London’s Stadium Revolution is in Full Motion
It was 1997 when it began.
Arsenal, exploring options to increase their stadium, had expansion options for their Highbury rejected by Islington council. Unperturbed, by 2004 they had bought an industrial site and began construction on a modern, 60,432 seat stadium. Two years and £390m later, Ashburton Grove, rebranded as The Emirates in a 15 year, £100m deal, was built.
The project has been a success. Despite the ‘austerity’ that indebted Arsenal in the years after its opening, the increased seating capacity and corporate facilities propelled the club’s stature sky high. And disregarding the subsequently handsome profits that the club has enjoyed at controversially high prices, The Emirates as an entity has re-branded the club as a footballing powerhouse at the forefront of the European game.
But the changing economic-climate in English football between the opening of the Emirates and today has been enriched significantly by the Premier League’s ever increasing TV deal. The graphic below (taken from the excellent Swiss Ramble blog) illustrates clearly just how much more money is now flowing into the English game.
If you watch the above video on Arsenal’s construction of the Emirates, you realise the monumental challenge that the club undertook in re-gearing their finances to fund the move.
Arsenal’s competitors will face fewer barriers in their plight for stadium changes, which are now becoming the most obvious investments for football clubs looking to grow. Just looking at the city of London could hardly illustrate the point more pertinently.
Tottenham are in the process of constructing their new arena, a 61,000 seater (deliberately about 500 more than their north-London rivals) which will double up as an NFL stadium. That’s a strategically smart move to entice an overseas American franchise to invest, something that seems all the more likely in light of increasingly popular showcase NFL games played at Wembley stadium.
Tottenham are also investing in a skywalk so that fans can walk on the roof and even bunjee jump, a timely reminder that football clubs’ wealth is so wide-reaching that their stadia are multi-purpose urban landmarks, as opposed to solitary football pitches with a perimeter of seats. 579 new homes, an 180-room hotel and local community health centre will be part of this project.
It might have been very different, though. Tottenham flirted with the idea of moving into the Olympic stadium after the 2012 showpiece in London, but the Olympic Legacy Company ultimately sided with West Ham, who moved in this year, ending their 112 year residence at the Boleyn Ground.
Long term, that might be to West Ham’s disadvantage, with the design of their new premises primarily built for athletics as opposed to football. Their home record has noticeably declined since they moved, with fans claiming they are too far from the action. Tottenham should be wise to that; their Champions League campaign was derailed by their awful home form, where they played at Wembley stadium in a similarly ‘un-claustrophobic’ environment.
While West Ham have undoubtedly benefitted from moving to a shiny new stadium for a preposterously low amount of money (£2.5m per season in rent, the equivalent of £48,000 a week after tax), one can’t really help but think that they’d have been better off developing their own purpose built football stadium.
Away from Premier League development, West Ham’s docklands rivals, Millwall, have been on the back foot against a compulsory purchase order from Lewisham council, as they struggle to hold onto their incredibly-valuable stronghold The Den. AFC Wimbledon, born from the ashes of the creation of the MK Dons, are looking to move to Plough Lane, the location of their old ground, having just sold their Kingsmeadow stadium to Chelsea. Fulham are looking to redevelop the Riverside stand at their Craven Cottage, while Brentford are hoping to build a replacement for their Griffin Park. Queens Park Rangers, who live at the squashed Loftus Road, are considering a move in the realisation that re-developing their existing site will be too complex.
These designs all lead to a general trend of club’s looking to re-brand as corporate, classy and professional entities constructed in shiny glass and steel, a complete difference from the old run down footballing institutions of the twentieth century. That reflects a general trend in all property development; all modern skyscrapers in London (or New York), be it The Shard, The Gherkin, or The Walkie Talkie have been designed also in glass and steel. Seemingly, the obvious trend is that if a club wants to appear professional, then it needs to replicate the urban design of industry leading buildings in big cities.
Except for the one anomaly.
That’s Chelsea, who plan to build a cathedral of sorts, crafting their new stadium out of bricks and mortar with arches and vaults and a delicate roof structure. Their budget is £500m, a full £100m more than Tottenham, but will still boast a 60,000 seat capacity, marginally less than both.
This is a shrewd and tactfully intelligent move, and looks to be the first example of a club looking to buck the trend of conventional stadium designs.
With so much development, the face and frontage of English football is changing rapidly. And while this piece has only focused on London development, it could have been applied more generally to football as a whole.
Real Madrid have been flirting with expanding the Bernabeu for years, Barca are looking to re-develop the Nou Camp to increase corporate facilities, Liverpool have just added a tier at Anfield, Atletico Madrid are about to move to the Wanda Metropolitano, and Racing are close to Arena 92 in France.
Football has never been wealthier, and stadium development is commonly becoming boards’ of directors primary area of investment.