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Flexible designs: How innovation is allowing operators to use space more efficiently

As sports venues look to use the space available to them more efficiently, suppliers are answering the call and delivering innovative and flexible structures and solutions

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 4
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Rooms at the Southampton Hilton Hotel overlook the pitch at Ageas Bowl
Rooms at the Southampton Hilton Hotel overlook the pitch at Ageas Bowl

Project: New seating system for Manchester Arena
By: Audience Systems

Manchester Arena is, according to US-based Billboard magazine, the world’s third busiest multi-use venue – behind Madison Square Garden in New York and London’s O2. As well as concerts, it hosts a hectic schedule of sports – ranging from WWE wrestling and boxing to BMX, basketball, netball and ice hockey. The SMG-operated venue attracted 1.05 million attendees across 122 events during 2014.

After nearly 20 years of busy use, the arena’s seating system was in need of replacing. To ensure that the arena would keep (and where possible, improve) on its flexible seating system, SMG appointed Audience Systems – which had installed the original seating – for the project.

Due to the arena’s busy schedule, the refurbishment programme had to be organised around events and functions, requiring forensic project management and coordination between arena staff and suppliers. In just 44 days the arena was cleared, cleaned and refitted with 28 new retractable systems and 11,600 new chairs. The chairs were fitted with a protective plastic panels to protect upholstery and to increase durability.

New, improved engineering systems allowed Audience Systems to reconfigure the retractable units in order to increase the number of seats in the arena by 345, meaning increased revenue potential. An additional 5,551 chairs are also on hand for configurations which need seat flooring.

Audience Systems’ sales director, Gary Pillinge, said: “This has been a really complex job, but one with amazing results. Having installed nearly 12,000 seats, on a mixture of fixed tiering and 28 retractable units – while taking into account the need for slick transitions between set ups – meant it was a challenging project.”

The system has added capacity and flexibility to one of the world’s busiest indoor venues
The system has added capacity and flexibility to one of the world’s busiest indoor venues

Project: Converting hotel balconies into hospitality areas for cricket
By: Arena Seating

The unique setting at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl cricket ground – where a hotel overlooks the field of play – offers great potential for large scale events. The flexible design incorporated into the hotel rooms facing the cricket field means that they can be used as hospitality suites during high-profile games, such as England’s one day internationals against Australia and New Zealand earlier this year.

While all beds are removed from rooms, almost all of the other items of furniture are utilised in the hospitality layout.

According to Stuart Robertson, AGEAS Bowl’s commercial director, the conversion from hotel room to hospitality suite is quick. “It only takes about an hour per room,” he says. “The additional spectator seating built on the balconies, however, means that the room is off sale for two to three nights around the game.”

Following the conversion of the room, the balconies are installed with tiered seating. Arena Seating supplied 10 clearview seats, mounted on bespoke frames, for each balcony which can be converted into a hospitality box. Arena lifted the seats into place using a boom lift from the outside, limiting disruption to hotel guests. In total, 17 rooms were converted for the game against New Zealand and 24 against Australia.

Project: Infinite Air, the UK’s largest trampoline and freerunning park
By: Rubb Building Systems

When a pair of entrepreneur brothers were looking to set up an adrenaline sports facility in the north east of England, they needed a flexible space to fit it all in. The Infinite Air extreme trampoline park, covering 35,000sq ft at the Soccarena in New Ferens Park, Durham, features more than 80 interconnected trampolines, dodgeball court areas and basketball lanes as well as a planned area for free running.

The £600,000 facility is the brainchild of Richard and Chris Knowles, co-owners of Coretech Sports. The pair approached Rubb to design, manufacture and install a flexible space – including the framework and trampoline systems – within the Soccarena facility. Rubb has also provided platforms, dodgeball and basketball equipment, netting and handrails.

The main trampoline arena includes a ‘fast track’, rebound walls and flat-padded sections along with interconnected individual trampolines for ‘free jumping’ and fitness sessions. Three ‘Slam Dunk’ trampoline basketball lanes have NBA-standard backboards and hoops. Wall-running trampolines have been installed and individual coaching will be offered to help people improve their bouncing. The park will also have a gymnastic ‘tricking and tumbling floor’ where people can learn new tricks and a purpose-built area dedicated to the modern sport of free running.

The 35,000sq ft space features more than 80 interconnected trampolines and other facilities
The 35,000sq ft space features more than 80 interconnected trampolines and other facilities
The 35,000sq ft space features more than 80 interconnected trampolines and other facilities
The 35,000sq ft space features more than 80 interconnected trampolines and other facilities

Project: Cranford Superdome
By: Collinson

ueens Park Rangers Football Club (QPR) has opened the Cranford Superdome in partnership with Cranford Community College (CCC). The dome, located within the college campus in Cranford, West London, will be available during the school day for use by CCC pupils and other schools. It will be used by QPR’s academy players mainly in the early evening, and will be available for hire by members of the community in the late evening and at weekends.

Supplied by Collinson, the new 4,680sq m AirDome houses a full-size 3G football pitch with a 3m roll off area. The translucent double skin membrane allows sun light to permeate into the facility to create a light, airy playing environment whilst the innovative design of integral air pockets provide insulation, making savings on energy.

Mark Donnelly, QPR chief operating officer, said the project took Collinson just 15 weeks to complete. “From order to completion the project has run like clockwork,” he said. “The AirDome is a great coaching environment, during the harsh winter it will allow our training sessions to continue, helping to develop and progress players’ skills from an early age.”

As well as providing QPR with an all-weather training location for its young stars, the dome will allow the college to carry out football and rugby training whatever the weather – a huge bonus for sports which have previously had limited indoor space in the area, often resulting in the cancellation of games.

Kevin Prunty, executive headteacher at CCC, said: “The Cranford Superdome is an amazing structure which will inspire all who use it. Not only is this a welcome addition to Hounslow’s sports facilities but we are investigating its use for a range of events and activities.”

The Cranford Superdome in West London
The Cranford Superdome in West London

Project: Temporary structures for the EuroHockey Championship 2015
By: Neptunus

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London is living up to LOCOG’s legacy pledge of turning the vast park into a venue able to host a varied range of elite competitions. In August, the park hosted the Unibet EuroHockey Championship. For the competition, the organiser, England Hockey (working in partnership with event specialist ICON), needed flexible, easily constructed facilities in order to transform the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre within the Olympic Park into a competition venue. Temporary structure company Neptunus was called in and given just five days to deliver and build 2,460sq m of structures at the park. Working on behalf of long-term client ICON, Neptunus supplied a number of its clear-span Alu-halls to form the venue’s main entrance, main retail area, public catering structures and the players, friends and family clubhouse and museum.

Neptunus also provided the venue with a VIP Pavilion, ticket check-ins, retail outlets and information points across the park for the tournament’s 30,000 spectators.

To help protect the all-important landscape of the iconic Olympic Park, all of the structures were self-weighted with concrete floors – with some featuring bespoke entrance ramps and staircases.  

April Trasler, managing director of Neptunus UK, said: “As the structures were situated at various locations across the park, our technical team meticulously planned the delivery and build to ensure our onsite crew of 12 could complete the venue in just five days.”

The EuroHockey tournament took over London’s Olympic Park for 10 days
The EuroHockey tournament took over London’s Olympic Park for 10 days
The EuroHockey tournament took over London’s Olympic Park for 10 days
The EuroHockey tournament took over London’s Olympic Park for 10 days

Project: Seating for the new main stand at Rovaniemen Palloseura
By: Stechert

When Rovaniemen Palloseura (RoPS), one of the northernmost top-level football clubs in the world, decided to build a new main stand at its Keskuskenttä home ground, the architect had to take into account the fierce climate and limited space. Located above the Arctic Circle, temperatures in Rovaniemi, Finland, can drop to -47C (-54F) during winter months. An added complication was the tight space allocated for the new stand – squeezed between the pitch and a public highway running within 20m (22yds) of it. As a result, German-based Stechert was brought in to design a flexible seating solution which would maximise the space available. Stechert used its Berlin range of folding tip-up seats to create a 2,000-capacity stand.

“We had to take into account the extreme weather, which can place a huge strain on the seats, so the durable Berlin products were a perfect fit,” says Kay Habermaier, Stechert’s sales manager.

The main stand designer, Finnish architects Artto Palo Rossi Tikka, picked the seat colours to feature RoPS’ traditional blue and white as well as the city’s official colour green. The new €4.8m stand will increase the stadium’s seating capacity to 2,800 and total capacity (including standing) to nearly 5,000. According to RoPS CEO Petri Jaatinen, the added capacity could see average ticket revenue increase by €10,000 per game.

The new stand has been designed to cope with Rovaniemi’s extreme climate
The new stand has been designed to cope with Rovaniemi’s extreme climate
The new stand has been designed to cope with Rovaniemi’s extreme climate
The new stand has been designed to cope with Rovaniemi’s extreme climate
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