He assessed games at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

It was A-ha that sang about the sun always shining on TV.

But generally, if it’s shining on the TV, it will also be out in real life too. And as the summer finally arrives in the UK, our TV screens are currently jam-packed with footage from sun-drenched venues at global sporting tournaments.

The Paris Olympics is still a few weeks away, but we’ve got Euro 2024 from Germany to keep us busy until then and, if more than fifty games isn’t enough for you, there is the American equivalent, the Copa America – held this year in the United States – too.

To provide a break from all the football, there’s also the T20 Cricket World Cup currently reaching its conclusion in the West Indies. Don’t worry if you missed that one though, it’s T20 cricket so there’s bound to be another World Cup any time now.

The common denominator has been the weather. After a mixed opening week, Germany has been hit by a heatwave – with 38 degrees recorded in Dusseldorf at the time of writing. Not unexpectedly, the same temperatures greeted the Copa America game in Kansas yesterday afternoon, and while it’s officially rainy season in the Caribbean, don’t let that fool you as, once the showers blow away, that part of the world is also baking hot.

And that leads me to the other factor that is impacting all three tournaments. albeit in very different ways.

A total lack of regard for the fans.

After the ‘problems’ (putting it mildly out of sheer embarrassment) at the Wembley final of Euro 2020 that was postponed for a year, we have seen the horror shows of Champions League Finals in Paris (May 2022), Istanbul (2023) and to a lesser degree, again at Wembley this year. All involved some kind of chaos, be it from pitch invaders (who seem to mainly want selfies), stadium invaders – a much more sinister version of pitch invaders who seemingly don’t want to pay to get into venues – or from a lack of organisation around transport to downright despicable treatment of supporters outside stadiums where tear gas and batons were used on Liverpool fans (who were later blamed, then cleared of blame) who were queueing to get into the stadium.

While some of these are not only completely avoidable, but also a result of the authorities and organisers inability to learn from previous mistakes, they also put the ‘ordinary’ fan – some would say 99% of those involved were ordinary fans – through unnecessary hardship. While it’s easy to see how a walk of several miles in thirty-plus temperatures, with no water sold along the route, is bad for fans, it’s also no fun having someone without a ticket rocking up at a game you’ve paid to be at, and not only stealing your seat (as the recent Netflix documentary about Euro 2020 The Final showed happening), but also mocking you for having paid for one.

At the Copa America, the extreme weather conditions led to an assistant referee at Canada’s game against Peru collapsing and being taken to hospital. If that’s happening, the fans will be feeling the heat too. As many US stadiums don’t have a roof, and even if they do, the lack of cover will expose fans to the sun for much longer than is recommended.

It’s a factor (50, as I recall) that was also evident at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where we assessed a number of games in 2022. Fans arriving for anything other than the late kick-offs would be exposed to the sun pretty much from the moment they exited the underground Metro system, and fan parks and stadium vicinity were conspicuously absent of shelter and sun cream.

The same thing happened at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. Do you see a pattern developing here? It’s almost as if there is a direct correlation between the effects of climate change and the indifference to the fan safety that the hosts and organising committees show.

 

I can see clearly now the rain has gone

 

But maybe even these are put in the shade by the cricketing powers that be. That is an example of having – or wanting it – both ways.

I only realised just before the first ball was bowled in the United States (they were joint hosts with the West Indies although bizarrely, many games in usually-sunny Florida were washed out by freak storms) that the draw is already rigged to ensure that certain teams face each other. Yep, it’s no coincidence that Australia and England resumed their rivalry, or that they shared a group with Scotland. Nor was it luck that India and Pakistan were paired in the same group. They always are, in any tournament, because of the massive appeal to fans all over the world. In other words, the groups are pre-ordained so that more fans will want to watch, and therefore will spend far more money on tickets or allow bigger broadcast deals can be struck. Also, spare a thought for South Africa – ‘Oh, not Sri Lanka again?’

But putting fans first, if that’s what that is, unfortunately, ends there.

The competition itself might be taking place in Barbados, Guyana, Antigua and er, New York, but the forces driving it are from another part of the planet and the power brokers of world cricket; India.

They dictate not only the make-up of the groups, but also chose the venue of their semi-final (if they qualified for it) to suit their TV audience back home. It has also meant that lots of games have begun at 10am so they take place during prime-time in the Indian TV scheduling. No matter that the games take place under the midday sun and hottest part of the day. What do they say about mad dogs and Englishmen again?

It also means the fans in the host countries – the ones going to the games and buying the tickets, remember? – are a secondary consideration behind the TV viewing figures (and of course where all the money is). There isn’t even a reserve day in case of a rain affected semi-final because that doesn’t suit the TV schedules over in Delhi.

I’ve given up on hoping that anything might change. You’d want the people making the key decisions to learn from the mistakes of tournaments past and make life easier for fans with later kick-offs in hot climates (the next FIFA World Cup begins in June 2026 in the United States, Mexico and Canada where several host cities will experience extreme heat during the six week-long event).

You would hope that they’d see the considerable benefits of providing shelters at fan zones, having plenty of outlets selling – or even giving away – bottles of water in the fan zones and on routes to the stadiums, providing adequate transport options like shuttle buses in case the trains are full and so on.

My guess? All of these issues, and probably a few new ones, will still be causing problems for a good few years yet. Because until the fan – the match-going fan that is – is given at least equal priority then their interests won’t be catered for and tournaments in hot climates will continue to see them treated as second-class citizens at best and a necessary evil at worst.

So c’mon those in charge.  Let’s not get to the next Euros without fixing these issues.

Mind you, at least they won’t have to worry about too much sun in 2028.

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