Stadium Management Challenges at Emirates Stadium


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What are the daily challenges involved in managing a successful stadium? Ahead of the 2013 Stadium Design and Development Russia & CIS Conference, the chairman of the ESSMA and Arsenal's Stadium and Facility Director John Beattie spoke to Construction IQ. He discusses safety, personel management and of course the problems encountered when moving into a new stadium.

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Stadium Management Challenges at Emirates Stadium

  1. 1. Stadium Management Challenges at Emirates Stadium An Interview with John Beattie 1 John Beattie Stadium and Facility Director Arsenal and President at the European Stadium and Safety Management Association (ESSMA) Arsenal and ESSMA Gerald Clarke: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this IQPC podcast. I’m Gerald Clarke, Editor for IQPC. Today I’m joined by John Beattie, Stadium and Facility Director at Arsenal, and President of the European Stadium and Safety Management Association, ESSMA. John, it’s a pleasure to have you here. John Beattie: No problem. It’s good to join you. Clarke: John, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your role at the Emirates Stadium, and at ESSMA? Beattie: Yes, I’m John Beattie, and as you said, I’m the Stadium and Facilities Director, primarily, at Arsenal Football Club, at the Emirates Stadium. I’ve been here for an awful long time. I’m just into my 26th year, so I’ve seen the whole changing face of football. Certainly in Europe, and in the UK, in particular, going through all the problems, the disaster at Hillsborough, and the Taylor Report, changing to all- seat stadiums, and now Emirates Stadium. Emirates Stadium, in some ways, is a lot easier to deal with than Highbury because of the way we designed and built it, but the trouble is with the stadium, almost, it’s so successful that it never stops. Having just finished this closed season, we were joking
  2. 2. Stadium Management Challenges at Emirates Stadium An Interview with John Beattie 2 that we don’t remember having one. In fact, this year there was hardly a break between the end of last season and the beginning of this one. My remit here is I look after, not only the safety and security side, but also the facilities side of the stadium. Just to add to the remit, as if that isn’t enough, we look after all our properties, so the London, Colney training ground, the youth academy, and then the satellite shops that we have. It keeps us busy, to say the least. My department now is 96 people. That shows you what’s involved in running a stadium of our size. As far as ESSMA is concerned, I’ve been the president now for probably four or five years, since it reinvented itself. It used to the European Stadium Managers Association, ESMA. The president, Lionel Dreksler, unfortunately passed away a few years ago. I took over the mantle from then, and we reinvented it a little bit to bring in the safety part of the stadium management issue, because obviously that was growing in importance. In those early days we used to have 30 or 40 members, and we’ve now been growing over the last few years. We are now into 300 or 400 members, with lots of corporate companies involved as well. So we can put people in touch with the relevant suppliers, but the main thing is that the stadium managers have got a way of finding out from their peers how to deal with problems. We’ve also recently incorporated the head groundsman into that, because part of stadium management is the grass bit in the middle, and in this way the professionals can actually find out what is the best way of dealing with things. The whole ethos of the association is to promulgate best practice across Europe and, to some extent, across the world. We don’t limit ourselves to Europe, if places further afield ask for our help. Clarke: What are the biggest day-to-day challenges in stadium management? Beattie: Opening the doors! If we didn’t have to open the doors and let the public in, it would be so much easier. To be fair, most of the day-to-day challenges are really more about the preplanning, particularly with events. Without being funny, it is the public that cause the biggest day-to-day challenge, because they are unpredictable. You can plan as much as you like, but you only need to get a few fans doing what you don’t expect them to do, or a few fans behaving antisocially, and it can change the whole dynamic of an event. As far as running facilities is concerned, and planning for the events, that’s all done weeks if not months in advance so that, hopefully, you don’t get those surprises on the match day. Clarke: Stadiums include huge operations and that requires personnel, and what are the issues regarding training and maintaining the venue staff?
  3. 3. Stadium Management Challenges at Emirates Stadium An Interview with John Beattie 3 Beattie: We have two different types of staff here. As I mentioned earlier, we have 96 full-time members of staff, who range from security guards and general porters through to management staff. I have my stadium manager, his assistant, and my event and security manager, event safety and security manager, and her assistant. They have their own little, mini departments under myself that deal with both sides of the business we deal with. As far as maintaining the full-time staff, that’s not an issue. Everybody comes and stays. As a team, the vast majority of us have worked together for 12, 13 years plus, and that means that we all know each other, and dovetail very easily because we all know how each other works. We are very fortunate in that environment, and I think it’s possibly because of the environment we work in that that happens. Because you’re working to almost biweekly time cycles between events, everything stacks up and there’s not time to really get bored with what you’re doing. There’s almost just not enough time. Moving on to the venue staff, it’s a little bit more difficult with the venue staff for events. A lot of companies use agency staff to deal with all their stewarding, and things like that, whereas we don’t. We have a casual worker pool of about 850 stewards, who all work on casual worker agreements. All those are directly trained by us, and paid by ourselves, so we have greater control of the calibre of staff that we have at the venue, and that’s important. Obviously, the stewards are the people that the supporters see firsthand. We can run it as great as we like from the control room, but they don’t see us. It’s important that your staff on the ground are the people that are well represented, know what’s expected, get the club ethics, vision and values out there, and therefore can put across the Arsenal brand properly. Clarke: Emirates Stadium is now seven years old, but the change must be still fresh in your mind. What were the problems that you encountered when moving to occupy the new stadium? Beattie: The biggest one problem was that everybody thought they were more important than anyone else. I would not have to work any more if I’d got ₤1 for every time someone said, but we didn’t do it like that at Highbury. It was a problem! Obviously, as much as it was well planned, well thought through [?] and we moved in on time, the problem was that we literally only got two weeks lead-in time to learn the whole building and get everything in place, from when the builders gave us the keys to our first major event, and that was a fraught couple of weeks. When we added it up afterwards, my office staff did five weeks work in that two-week period. People that had done the process before told me, you won’t be ready, whatever you think you won’t be ready. I didn’t believe them, but now I would tell anyone opening a stadium that they won’t be ready, unless they have six months lead in time, from the builders giving them the keys to running their first event.
  4. 4. Stadium Management Challenges at Emirates Stadium An Interview with John Beattie 4 The problem was, with all the members of staff, other departments didn’t really understand all the issues, because they looked at it as their own little micro climate. It took a few explanations, shall we say. We had to turn round quite forcibly to other departments and say, yes, we appreciate you had a small problem with keys, or that someone got into an area they shouldn’t have, but we have to deal with your problems, we have to deal with their problems, and these problems, these problems, these problems, and these problems. And suddenly, after about three or four weeks people started to realise there was a much bigger picture than whether somebody got a sandwich to eat that they shouldn’t have, and that’s when we started moving forward, but it needed those discussions to be able to move forward to do that. Clarke: Safety is obviously paramount during events, and what are the considerations there must be to ensure the safety of event goers during the design of a stadium or venue? Beattie: Again that all comes down to preplanning. Not only in the design, I mean it’s important that the stadium operator, the person who is going to be responsible for running that stadium is involved almost from concept design stage. Far too often, stadium owners, clubs or local authorities that are building stadiums think that the operator will magically be able to operate it once they’ve built it. You can save so much money in running costs, and in actual building costs, if you involve that operator from day one because they know how they want it to run, and it’s easier to change things. It’s a lot cheaper to change a line on a drawing than once it’s built and it’s a physical structure, so in the design you’ve got to get the operator involved early. As far as planning for the events, everything needs to be done in advance. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got contingency plans. You’ve got to make sure the contingency plans are actually able to be put into practice with the number of staff that you have. You need a detailed control room, you need a chain of command. All those structures and all that training of the stewards need to be done months in advance, so when you do open the doors you’re confident you’ve got everything in place, almost so the event should be able to run itself. Clarke: So what does gearing up for a match day involve? Beattie: Well, we really start gearing up for each match day about three to four days in advance. On the stewarding side, all the personnel are placed on the stewarding tree on the software, so that we know we are fully staffed, and that takes into account those that aren’t available for certain events. If we have any deficiencies, we’ve then got time to actually plan how we can move people around. Hopefully, we rarely have deficiencies, because the number we have takes into
  5. 5. Stadium Management Challenges at Emirates Stadium An Interview with John Beattie 5 account those that won’t be available. As I said, we have about 850 on our books. We need about 600 to 675 to open the doors, so the extra is the normal amount of natural unavailability, plus about 10% on top of that, to make sure that we’re not going to be short at any stage. So on that side, your stewarding side is all taken into account in getting that ready. On the facilities side, we do a whole number of pre-match checks that range from making sure the stadium is clean, through to all the electrics, and everything else that is tested, and that’s run in that 48 hours before the event. My management staff will do an inspection of the stadium, in its entirety, 48 hours before the event. We then issue worksheets from that, as to what’s been found in deficiencies in the stadium, and then we do that again on the morning of the event, so again everything is checked. Those checklists are handed out, not only to the people we expect to put it right, but to the steward supervisors of the areas where we’ve found problems, so again another check is made that all the work has been carried out before we open the doors. As we lead up to opening the doors, all the supervisors will get briefed. My management team will have put a briefing in place the day before the game, or if it’s an evening game on the morning of the game. I then brief that to my seniors, the CEO, and people like that, and my event safety and security manager will brief the steward supervisors, and they then brief their squads. We use a pyramidal briefing, so that everybody gets to know what’s going on, but you’re not doing a briefing to 600 people, which obviously would not be practical to do. Once that’s done, and all the checks are done, the stewards then call in that their area is fully manned and ready to open, and there are no other problems within their area. They call that back into the control room, and once we’ve had those checks from everyone we then give the order to open, everybody goes in, and hopefully we have a nice, safe event. Clarke: What do you consider to be a successful match day? Beattie: If everybody goes home in the same condition they arrived in! We can’t guarantee to improve their condition, which sometimes is necessary, but in a successful match day it’s that everybody comes, has a great time, and goes home at the end of the day. Clarke: So how can stadium management ensure success for their events? Beattie: By planning properly. As I said before, everything is about having those plans and processes in place, and being prepared. Surprises are something that should not happen on an event day, and if you plan properly and effectively
  6. 6. Stadium Management Challenges at Emirates Stadium An Interview with John Beattie 6 then you shouldn’t get the surprise, or if you do you’ve got something in place to deal with it. That’s what’s critical. Clarke: Thank you, John, for sharing your insights and your time with us today. Beattie: No problem. Clarke: We look forward to hearing more from you at the stadiums event. Beattie: I’m looking forward to it. Clarke: If you would like to find out more about this topic, and the Stadium Design and Development Russia & CIS event, this October 28th to 30th in Kiev, Ukraine, visit us at Please note that we do all we can to ensure accuracy within the translation to word of audio interviews but that errors may still understandably occur in some cases. If you believe that a serious inaccuracy has been made within the text, please contact +44 (0) 207 368 9482 or email