It is a cultural and historical heritage what separates the way in which fans enjoy sports in Europe and the US. A difference highlighted by the two biggest sports groups according to their time spent in the stadium, football, and basketball on the one hand, baseball, hockey, and American football on the other. These last three, typically American, are characterised by slow play, extended by time-outs. A good example is the Super Bowl matches, which extend up to 4 the usual 3 hours in any match. And according to an already classic analysis made by The Wall Street Journal newspaper, with only eleven minutes of effective play. On the opposite side, we find European football and basketball, where fans stay in the stadium only for the match played, including breaks and half-times. This usually does not add up to more than 90 or 100 minutes. But the play times are not the only ones that define the fan experience during matchday. The pregame and postgame periods, are just as important and determine both their level of satisfaction and involvement with the team, as well as the amount they spend on ticketing, merchandising and the stadium’s food courts.
The greatest manifestation of the fan’s pregame and postgame is the American tailgating. A real social event that could be defined as “barbecuing and sharing food and drinks in the stadium car parks”. Meetings that begin three and up to four hours before a game starts, and can last up to two hours after it finishes. An endless number of individual parties take place around the stadium car park, where it is common to see fans of both teams displaying T-shirts, caps, scarves, and whatever identifies them as followers of their team. In addition to barbecues, sunshades, chairs, and refrigerators. It is an exclusively American phenomenon, linked to college football, hockey and baseball leagues. For it to be successful, it depends on the space available around the stadium, specifically its car parks, and it has a lot to do with the car culture, part of the American Way of life.
But these pregame and postgame events have also taken place in Europe for a long time, with their own cultural adaptation. Here, the meetings between friends and fans are held in pubs, bars, and restaurants, where food and drinks are served. This common trend can be verified if we analyse the 36 European stadiums that have the highest attendance, with more than 98% for each game. In this list, there are different stands which vary from 60,000 to 10,000, such as the Amsterdam Arena, Borussia or Anfield, or more modest ones such as the Turf Moor (FC Bunley) or Excelsior Rotterdam. Although they are very different, they all have in common that they have at least 10 venues within a ten-minute walk radius (about one hundred meters) that fans identify as matchday meeting places. Nevertheless, only 4 of the 36 stadiums have got a food court, with the Juventus of Turin with 21 cafés and 8 food courts on the one hand, and the Sparta of Rotterdam or the Mendizorroza of Vitoria, Spain, without any.
In the last decade, and with neither play time nor permanence in the stadium having changed, European and American sports have found something in common. Making the matchday more exciting live, than its broadcast. One of the key aspects of this competition lies in something that the media has accustomed us to: the previous and subsequent game analysis. It extends the fun time, as fans do in bars and food courts. That is why all the stadiums renovations and constructions in recent years are focused on improving the visitor experience, exploiting that pregame and postgame time. There are initiatives aimed to sublet spaces around the stadium, to improve the fan experience, thus benefiting the club itself. This is what Brighton & Hove Albion FC has been doing for several seasons at their Falmer Stadium (UK). Including even performances by local bands during the two hours before the game. In other venues, food trucks, buses and adapted motorhomes have also become common to see. A new stadium like the Wanda Metropolitano (Atlético de Madrid, opened in 2017) has incorporated three food trucks that remain permanently parked in the car park beside the entrance, and during matchday more trucks come to the stadium.
For the inside of the stadium, the prevailing idea is that the fan should enjoy the most powerful Wi-Fi connection and the best food and drinks. Technology has played a fundamental role, and making your order in the previous 24-48 hours, as well as ordering online from your seat and being served in the stands is an increasingly widespread solution. There is also a new profile fan, who considers himself a foodie, and demands affordable and at the same time tasty food. In order to satisfy this group, the experts adjust the food court offer to provide the customer with 70% of what they want and 30% to something new and different, which allows them to experiment. The presence of Michelin star chefs adapted to a bar model, is more and more frequent.
But these initiatives are not limited to a digital or gastronomic experience. Another aspect that is being taken care of is the exterior lighting. Now almost all renovated or newly built stadiums have façades capable of generating light shows using LED technology. Their intention goes beyond aesthetics, because it contributes to fostering the excitement and engagement of a fan who (shall we not forget) spends two or more hours having fun with friends or the family around the stadium. And a few more hours when their team wins the game. Three hours or ninety minutes that the club can always take into account to improve their income and the fans experience.