EFL clubs cut stadium capacity as ‘Plan B’ takes hold

English Football League (EFL) clubs Lincoln City and Carlisle United have announced they will reduce capacity at their stadia due to the logistical challenges created by enforcing the new Plan B COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the Government.

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gained support for COVID-19 passes in England, despite the biggest revolt from MPs from his Conservative party since he took power. Some 99 Conservatives voted against the Government, but support for the measures from the Labour party meant that it was ultimately passed by a majority of 243.

Venues in England face fines of up to £10,000 (€11,770/$13,270) for failing to enforce mandatory COVID checks under the new guidelines that come into effect today (Wednesday). Indoor events with 500 or more attendees, outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and all events with 10,000 or more attendees are all required to check the status of entrants from 6am today under the Plan B rules issued by the Government.

Adults will only be allowed to enter venues if they have the NHS COVID Pass (or approved international equivalent) or have valid proof that they have completed a negative PCR test or negative rapid lateral flow test within the past 48 hours.

The new rules will be in place until at least early January. Guidelines state that spot checks may be used in limited circumstances, such as events with more than 10,000 attendees, if it is not reasonably possible to check proof of COVID-19 status for all attendees at these events.

However, with staffing already a key challenge for the sports and entertainment industry in the COVID-19 era, the added layer of checks presented by Plan B has meant that clubs are considering their options, with Lincoln and Carlisle among the first to act.

League One team Lincoln plays at LNER Stadium, which has a capacity of just over 10,000. Following guidance from Public Health Lincolnshire, the safety authorities and the EFL, Lincoln said it will be reducing the capacity of LNER Stadium to below 10,000 while the current restrictions are in place.

Reducing capacity means that, under current government guidelines, COVID-19 passports and negative lateral flow tests will not be required to gain entry to the stadium on matchdays. In addition, and in line with latest government hospitality legislation, face coverings will not be required in any of the hospitality areas at the LNER Stadium.

Lincoln City’s chief executive, Liam Scully, said: “We think this is a measured approach given our available resources. The industry is already experiencing significant shortages of event staff and the requirement to provide further staffing resources, which COVID passport checks undoubtedly would, will only increase this pressure.

“From our perspective, adding the number of staff necessary to undertake checks and provide the necessary services is a logistical challenge which would add a significant cost to our matchday operations.

“We work closely with colleagues in Public Health Lincolnshire and we fully understand the wider health context across the city and beyond. Ultimately, our number one priority is looking after each other – and we urge our fans to follow the regulations and play their part in helping mitigate the spread of the virus.”

Meanwhile, League Two club Carlisle will slash capacity at Brunton Park from 17,949 to 9,999 in an effort to navigate the Plan B rules. The revised capacity will consist of standing capacity of 3,999 and seated capacity of 6,000. Carlisle has failed to pull in more than 8,000 fans this season.

Carlisle said: “At these levels of expected attendance there will be no mandatory COVID certification required at Brunton Park under ‘Plan-B’.  There will be no requirement to show vaccination status or a recent negative test to enter the stadium and come to games.

“Fans should be aware, the limit on terrace places at 3,999 means tickets demand could outstrip supply. Fans wishing to stand are advised to buy in advance.”

Image: Steve Daniels/CC BY-SA 2.0/Edited for size