In May 2022, Experia conducted research on the 20 largest stadiums by footfall in the UK and UAE, and commissioned similar research across 312 stadiums in the US from sports journalist and autism advocate Richard Coffey.
Experia’s founder and director, Gareth Jones, commented, “From supporting the Lionesses last year to the recent World Cup, sports have an incredible power to bring people together. However, people with sensory needs are, all too often, excluded from these powerful moments because stadiums cannot cater to their needs.”
Experia conducted their research by reviewing the websites of the largest stadiums and contacting their operators to confirm what sensory facilities were available on-site.
We found that the UK has made progress on providing sensory facilities, and today 15 of the largest 20 stadiums have an advertised offering of some kind. However, three of the top five largest stadiums - Twickenham, Old Trafford and Millennium Stadium – do not provide a sensory room for guests in the stadium (although Old Trafford does provide an at-home sensory experience for fans of Manchester United). The other two stadiums are Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, and Hampden Park, Glasgow.
The UAE has significantly fewer facilities. We found that just three of the top 20 stadiums offer a sensory room. In addition to the three stadiums which do – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Janoub Stadium, and Education City Stadium – some stadiums do offer other accessibility options.
In the US, just 70 of the 243 stadiums investigated by Richard Coffey provided sensory rooms. His survey included stadiums across several different sports and leagues, including the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA. This means that just 28.8% of major stadiums in the US offer sensory rooms. Additionally, only 44% of US teams’ stadiums qualify as sensory-inclusive.
A sensory room, or sensory space, is a dedicated environment that brings together a range of stimulating sensory equipment. They have various purposes, but in sports facilities, sensory rooms tend to be a calming space to allow fans to enjoy watching their favourite sports without becoming overwhelmed or experiencing sensory overload. They will typically have a large window or viewing screen to watch the game.
At Experia, we have worked with multiple charities, including The Shippey Campaign and Lord’s Taverners, to bring sensory facilities to various sports spaces. Check out our case studies to see previous sensory rooms in football clubs across the UK, including Watford FC, Middlesbrough FC and even Wembley Stadium itself!
While the atmosphere at sports events can be electric, it can also be incredibly overwhelming. Some sports fans may find themselves overwhelmed by roaring supporters, bright lights, staying in one place for a long time or being in a large crowd.
Christine Flintoft-Smith, Head of Accreditation at the National Autistic Society, says, “Sensory rooms provide a calming and quiet environment that can help some autistic people attend events that they may find overwhelming because they’re unfamiliar, loud and busy.
“We would also encourage venues to do other things to make themselves more autism-friendly, like making sure their communications and information about the venue are clear, and that their staff understand autism.”
Providing sensory rooms to help people with learning difficulties, developmental disabilities or sensory processing impairments take part in matchdays is a key part of ensuring accessibility to the camaraderie and togetherness fostered by sports enthusiasts, helping fans to show support for their team in a way that is safe and comfortable.
See how the sensory room we built at Watford FC, the first bespoke sensory room to be built by a Premier League club, has been helping sports fans access the game for over six years.
Learn more about the two innovative and exciting Immersive Reality spaces Experia has built at one of the world's most iconic venues!
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