After the World Cup, what can we do with arenas that are too big to be sustained by the local audience? When the bill is high, even implosion could become a way out.
The destiny of London Olympic Stadium, main stage for the 2012 Olympic Games, has been drawn in 2007. After the Games ending ceremony, it will be partially demolished. This may seem like an absurd, after such a short usage of US$ 767 million venue, but the idea behind it is to re-utilize the space for a smaller, private, soccer arena. The path shows that demolishing or reshaping arenas are alternatives that Brazil should be willing to discuss without any fear, mostly because almost all 2014 World Cup Arenas are much bigger than necessary.
In survey, organized by SINAENCO (Architectural and Engineering National Union) suggests that 5 out of the 12 new arenas, are bound to become White Elephants. In the host city of Recife, all local professional soccer teams have their own arenas, and hardly will be willing to pay extra to realize their games on the new World Cup Arena. In Brasilia, Cuiaba, Manaus and Natal, the situation is even worse because their local professional teams are not popular enough to fulfill all the seats.
The future Arena Manaus, will be probably the largest white elephant of them all. The Amazon State Championship, in 2011, managed to gather after all 80 games, no more than 37.971 followers or fans. All of them could easily be fitted on the new 47.000 seated capacity venue. The game income of all 80 games added together was US$ 216.000, and it alone would not pay a single month of usage of the new Arena Manaus. In 2011, only 2 teams from the Amazon will dispute the Brazil’s 4th division of the Brazilian National Championship. In the state of Mato Grosso, the average attendance for the 2011 State Championship, after 72 games, was no more than 68.976 followers or fans. It is too little to sustain the 43.600 seated capacity of the new Arena Pantanal venue.
One after hosting the 2010 World Cup, South African’s are still discusses what to do with their nine white elephants arenas. The most expensive one is the Green Point, in Cape Town, which burns US$ 6.700.000 a year. Its management has been outsourced to an experienced company, which also runs an arena from the World Cup in France (1998). Despite all their expertise, they have decided to return the venue back to the municipal government, due to their incapability of solving the venue usage. In fact, only the Soccer City Stadium has turned a profit since the World Cup. A private company called, Stadium Management South Africa (SMSA) organizes shows, sporting events, religious events and tourist visitation to the venue.
If we go to Europe, you will find that even Portugal is losing money to maintain the infrastructure settled for the European Championship, organized by the country in 2004. From the 10 new arenas that were built for the championship, 6 were erected with public funds, totaling a cost of US$ 1.5 billion. None of these arenas were transferred to the private sector, for lack of interested suiters. The Avero city stadium, which hosted 2 games, cost was US$ 90 million and can handle 30.000 fans, in a city that barely have 70.000 citizens. The city main professional team, Beira-Mar, did not manage to fulfill more than 10% of the total arena capacity. The annual cost to maintain such an arena is US$ 5, 7 million, and comes from the municipal government.
In front of empty seats and huge financial deficits, demolishing these “monuments” does not sound like a bad or drastic idea. “It is easier to put it down than take the annual loss”, said Augusto Mateus, Portugal’s former minister of Economy. The demolition option is polemic, because the cost might also be high. The Dallas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium demolition process cost was US$ 150 million, which represented 1/6 of their new arena total cost. In Canada, the 1976 Olympic Stadium demolition cost was estimated 2 times for more than US$ 500 million. The utilization of the venue, has cost already more than US$ 1,5 billion to the Canadian taxpayers.
Having enough attendance to fulfill the seats helps, but by no means it secures a financial viable sports venue. It is also very important to think of the arena’s usage on non-match days. Arsenal, from the English Premier League, has doubled its incomes since it has inaugurated the Emirates Arena in 2006. Only in the 2009/2010 season they have profited more than US$ 190 million. Half of these profits came from ticket sales. The other half came from space concessions for bars, event kiosks, besides a series of services for fans such as museums, shops, guided tours.
“The game itself is a detail” says Ken Friar, executive director of the club. “One essential detail surrounded by bunch of others, that helps us reach a sound profit.” The Allianz Arena in Munich, built for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, has profited US$ 130 million, in the 2010 season, with games from Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich, the 2 local teams that share the venue. Another US$ 130 million came from bars, shops, and restaurants that occupy 4.000 m² of the total complex, which also contains auditoriums, convention center, among other things.
“The only way to avoid building a white elephant is to think in a space not only for soccer, but also for activities.” says Paul Fletcher, Wembley’s former commercial director, and a specialist in venue management. “A profitable arena depends on a detail project already with spaces destined for other events, stores, restaurants.” The planning can also predict simple solutions that will generate additional revenue for the venue owner on non-match days. “Before building, you need to analyze the business opportunities, which varies from city to city” says Henk Markerink, CEO of the company that runs the Amsterdam Arena. The arena inaugurated in 1996, receives 50 to 60 large events per year, besides professional soccer games from Ajax and the Dutch National Team. With an Arena Reutilization Plan, a World Cup can become a viable opportunity, even for countries with little intimacy with the game of professional soccer. At least that is the bet FIFA is making by appointing Qatar as the host for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar has no more than 1,6 million inhabitants, and a professional soccer league that has an average attendance of less than 12.000 fans, so building 60.000 seat arenas would be a waste of money. The Qatari plan envision venues that will help build city infrastructure outside the country’s capital city, and all the arenas will dismountable, being automatically reduced after the event is finished.