Safe Standing could come to Old Trafford, with Manchester United reportedly exploring a ‘rail seat’ trial according to fanzine Red News. Rail seats are dual-mode seats that can either be used as a traditional seat, or locked in an upright position with a bar in place to safely support standing fans.
The technology is widely used in Germany, where standing is legal, while Bristol City have recently installed them at Ashton Gate. In the Bundesliga clubs use rail seats both to increase capacity, boost atmosphere during domestic games, and offer supporters reasonably priced tickets.
However, legislation in the UK currently demands one seat per fan in the Premier League, with traditional standing only permitted in the lower leagues and sports other than football. It is likely a change in legislation would be required to allow safe standing in the Premier League, with up to eight Premier League clubs believed to be supportive of the change according to the Daily Mail.
UEFA does not permit standing of any kind in its competitions, meaning stadia such as Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion lock the seats up for Bundesliga matches and down for the Champions League.
The potential increase in capacity in ‘seat up’ mode depends on the ratio of standing fans to seats, with any Old Trafford trial thought likely to begin at 1:1. Some stadia, such as Bayer Leverkusen’s BayArena, operates safe standing with two fans to each installed seat. The Westfalenstadion provides standing accommodation for 27,000 fans.
However, the cost is not insignificant, with rail seats costing up to 60 per cent more per seat to install than the traditional variety. Clubs converting blocks not ordinarily due for maintenance will face a significant additional capex bill, although installations costs could be offset by a higher capacity. Whether the Glazer family is prepared to push for rail seats, fund installation and lower prices is an open and relevant question.
And even if the cost and legislative issues are resolved there is still the emotive issue of standing in England; rail seats may have little do to with the terraces of old, but memories of the Hillsborough disaster remain fresh.
Given the pros and cons …