Steep Seat Hazards: Have Arenas Created a Danger for Spectators?

Investigative - Inside Edition Staff

Steep seats are becoming more and more common at arenas across the United States. They're designed so that spectators in the upper decks are closer to the action with unblocked sightlines, but some spectators say those steep views can be dangerous.

Paul McCartney performed for a sellout crowd at the grand opening of the new Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif., a year ago, but the inaugural event was marred when concertgoer Todrick Harter left the arena in a wheelchair after he says a fan fell on top of him due to the steepness of the seats. The very next night, it happened again.

“It just felt very unsafe walking up there,” Megan Surritt told local TV station CBS13.

Surritt and her mom were sitting in the upper deck at the venue when they say a woman seated behind toppled onto them.

“All of a sudden a large woman was over my head, my back, my lap and on my feet,” her mom told the station. 

Most seats in indoor arenas across America have a 30-degree pitch, but the upper deck at the Golden 1 Center has a significantly steeper 34-degree pitch.

The Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., opened in 2012 and is the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders of the NHL. It’s also a favorite concert venue and even hosted the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

But it’s also home to the steepest upper deck in the country at 36 degrees. 

In fact, several spectators have reportedly sustained injuries due to falling or other people losing their balance and landing on top of them.

Forensic architect Christopher Ling says that while a spectator will enjoy better sightlines in steep seats, it becomes less safe because the seatback in front of you will be lower; meaning there’s nothing to hold on to if you lose your balance.

"Once it goes below the knee and closer to the ankle, then it becomes a tripping hazard," he said. "So if you have any kind of issue with balance for whatever reason, it will be more likely to trip you and have the propensity to fall into the people in front of you.”

"Barclays Center has been widely recognized as one of the best designed venues in the world. Nearly 10 million people have attended events at Barclays Center since we opened in 2012.  We’ve been praised for our customer service and the fan experience," Barclays Center said in a statement to Inside Edition. "There are 29 active NBA arenas in the country. More than one-third of them have upper bowls that are 35 degrees or steeper.  These arenas are the most modern, up-to-date and built to the highest safety standards.  They also provide the best fan experience by creating a greater sense of intimacy and the best sightlines."
 
Golden 1 Center told Inside Edition in a statement: “The safety of our guests is our first priority. Golden 1 Center is designed to code and has passed every inspection and certification required. We’ve created some of the best sightlines for guests, all within the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines.”