With experience of designing five MLS stadiums and numerous soccer venues worldwide, Matt Rossetti speaks on the topic of FIFA World Cup stadiums and their legacy, and analyses if they are worth the investment.
When a country wins the bid to host a FIFA World Cup, it provides a glimpse into the host country’s culture and landscape. This is particularly attractive to developing nations that use the international event to jumpstart economic and infrastructure development, and prove themselves on a world stage.
With the world turning its attention to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the matches were staged in 12 different venues spanning the country. Eight of these were newly constructed stadiums, and four are remodels of existing stadiums, ranging from 35,000 to 65,000 seats. Brazil is estimated to have spent more than $3.5 billion on construction, development and renovations to these stadiums. It’s unclear how these stadiums will be used after the World Cup.
As a comparison, the Russian government spent $6.7 billion on 14 facilities for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, 12 of which were built at a frantic pace after 2012. Another $16.7 billion was spent on upgrading rails, roads and infrastructure. *
These statistics highlight the growing concern about the enormous spending for facility construction leading up to international events. Only time will tell if these venues are worth the investment. But in as little as six years after the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing’s National Stadium (also referred to as “the Birds Nest”) is considered a white elephant complex. Hailed for its iconic design, the facility only hosted 12 events last year and has lost $44 million since 2010.
Some host countries have tried to mitigate the expense, and potential long-term waste from overbuilt facilities that are under used post event. A number of strategies are used by architects and organizers to create lasting use or “legacy” for these venues.
The most visible and widely reported response is through “overlay”. This simply means expanding seating capacities and amenities of existing or new venues to accommodate a maximum crowd for a limited time period, then reducing the seating capacity post-event. Overlay tactics include:
- Temporary pop up fields of play that have the ability to incorporate the city or country as a background, such as the volleyball court designed for the 2012 London Olympics at Horse Guards Parade.
- Modular or prefabricated components, such as additional suites, concessions, toilet rooms and other amenities that are removed after tournament.
- Additional seats and concourses that allow the stadium to expand upward and then contract.
Permanent, flexible space, such the grass berms at the north end of Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA. At Incheon Football Stadium in Korea, the large plaza at the south end of the bowl can be used for seating, concessions or an Expo when the stadium hosts soccer matches for the Asian Games in September.
The most decisive success factor for a venue is to secure a long-term tenant. Host countries of international events have put little forethought into acquiring long term tenants for large stadiums, leading to inconsistent or non-existent revenue streams post-tournaments.
Major League Soccer (MLS) requires every team to have a long-term stadium contract. This strategy results in stability for the teams, cities and players by automatically guaranteeing revenue from 17 home matches each year. In addition to matches, these venues host pro and minor league practices, exhibition games, soccer academies and special events, which form the base structure for the stadium’s revenue stream.
Even with a long term tenant, most arenas and many stadiums must rely on constant use throughout the year to remain viable. In the U.S., arenas such as the Staples Center, Madison Square Garden and the Palace of Auburn Hills each host more than 150 events a year including concerts, family entertainment and conventions. Several MLS stadiums, such as Rio Tinto and Toyota Park, were designed with accessible staging and storage to allow for fast conversion times from soccer to special events.
Another source of revenue generation is through premium seating, concessions and retail sales. The U.S. model, based on sports fans with shorter attention spans, can be modified for international stadiums where fans traditionally don’t like to leave their seats during soccer matches. For example, at the recently opened Tele2 Arena in Stockholm, ROSSETTI designed club concepts and suites targeted to specific support groups. This not only enhances the fan experience at 30 matches, it increases revenue opportunities.
These stadiums are also scaled to their community’s year-round use, with the largest being Stub Hub Center at 28,000 seats. The U.S. also has the luxury of using its large NFL and collegiate stadiums for international games.
Future host countries can create positive sports legacies by looking past the World Cup or Olympic Games and into a future of sustainable venues that benefit sports and recreation in their countries for decades. This requires many years of planning with all stakeholders to put into place factors for success before venue design and construction begins.
Matt Rossetti wrote this piece in response to the hype surrounding the FIFA World Cup, with Fields of Green, an online publication partnership between USA Today and USC Sports Business Institute, having dedicated an entire column to World Cup features.