Fanparks with huge TV screens might largely replace stadiums for football fans.

Will giant football stadiums survive as the centrepieces of world cup contests? Certainly, many seem to think so, but many others believe that 2010 will see the last of them.

During the investigations into the Green Point stadium last year, representatives from the city council visited Germany to find out the latest thinking.

What emerged is a view that future stadiums will be much smaller – seating about 30 000 – designed primarily for television. Most of those privileged to attend the matches would be TV personnel, Fifa officials and the very rich.

The rest of us would either watch at home on TV or attend fanparks. It was noted that the crowds who attended fanparks during Germany’s World Cup (in 2006) far exceeded those who watched in the stadiums.

The “Fan Mile” in Berlin accommodated some 500 000 and in Stuttgart up to 70 000 turned out at the venue in front of the City Castle.

In Frankfurt, the giant screen was placed in the middle of a river; some 65 000 fans packed into Heiligengeistfeld in Hamburg.

Many of those who attended fanparks were foreigners: the fanpark in Dortmund was packed with Brazilians and Croatians who watched their teams play each other.

Most, if not all, of the spectators in fanparks were standing, waving flags and cheering. Even the British had their own fanpark – the T-Mobile Fanpark at Millennium Point in Birmingham. Unfortunately, the 6x10m screen blew over, and a smaller screen had to be rushed to the site for the game.

The future seems clear. By the time 2010 rolls around, screen technology will have improved significantly, and bright, high-resolution screens will have made their appearance. Most of us, let’s face it, will not be able to afford the ticket prices at the stadiums and will either watch at home or join the excitement and buzz of a fanpark.

The German fanparks consisted mostly of large spaces with one or more giant screens placed so that everyone could see the action. The fans were very much in the open, at the mercy of any wind and rain. But the German World Cup took place during Germany’s summer; here in the Cape, the World Cup will take place during our rainy season, from June 11 to July 11, when the northwester can blow great guns.

Outdoor events, such as the public screening of football matches, could be severely compromised. It would not do if the screen blew over.

Other parts of South Africa are not likely to face the inclement weather we might suffer; but what can we do to mitigate the worst effects of a Cape winter?

Whatever we might do, there is one fact that has emerged from the German World Cup: tens of thousands of people can be attracted to viewing a match on a giant screen, in the open. Perhaps we can take the concept a significant stage further.

Tumi Makgabo, communications manager for the Local Organising Committee, says at least nine official fanparks will be established in South Africa’s main cities, and that the LOC is considering increasing that number.

It is unlikely we will see the fanpark attendance figures typical of Germany. Makgabo says they are expecting 350 000 to 450 000 visitors to SA, which is a long-haul destination. Germany had about 3,6-million visitors, plus a population much larger than ours. So our fanparks will probably be much smaller.

Mayor Helen Zille certainly envisages a large number for Cape Town, many of them in places such as Atlantis, Khayelitsha and other centres of soccer support far from the city centre. Current plans are for one official Fifa fanpark in the city, and two major ones: one in the south and one in the north of the city. In addition, it is envisaged that several smaller fanparks will be established in community spaces and in eight surrounding provincial towns.

The Grand Parade might be the site of the official fanpark. Greenmarket Square may be another. Both would work very well. If one allows, say, one square metre of space per fan, the Parade could accommodate about 28 000, and Greenmarket 5 000.

Taking the 6x10m Birmingham screen as a typical example, this means the optimum viewing distance would be about 70m – six times the diagonal is the rough rule of thumb. Allowing, say 100m as the maximum viewing distance, and a nominal width of 50m, you could accommodate about 5 000 fans per screen. These are very close to the dimensions of Greenmarket.

The Grand Parade would probably need several screens, unless manufacturers come up with truly gigantic ones by 2010. But the larger they are, the harder it will be to prevent their blowing over.

So it’s not unreasonable to assume the smaller fanparks would have single screens and could accommodate about 5 000 fans. Of course, if the one-square-metre-per-person idea shrank, many more could be fitted in.

Perhaps we South Africans can invent a new kind of urban space, a virtual plaza – something temporary, which provides a sense of urban enclosure and protection, and which can be dismantled after the event is over. It could approximate to a very large film set; a series of “buildings” constructed of panels supported by scaffolding.

In this way, we could create the illusion of a large public square, lending intimacy to the space as well as some shelter from any winds which might blow.

After all, many of the areas where soccer fans are most enthusiastic are places where there are no large urban squares, and building temporary ones could make a huge difference.

Furthermore, it could also provide a golden opportunity to showcase some of our built environment heritage: the “buildings” could all be life-size reproductions of many of our finest historical examples.

With our burgeoning film industry, it should be easy to recruit the skills necessary to erect such a stage set – and it could also provide employment for local carpenters, painters and other tradesmen.

This would be nothing new. In 1749, the London theatre designer Giovanni Servandoni designed a grand temporary structure in Green Park for the first performance of Handels’ Royal Fireworks Music.

It consisted of a huge triumphal arch, complete with Palladian colonnades and a patio at the top of an elaborate staircase in front of the arch. This formed the stage on which the orchestra played. The rehearsal alone attracted about 8 000 to 12 000 people, and the first performance featured a fireworks display.

One could take the idea of an urban plaza further, and use some of the “buildings” as shops for soccer memorabilia and others for selling typical South African food and drinks.

But why stop there? If the surrounding buildings were real, rather than stage sets, we could combine the excitement of World Cup viewing with a practical way to help solve our housing backlog.

Urban design rule-of-thumb dimensions indicate that a square with a dimension of 50m is suitably enclosed by three-storey buildings, and 100m would require about five storeys. Lower than this, and the sense of enclosure is weakened, and much taller means that the buildings could loom threateningly.

So the perimeter buildings could be from three to five storeys; what works well is to have shopping on the ground floor and offices and flats on the floors above. A roofed colonnade at ground level could provide shelter from rain and sun.

If the flats were equipped with simple balconies residents could view the screen with maximum convenience, and the presence of people on the balconies could enliven the plaza even more.

Of course, the 2010 event need not be the only time the space could be used as a “fanplaza”; subsequent sporting events could be regularly shown. Advertising would provide the revenue to make it sustainable, and frequent viewing events could help to cement community identity.

AUTHOR: Erik Schaug
DATED: 4th February 2008

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