April 9th 2021

Guest blog: The transformative effect of making operational tweaks to unlock efficiencies, with Chris Clark

Improving operational performance to boost efficiency, safety and security is a continuous process for most ship and port operators. Chris Clark Senior VP at CakeBoxx Technologies, reflects on how making incremental changes to overlooked areas can have a big impact on efficiency, sustainability, and profitability.

The shipping industry is fiercely competitive. Shippers’ demands on ship operators are increasing as they look for partners who can boost the efficiency of their supply chains, whilst demonstrating sustainability credentials throughout each stage of their operations. In turn, ports are facing pressure to support these requirements as well as meet wider regulatory requirements. This drive has sparked a new era of innovation and some transformational changes are on the distant horizon. The shipping industry is notoriously slow to adapt to change and whilst we await the mainstream use of autonomous ships and AI, the impact from making operational ‘tweaks’ at a more practical level should not be underestimated.

Critical infrastructural elements, such as shipping containers and lighting, are a prime example. Invented in the 1950s, the basic design of a shipping container has seen little change since. This is despite the fact that containers play a fundamental and major role in enabling shipping’s global supply chains. You may be asking, what is the issue if it works?

The answer is cost

A traditional container takes around forty minutes to one hour to load, depending on cargo. When you consider that some of the world’s largest container ships carry thousands of containers, this time equates to huge expense. Similarly, the original design of a container, with doors that are easily opened, also makes the cargo vulnerable to theft. With over €85 million of cargo thefts reported in 46 countries in the first half of 2020, making access to cargo harder could enable considerable savings. Likewise, there is an associated high accident rate with loading cargo into containers, the financial repercussions and reputable damage of which, can be fatal.

CakeBoxx Technologies

At CakeBoxx Technologies, we recognised that there was room for improvement, and invaluable efficiency, safety and security gains to be made by re-assessing the existing design principles of a container.

Our redesigned containers have no doors, and instead consist of a ‘deck and lid’ design, often tailored to meet unique ship owner requirements. This design enables greater cargo security, structural integrity, and supply chain efficiency. For example, our containers significantly reduce the time to load a container to around ten minutes. In comparison to traditional containers, this means containers can be loaded at a rate of five an hour as opposed to one. This huge time saving increases supply chain velocity and reduces associated labour costs.

Likewise, our containers eliminate the necessity for doors, meaning they are both harder to break into
and easier to load – minimising the risk of injury from unsafe loading.

The complete access to cargo offered with the CakeBoxx Technologies design also enables loads to be safely and effectively secured for transit from all angles. With recent container losses at sea reported globally, the increased security is vital from a reputational, cost and safety standpoint.

However, despite the proven benefits and concrete long-term payback, ports and shipping lines are slow to change their habits and adopt available technologies. In fact, the catalyst for a change in mindset is frequently a major accident or incident.

Enlightening port operations

From conversations with Midstream Lighting, lighting in ports and terminals is also a case in point – the similarities with shipping containers another stark example of where accessible efficiencies are being missed. For example, despite good visibility being vital to enable safe, secure and efficient operations, dated metal halide, or HPS lighting, are still the prominent lighting solution.

According to Midstream, LED lighting solutions can improve light quality by over 50% and increase energy efficiency by up to 70%, whilst improving operational safety and efficiency. These technologies go hand in hand in collectively improving operations and contributing to the terminal of the future, today.

We can therefore see, the subtle and incremental changes to fundamental elements within the supply chain, and the knock-on effect these can have on the entire infrastructure, that are the most accessible, and effective, yet remain underutilised.

No time like the present

Developing a progressive shipping industry can be supported by revising existing fundamentals and taking a holistic view of long-term payback. More enlightened companies are recognising that the lowest priced asset isn’t necessarily the cheapest. However, there is still work to do in raising awareness of commonly overlooked operational areas that can be updated to boost performance. These don’t have to create major operational disruptions or completely change the way a company works. There are simple, practical and cost-effective changes that can enhance efficiency and customer relationships. So, unlike many aspects of the shipping industry, action can be taken now.

Chris Clark Senior VP at CakeBoxx Technologies

Chris Clark, Senior Vice President, CakeBoxx Technologies

March 19th 2021

The importance of facility partnerships for England Athletics

We’ve been working with England Athletics (EA) as its Official Lighting Partner for six months now. So, we’ve asked Ed Hunt, Facilities and Planning Manager at EA, to tell us more about the role partnerships play in the development of athletics in England.

Ed, what’s your role at England Athletics involve?

I support the UK’s stock of athletics facilities by providing guidance and support in terms of things like sustainability, maintenance, good practice. I advise on the design and build of new, innovative athletics and running facilities too.

I also manage TrackMark – UK Athletics’ facility accreditation scheme. Its aim is to make sure all facilities meet certain standards across key areas including safety, rulebook compliance, and accessibility. So, again, it involves giving advice and guidance to facility operators across the UK and pointing them in the direction of approved suppliers like Midstream.

What sorts of challenges are these facilities facing to reach these minimum standards?

Good question… To give some context, the vast majority of synthetic track and field facilities in the UK were built in the 1980s and early 90s. This means there’s a lot of facility stock out there that’s over 30-years old. Looking purely at the synthetic track surface of these aging facilities, they typically need to be resprayed every seven years and fully resurfaced every 25 years. In the UK we estimate that around 50% of track stock has not been resprayed or resurfaced for at least ten years. This is a big challenge, but one that we are starting to address with the TrackMark programme.

It’s not just about the track of course. We look at all the elements that make up the field of play for track and field athletics, and floodlighting is absolutely an essential part of that. Competitively we’re a summer sport, but we’re a participation sport all year round. To support the continued development of our sport we need 365 days a year floodlighting provision that meets minimum safety standards. However, akin to track surfaces, the floodlighting at many venues has reached, or past, its operating lifetime. Depending on what type of floodlighting it is, particularly old systems like Metal Halide floodlighting, it’s almost certainly not delivering the minimum standards needed across the whole track and infield.

Our ambition as a sport isn’t to build lots of new 400m tracks – in most areas of the UK we have good coverage already. Critically, it’s about bringing that 30-year old stock up to the right standards.

What role does EA play with, not only the athletics clubs but, the wider community too?

We’ve got a team of Club Support Managers who work very closely with our member clubs and the local communities. Their job is to support clubs and make sure members and visitors have a great experience when they visit the track. Volunteer clubs are the driving force of athletics and they do far more than just deliver track and field coaching programmes. They also reach out to the local community to offer opportunities for everyone – from school-based activity to Couch to 5k. The work that our member clubs do is incredible and forms the bedrock of our sport.

Lockdown has shown us there’s a real appetite out there amongst a lot of people to get involved with running and athletics. It’s an easy access sport – it’s outdoor, and at its most basic level all you need is a pair of trainers.

I remember presenting at a conference once and I asked the delegates what their personal barriers to participation in running were. Their answers were pretty universal. Safe, well-lit routes. I responded by saying that the vast majority of them lived within 20 minutes of their local running track – a safe, well-lit venue with a consistent, forgiving surface!

We’ve got to get people over the hurdle of thinking track and field facilities are purely domains of the elite. They’re not. They are there for everyone. That’s not just about how we market, brand, and sell them. It’s also about how they look and feel and how we present them. For example, do tracks always need to be multi-lane 400m ovals? Can we look at new, and different ways of attracting more people? As an example, my local club is a safe, well-lit place to run. It’s got a 400m standard track but also an 800m cinder track running around the perimeter. This is a great alternative for a traditional track and a facility that’s heavily used by those starting out on their athletic journey.

Looking at the facility partner programme itself, what was the premise for it, how is it working so far, and what are the benefits it brings?

Since TrackMark was introduced in 2018, we’ve seen a huge uptick in the number of track surface refurbishments, track repairs, and floodlighting repairs and upgrades. But, to take it to the next level, we felt it would be ideal to partner up with companies in each of these three key areas. We wanted and needed to find partners who shared our strategic view in terms of the importance of facilities and creating models of provision that are both inspiring and sustainable. Partners that could help us to educate, increase awareness, and unashamedly speed along our drive to achieve minimum standards across all venues. When you have a group of partners working in the same direction, you can pull ideas together and create ready-made solutions to support athletics facility operators and clubs.

It’s all about that shared vision and the synergy between us, and how as one we can move facilities forwards – old and new. Giving people easy access to that knowledge and information is vital in all walks of the business. These partnerships really help us connect with people. It’s helping venues feel safe in what they’re committing to. There’s a real feeling with them that ‘If England Athletics back this, it’s got to be okay.’. The way that our partners are working together, both to inform of opportunities and collectively provide solutions to problems has been brilliant.

Our overall goal is to create a network of local, accessible, sustainable, and inspiring facilities for every person in England. Wherever you live, you’ve always got a local place to go to. Not an ‘Olympic’ stadium necessarily – but somewhere to run, jump, and throw all year round. Lighting is integral to that.

Sustainability has to underpin every facility model. So, just jumping back to my role, some of what I do is making sure we have the right facilities in the right places, and for many areas a 400m track is not appropriate and/or sustainable. However, a synthetic, floodlit running loop around a playing field may provide a perfect solution for some local clubs and communities. Our ambition in the UK is that everyone is within a reasonable distance of some form of athletics facility. For that, as I’ve said, we need good lighting.

Can you tell us more about how important a role has lighting got in delivering that?

It’s got a hugely important role. One of the first questions I ask when working with a client on a new facility project is ‘Have you thought of your lighting?’. Firstly because it’s vital, and secondly because of the importance of gaining upfront planning consent.

The right floodlighting is absolutely essential. Sport England recognises this. We recognise this. If there’s no adequate lighting at, or planned for, a venue how can it function during the dark, winter months? How can you possibly continue and have a sustainable programme of athletics development if you only use it in the summer months? People want that safe, lit place throughout the year – including the winter. If there’s no lighting plan for a facility development, then it’s pretty much a nonstarter for us and Sport England too.

Aside from the whole sustainability requirement, good floodlighting also enhances the whole experience. Who doesn’t like sports under lighting – either as a competitor or spectator. I used to be an 800m runner and there was nothing like racing under lights at the end of an evening. It was always a special feeling.

We recently worked with you to produce your Athletics Lighting Guide. How important is the educational aspect to yourself and the venues?

Very important. There’s a mystique to lighting. Not enough people know a lot about it. They probably think that as long as the lights come on when they flick the switch everything must be working okay. But it’s important everyone knows about the minimum standards of things like uniformity and lux levels across a whole track and field.

The British Standards’ guidance and documents aren’t the easiest to read and understand. So, what we needed was to make things as simple as possible for operators and clubs. A single, straightforward guide that explained everything in a concise fashion that would help them understand the importance of good lighting in terms of safety and user experience. Something that would let them make their own, quick audit of their facilities easily. Our guide does exactly that. It was only brought out a couple of weeks ago and I’ve already had a lot of positive feedback from both venue operators and clubs. Even World Athletics asked me for a copy!

For me, this clearly shows that there’s an appetite for educational support like this. Anything we can do with you to educate and improve awareness of lighting has got to be a good thing. It’ll help to make sure that when venues are looking to build or improve their facilities, appropriate lighting is placed front and centre of the project because the venue will truly understand its importance.

How has COVID affected England Athletics, the sport, and clubs?

Ask me again in six months. Seriously though, there was a lot of concern when the pandemic started and lockdown #1 began last March. I guess like many other sports we wondered what both the short-term and medium-term impact would be.

Fortunately, akin to other sports like golf and tennis, we were deemed a ‘safer’ sport and were released relatively early from lockdown early last summer. This meant we were able to put on 300 competitions last year, unlike a lot of other sports. Club-managed venues were absolutely at the forefront of this success. Although small in number, only 10% of athletics facilities are club managed, they were trailblazing in terms of getting the doors open and getting athletes running, jumping, and throwing again as soon as we came out of lockdown. I’m sure it’ll be the same again this summer as we hopefully approach something that resembles normality.

The challenge then, and now, is that the majority of track and field facilities are either local authority, leisure trust, educational, or commercially managed – with larger indoor facilities such as swimming pools and gyms. Throw in the fact that many leisure/sports venue staff remain on the Government’s furlough scheme and this creates a real air of uncertainty about when all athletics track venues will reopen.

We’ve done alright though compared to other sports like swimming who’ve been totally locked down for over a year. As a sport, we’ve tried really hard to engage with our members and those interested in running and athletics and throughout lockdown. For example, we’ve used the power of the digital age to run webinars and create content that encourages people to stay fit and active and enjoy the benefits of our great sport. I’m sure that when the summer finally comes that we will hit the ground running. There’s a real desire at clubs to get on with things again. To get training, events, and competitions going – even if it’s just at a local level to start with.

In terms of capital improvement work, you’d reasonably anticipate there being a downturn in work. But surprisingly, and really positively, this has not been the case. Indeed during the past 12-18 months, there’s been a significant uptick in capital improvement works. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that many venues have used these lockdown periods to take stock of their facilities and plan much-needed improvement work.

What’s the next big milestone the athletics community looking forwards to?

The Tokyo Olympics is one obviously, fingers crossed, and what it’ll do for the profile of athletics. Personally, I genuinely think though that the most exciting milestone for the majority of people will be that first club night. After over a year of not training or socialising with fellow club members, and coaches it’ll mean the world for so many people – athletes, coaches, and parents. It will for me, and I can’t wait.

Tell us a bit about your personal athletics history.

I’ve been a keen runner since school. I started out in 800m and 1,500 and have gradually worked my way up to a marathon runner. In the 2000s I completed ten marathons, including London, Amsterdam, Dublin, and New York.

My marathon days are probably behind me now though. But never say never. If my son gets interested in running a marathon, then maybe just maybe I’ll run around with him. Although I’m sure it will be highly unlikely I can keep up with him. He’s six now and faster than me!

Ed Hunt - England Athletics

Ed Hunt, Facilities and Planning Manager at England Athletics

Midstream Lighting Official Lighting partners of England Athletics

March 11th 2021

Why using technologies to reduce shipping’s environmental impact should be normal, not novel.

Guest blog with James Sutcliffe, Midstream Advisor.

With the shipping industry contributing to around 3.5% of global pollution and environmental regulation set to tighten, all aspects of the industry’s eco-system must be assessed for sustainability improvements. James Sutcliffe, multi-maritime business owner and Midstream Lighting senior advisor, discusses the importance of ship and port owners taking a proactive, holistic approach to reducing their carbon footprint and the industry’s overall environmental impact.

The current level of innovation and technology available to the shipping industry is significant. Despite the wide range of technologies proven to increase operational efficiencies, reduce carbon output and subsequently minimise costs, the rate of uptake and implementation of available technologies by port and ship owners is comparatively slow. From my position in the maritime industry, leading the strategy behind pioneering technologies aimed at ‘cleaning the industry up’, I can empathise with the challenges associated with the onslaught of options available. The considerations of suitability, reliability, investment and returns, as well as mitigating potential downtime, can be overwhelming. However, by breaking this down into small areas of operational improvement, the cumulative effect can be game-changing – both for meeting environmental targets and improving profitability.

The concept of continuous improvement has been a common thread throughout my career in the maritime industry. Back in 1862, my family moved to Grimsby, England, to start a shipping agency and stevedoring business. Five generations later, in 1990, I moved to acquiring and redeveloping ports and terminals, deploying modern management techniques and transforming rundown unsafe places into cleaner, smarter, and more efficient hubs. The catalyst for this was port privatisation in the UK, and with the increasing reach of the EU, the need for modern terminals and port operations in emerging markets – like our DCT Gdansk project in Poland.

We evaluate every element of a port’s infrastructure to ensure that optimum capacity and operational efficiencies are achieved. With more sustainable solutions required to fulfil the International Maritime Organisations (IMO) impending environmental regulations, re-evaluating the ‘green marine’ aspects of ports, as well as most other industry sectors, is slowly accelerating. This means there is a greater onus on service and technology providers to guide companies through the process.

Alongside Port Evo, I therefore established Crystal Seas, clean oceans means cleaner ships and HydroPort. Crystal Seas aims at tackling the issue of pollution at sea by providing ship owners with marine friendly and non-polluting technologies to clean ship systems, reducing the need for shipyard maintenance and vessel downtime.

HydroPort is aimed at reducing the carbon emissions at ports by implementing a renewable energy power source. Our solution operates by capturing the incoming and outgoing tides running through a turbine(s) in a port or terminal’s foundations to power the entire infrastructure. The solution works to facilitate a completely ‘green’ port or terminal with zero emissions and power to spare for ship plug ins and local industry development.

While the Crystal Seas and HydroPort projects tackle different environmental issues, their overall aim is the same – reducing the environmental impact of the shipping industry through relatively new technologies. Although the technologies are set to be more cost-effective in the longer term, and protect ship and port owners from further responses to future regulations, they are still viewed as novel and ‘forward-thinking’ – I think this must change.

A forward-looking, pragmatic and holistic approach is vital to not only ensure every element in shipping’s supply chain is individually considered, but to support investment in complimentary new technologies.

Lighting in ports and terminals is a case in point. A fundamental asset, which enables safe, secure and efficient operations is often taken for granted. This is despite the fact that traditional lighting systems account for huge annual expense and once erected are often ignored.

As a senior advisor at Midstream Lighting, I understand the vital role of modern lighting in ports. In fact, at Port Evo, Midstream Lighting’s LED technology is an integral element for our projects and clients who often have dated metal halide, or HPS lighting installed. LED lighting is proven to improve light quality by over 50%, increase energy efficiency by up to 70%, and, with a longer operating life, it is the sustainable solution.

I believe that making changes in, for example, port lighting, vessel systems cleaning solutions and marine based renewable energy power sources should all be part of the constant reassessment of ports, terminals and shipping today. We invest vast sums in handling equipment but often forget the bigger picture, i.e. end to end green technologies from producer to buyer.

This is where technologies, such as LED lighting, are vital to start initiating small steps and assessing other technologies along the way for future investment. There is an incredible opportunity to enhance the environmental performance of the ports and shipping industry by looking at every link in the chain. By taking a systematic approach to change and viewing technology as an asset rather than a complication, we will start making real progress to reduce the environmental impact on our oceans and improve operational performance.

James Sutcliffe, Midstream Lighting senior advisor and Senior Director, Port Evo, CEO, Crystal Seas and Chairman, HydroPort

March 1st, 2021

Why we must invest in terminal automation today

Guest blog with Christopher Saavedra, Terminal design service manager at Kalmar.

If ports and terminals are to meet the growing list of requirements needed for greener operations, the deployment of increasingly eco-efficient solutions and implementation of different levels of automation are necessary. Christopher Saavedra, Terminal Design Service Manager at Kalmar, shares his market insights, and why he thinks sustainable designs and automation will unlock the maritime hubs of the future.

In previous years, automation’s increase in both prevalence and perceived value has been hard to miss. Before I joined Kalmar in early 2019, I held many different positions leading port automation projects. While the industry focuses on the big automation projects, in Rotterdam, Germany or Australia, there are many other terminals that have seen big gains from process and equipment automation. For example, terminals that use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to help automate delivery and drop off containers, have reported an increase of gate transactions, reduction in errors and truck turnaround times. Despite these clear improvements, the reality is that many of the comparable industries, such as warehousing, are at a much more advanced state of adoption of automation.

Although I have already seen a huge change in the prioritisation and industry advancement of automation, the maritime industry remains at risk of falling behind and failing to reap associated benefits, such as improved safety, better customer service and a reduction of errors.

Automation and COVID-19

Over the last decade, we have seen the integration of automation in ports and terminals grow slowly in comparison to other sectors. This is largely due to the shipping industry’s conservative nature, siloed operations, and the avoidance of up-front capital expenditures. Likewise, the amount of global greenfield projects has decreased, and automation deployment and investment is still in some cases viewed as complicated, risky and expensive.

From my position at Kalmar, I can see that while process and equipment automation is becoming more widely used, automation’s growth is being constrained by a disconnect between perception and reality.

Take process automation as an example. Those who have not invested in it frequently cite a number of reasons: “There’s shortage of in-house capability,” “Our data isn’t good enough,” or “The technology has difficulty handling exceptions.”

None of these challenges are insurmountable. In my experience, most of them require very little to fix. When COVID-secure working practises were introduced in early 2020 and remote operations became a necessity, it quickly became clear from the productivity statistics who had invested in process automation.

When the next supply chain shock comes – and there will be others – the agile decision-making and adaptability that automation enables will lead to far greater commercial resiliency. The next unforeseen circumstance is unlikely to be a global pandemic, but it doesn’t have to be to cause significant disruption. A failure to invest in preparedness for future disruptions will be measured in workplace accidents, inefficiencies, and lower credit ratings.

Total integration

At Kalmar, we understand that sustainability and cost-effectiveness are critical for ensuring uptake, evolving ports and terminals globally. To maximise the return on investment, we take a holistic approach to our design projects, which consist of three phases.

During the first phase we assess different design layout options and propose tailored solutions based upon customer requirements. In the second phase, we distinguish the business case for these solutions; taking into account the cost, safety, operational and environmental benefits. Moreover, in the final phase, which is a proof of concept via simulation, we create a 3D concept model and compare our design against the customer’s KPIs.

We consider a wide range of eco-efficient and automated solutions in our designs. Besides the handling equipment offering, other energy efficient technologies, such as Midstream Lighting’s LED lighting solutions, often play a key role. For example, the right lighting is critical to the smooth and safe running of a port. However, most ports are still using high-pressure sodium, metal halide, or other antiquated technologies that underperform their specifications within months of installation.

Midstream’s LED lighting not only has a typical payback period of less than two years, but it also increases energy efficiency, enables a safer working environment, and has a multiplier effect on the value of a port’s other infrastructure investments. The design of the lighting needs to be also considered in combination of the equipment type and automation mode selection and must be built into the business case.

The terminal of today

Looking to the future, I expect to see owners and operators increasingly investing in eco-efficient solutions and different levels of automation, using technologies such as LED lighting to illuminate the path to greener operations. Especially with end consumers set to increasingly favour a low CO2 footprint in the overseas shipping of their products.
The ideal ‘terminal of today’ is therefore one, which is eco-efficient, flexible, optimised in all areas and led by data driven decisions. Setting the standard for the maritime hubs of the future requires us to nail process automation now, and increase efficiencies throughout the entire supply chain.

Christopher Saavedra guest blog Midstream Lighting

Christopher Saavedra, Terminal Design Service Manager, Kalmar

January 20th, 2021

The State of Play: Covid-19 and the world of sports

To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust us all into difficult and uncertain times – personally and professionally – isn’t an overstatement. Far from it. Wherever you are, whatever you do, we’ve all seen our lives change dramatically. This is particularly true in the world of sports, especially team and major spectator sports where participation and footfall are essential to survival.

So we’ve asked Ross Baxter, our Senior Sports Advisor, to give us his view on what’s happening now in the sports world and what the future holds after COVID-19 has gone.

Ross, what are you seeing going on for sports clubs and venues at the moment?

If we were having this conversation a couple of months ago, my answers would have been very different. At that time, we started to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to governments around the world supporting clubs and venues, many had managed to get through the most difficult times. Restrictions were being lifted. Vaccines were on the way. Sport’s governing bodies were even starting to implement ‘return to sport’ protocols.

Then the new variants of the virus started to appear. This hasn’t plunged us right back to square one yet, but it’s driven us near it. So, again the focus for virtually all sports clubs and venues has been switched back to:

  • Having enough cash to keep their heads above water.
  • Making sure they’ve got a viable operation to come back to when a real ‘new normal’ kicks in.
  • They’ve got players, members, and supporters who want to return to them.

Indoor sports have been hit very hard by the pandemic. Social distancing rules have had a massive impact. That’s not all they’ve had to face though. A lot of indoor sports, like swimming and basketball, rely on local authority venues for training and events. These authorities are on the whole risk-averse and have closed their sites. This has left these sports with no way to generate any income at all. This means they’re facing great commercial pressures and may or may not stay afloat in the months to come.

Outdoor sports have also been curtailed due to social distancing regulations. For example, ticket sales revenue has disappeared for them. However, a lot of their outgoings – the day-to-day running and staff costs, utility bills, etc. – have been reduced. A lot of these clubs might be in a ‘let’s see what happens’ mode before they commit to any new plans.

Those clubs though that have been well managed and have capital reserves, or that have secured the financial help that’s out there, are still going ahead with projects.

Another big issue they’re having to face is getting planning permission. Local authority planning departments have, rightly so, been using all their capacity on COVID-19 restriction measures. This means fewer projects have been given the red light and there’s a huge backlog of requests waiting to get through.

Where projects are being planned, are there any additional things that need to be considered?

The fundamentals haven’t changed. The key things they still need to take into account are:

  • What facilities have we got?
  • What are their shortfalls?
  • How do we plug them?
  • What will we get out of completing this project – more players and spectators, more income, a safer and more welcoming venue?

ROI is still king. Though a really strong and robust emphasis on what is really needed, why, and what a project will deliver in terms of ROI is more crucial than ever. For example, with COVID-19, its variants, and any other future pandemics, clubs will be looking at whether the impact on the playing of sports can be mitigated in the future. Will investing in facility design, the flow of people around a venue, additional hygiene measures, and so on put them in a good place going forwards and lift these projects to the top of their priority list.

What will this mean for venue floodlighting in particular?

From a lighting perspective, when ‘return to sport’ protocols start to kick in again, it could be argued there will be a greater need for improved lighting. A lot of these protocols will focus on, amongst other things, continuing to have social distancing where possible e.g. at training grounds, with fewer people in a larger area.

Clubs will also be looking at ways to boost revenues. So they may be considering introducing new floodlighting to extend their opening hours and get more people using their facilities outside of normal playing hours.

Some of them will be looking at the added benefits LED lighting can bring. Benefits such as the ability to improve the spectator experience with LED light shows during the build-up and intervals at games, as a way to get more people to events.

Others will also be looking at the impact LED lighting can have on their cash flow and bottom line. The introduction of LED floodlighting has been proved to cut some club’s electricity costs by a huge 70%. That’s money that could be used for other club objectives such as increased hygiene measures. Or they can simply be ‘tucked away’ for another rainy day.

What’s happening with new lighting installations and retrofit projects?

For those that have the capital to keep projects moving, and have very little outgoings at the moment, now’s almost the perfect time to get things done.

  • There’ll be less happening and fewer people around. Which makes it easier and safer for the installers and the venue employees. So, a lot of clubs, schools, universities, and privately owned sites are bringing forwards projects they may have waited until the summer months for as usual to complete.
  • With less market demand, they may be able to negotiate a better price from contractors. Although, this could be offset by a rise in the costs of parts needed if they’re in short supply.
  • By their very nature, sports clubs thrive on activity. With little happening on the playing front, they may be switching their focus to what they can do with their facilities. Their volunteers, committee members, coaches, and managers will probably have more time to dedicate to this also.

These are just some of the sorts of reasons we’re still seeing projects taking place.

What lessons or fundamental changes do you think are to be learned from this crisis?

From a practical point of view, there will be lots of lessons to learn, particularly with things like hygiene across a lot of sporting clubs. The task of getting risk assessed and understanding how secure a facility is will really make clubs think about their approach in the future – a good thing in terms of fan, staff, and player welfare.

Clubs will appreciate, even more, how important it is to have a tight ship in terms of costs and understanding what’s most important for them. Those that entered this with very high outgoings and that weren’t as sustainable as perhaps they should have been will have had a sharp reality shock.

Those clubs that have always really understood, and had control, of what their outgoings were in terms of utilities, wages, and associated costs will be far better placed to move forward.

When it comes to facility planning itself, a lot of the process of thinking about how a club is presented to the public and how the public uses its facility has been highlighted more than it has been in the past. Clubs will really understand how important it is to have really strong links with the local community. They’ll appreciate how the community access it and see it as a safe and secure place, which will make a really big difference to how many people go and use it. This could be another reason clubs look to extend their opening hours and need improved lighting.

What about the future?

The big question is what ‘return to sport’ will look like. Many people will have found a lot of different ways of exercising and using their free time and space. So, it’s whether they will want to choose to play or volunteer in a sport that they did before. This will start to shape what club membership looks like and in some cases that will mean big changes are to come.

In terms of spectator sports, people have truly missed not being there to cheer their favourites on. I think in the short to medium term, and hopefully beyond, this will mean clubs and venues will probably see a boost in gate numbers. Players have missed spectators too – so that will help inspire them further again.
The next six months or so will obviously move things on. As vaccines are being rolled out, it will be interesting to see how quickly sports participation re-establishes itself. Whilst it’s happening, ‘lone sports’ like golf will still be to the fore in terms of exercise, with multi-participant sports following behind. From a spectator point of view, we’ll need to see how willing people are to go a sit next to a stranger while vaccination programmes are being rolled out.
One thing sports clubs and venues need to remember though is that probably the majority of people who take part in sporting activities will be lower down or last on the vaccine priority lists. This will mean these sports and venues will lag behind other aspects of life when it comes to getting back to a semblance of what they were before.

For some clubs and local authorities, that have teetered along in the current climate, the impact of vaccines will come too late. What happens to their venues, who will snap them up, and what will they use them for could see some local sports suffer greatly.

I truly hope it doesn’t happen, but if we have to continue down the path where sports must be played in smaller groups in larger areas there will be opportunities arise for facility providers like us. I think we’d all prefer to see life ‘on and off the pitch’ return to what it was, however.

One thing is certain though. There’ll be a lot of new things for us all to get used to from now on.

About Ross Baxter: Midstream’s Senior Advisor – Sport

With over twenty years leading sports facility planning, design, and delivery – in the public, private, and voluntary sectors – Ross brings a huge amount of significant knowledge to our team.

At Midstream he works to promote, design, and deliver LED sports floodlighting projects to end-users either on a new build or retrofit basis.

A highly experienced senior leader and programme manager, Ross thrives on improving performance, identifying opportunities, and developing innovative solutions. Previously, as the Head of Facility Investment at the Rugby Football Union Ross delivered clubhouse, floodlighting, and pitch projects valued at over £300m. During his time there he was instrumental in creating a series of innovative commercial supplier and consultant frameworks.
When not working, Ross is a Rugby Union Level Four coach and mentor.

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