Johan Cruijff ArenA to welcome fans for Netherlands game

The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) has announced that it will use a forthcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier for the latest fan attendance trial in the domestic game.

The Netherlands is due to take on Latvia on March 27, and up to 5,000 fans are set to attend the game at Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam. The match will represent the largest test event to date held under the Fieldlab Events banner.

In January, Eerste Divisie clubs NEC Nijmegen and Almere City were chosen to host test events that saw fans return to Dutch football games for the first time since the end of September. The two second-tier games were part of eight events run under the banner of ‘Back to Live!’ The venture was organised by Fieldlab Events, a government-backed initiative which represents the events sector during COVID-19.

Fieldlab Events ran the two football test events in association with the KNVB, with 1,500 fans present at NEC’s Stadion de Goffert on February 21 for a league match against De Graafschap. Almere City’s test match, also with 1,500 fans present, was a league game against Cambuur on February 28 at Yanmar Stadion.

The KNVB has said findings generated by the latest trial will be important with regards potentially allowing fans to return for the conclusion of the 2020-21 domestic season, as well as Johan Cruijff ArenA’s staging of games at the rescheduled UEFA Euro 2020. The Fieldlab research during the Netherlands v Latvia game will focus on rapid COVID-19 testing and the use of the CoronaCheck App, which serves to demonstrate whether a visitor has a negative test result. 

As with previous Fieldlab events, a number of different ‘research bubbles’ will be in place for the national team game. These will seek to break away from the 1.5 metre social distancing regulations by assessing different means of delivering fans to their seats. In addition, one of the bubbles will utilise technology that has already been tested at Johan Cruijff ArenA.

In December, it was announced that the home of Dutch Eredivisie club Ajax Amsterdam had become the focus of a “groundbreaking” scientific research project into how sports venues and other buildings can become safely accessible during COVID-19.

The project is being led by the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) with tests carried out at Johan Cruijff ArenA, along with other venues. Those involved in the tests have chiefly been investigating the spread of aerosols in stadia and other locations to measure the risk of COVID-19 contagion in a crowd environment.

Findings from the Netherlands v Latvia game are set to be used for the country’s National Event Plan, which seeks to ensure business and public events are held with full attendances and without the 1.5 metre social distancing, from July 1.

Commenting on the latest venture, KNVB CEO, Gijs de Jong, told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper: “It is a great stepping stone towards having fans in the stadiums towards the end of the (Dutch) competitions and at the matches in Amsterdam for the European Championships.

“I understand the call for extra caution from many people. But in a sense, the ‘numbers’ are separate from this. What we want to show is that ‘events’ can be held in a responsible and safe manner. And we are convinced that this is possible.”

The Amsterdam test event comes after UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin was quoted at the weekend as stating that every Euro 2020 host city must guarantee fan attendance to retain their hosting rights.

Earlier this month, Bilbao, Dublin and Glasgow were reported to be at risk of losing hosting rights to matches at the European Championships amid uncertainty over whether fans will be able to attend games. Euro 2020 is due to take place from June 11 to July 11 in 12 cities across the continent, with UEFA set to make a final decision on the tournament masterplan next month.

Johan Cruijff ArenA is due to host four games and De Jong added: “Our hypothesis has always been based on three points. The vulnerable have been vaccinated, the pressure on healthcare has been greatly reduced and there is a positive seasonal effect. 

“If that hypothesis comes true, it is not a wrong idea to admit the public. But let one thing be clear: at the end of the day, the authorities decide what can and cannot be done, even if there is no COVID. We always accept that.”

In other fan attendance news, the Jacksonville Jaguars have announced they are expecting full capacity at TIAA Bank Field for the 2021 NFL season. The Jaguars’ stadium operated at 25% capacity for the recently concluded campaign, and the franchise set out its expectations for the new season yesterday (Monday) when launching their season ticket renewal campaign.

Average season ticket renewal prices are set to rise by 7.2%, but the Jaguars expect the average ticket price to remain in the bottom eight of the NFL’s 32 teams. Two-third of all seats up for renewal will see their prices increase by $4 (£3/€3.35) or less per game, with general bowl season tickets to work out as low as $41 per game for renewing members.

“After this past year, I think we all have a newfound appreciation for the collective emotion you can only experience as part of a live sporting event crowd,” Chad Johnson, Jaguars senior vice-president of sales and service and chief content officer, said, according to the Florida Times-Union.

“As we kick off season ticket renewals, the health and safety of our fans, stadium employees and team remain a top priority. We’re executing a plan to reunite and rally around Jaguars football this fall, and, as we did in 2020, we will continue to work alongside local government and medical experts to ensure we’re doing what’s best for our community.”

Image: Daniel/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size