Spectator Seating Basics

Spectator seating is more often associated with natatoria than with outdoor pools that are used primarily for recreation. Spectator seating is universally associated with competition in any sport. For swimming, the seating shall be located with viewing from the side of the course so the spectator can follow the race, water polo matches and synchronized swimming from end to end. Likewise the viewing of springboard and platform diving is preferred from the side, not head on.

Seating locations vary. Deck seating is usually found in small natatoria with short course pools, i.e., 25M. Larger natatoria with diving platforms and long spans develop overhead clearances that will easily accommodate second floor gallery seating. Sometimes budget or other influencing factors leads the designer to create mezzanine seating where the first row is 1 to 1.5 meters above the pool deck which improves the line of sight over deck seating but is not quite as desirable as gallery seating. Like those sitting in deck seating, spectators in mezzanine seats can still have their view blocked by athletes and officials walking on the deck. End seats are sometimes provided when building configuration dictates and the primary racecourse is in the short course direction, across the long course direction of the pool. Traditionally the preference is for side seating that is parallel with the main race course. It is only when extraordinary circumstances exist that alternative orientations occur.  A design that combines permanent seats and a flat mezzanine either behind the permanent seats or to the side may “fit” with the natatorium space.

There are several configuration options and combinations among those the most advantageous view is from a balcony one story above the water. Lesser quality viewing is a mezzanine approximately 1.2 M above the pool deck. The least desirable but still acceptable is deck level. The varying factor is obstruction of view by people walking back and forth along the deck, i.e., officials, athletes and coaches.  For locations that do have elevated seating, accessibility will become a key part of the design as multiple entrance/exist points will be required.

The line of site or viewing angle of the spectator seating is also a key design element for consideration.

Other factors that must be considered with spectator seating is controlled access, traffic patterns that do not cross wet decks, ADA design issues, emergency exits, restrooms for spectator use only, custodial implications and considerations, and parking requirements.

Seating construction can vary. Permanent seats are often considered the first choice due to easier housekeeping tasks and lower annual costs. However, when other issues are considered such as first costs, convertible space, frequency of competition events, emergency exit requirements, density of spectators and parking requirement ratios, a mixture of seat construction types are considered, i.e., retractable, temporary and portable.

A typical seat count for a short course Pool (25M or 25 Yard) natatorium is 100-250 seats.  Facilities hosting multi-team meets, will usually require 250 to 500 seats. Since these events are infrequent, a combination of permanent and temporary seats is the most cost effective. Some pools are in locales with many age group teams that want access for bigger meets. These facilities can justify 500 – 1,000 combined seats.  A long course pool (50M) that will host major competition will typically require a minimum of 1000 plus permanent seats, with space for placement of additional temporary seats.  Larger attendance may occur for a US age group invitational meet.    U.S. Division I universities with highly developed swimming and diving programs that wish to attract the National NCAA Championship meets frequently provide 1000 to 2000 seats made up of both permanent and temporary seats. The U.S. Olympic Festival requirements were 2500 to 3000 seats prior to that events demise. Major international swimming events such as the FINA World Championships or Pan American Games, would typically require 7,500 to 10,000 seats.  At the top of the scale is the Olympic Venue for aquatic sports with a requirement of 15,000 to 20,000 seats, which includes up to 1/3 reserved for VIP’s, the Olympic family and the media.

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