I was recently on holiday in Madrid and took the opportunity to tour the Bernebau stadium (Real Madrid) with my son. It was interesting to look at a famous stadium and compare it to our own.
My first impression was how small the stadium seemed (narrower, but also higher than the Emirates/Grove). This was an interesting observation as it is an 85,000 capacity stadium (compared to our own 60,000).
My second impression was how steep the stands were (the steepness of the stands probably explaining how you can get more people into an apparently smaller stadium).
I haven’t attended a match there, but it was instantly obvious to me that this was a much more intimidating arena than the Emirates. The words ‘cauldron’, ‘bear-pit’ and ‘arena’ sprung to mind.
This led me to think about a subject which seems very important to me, but I see remarkably little discussion of: our future plans for stadium expansion. We are clearly able to sell more tickets than we currently do (stadium is always sold out, season ticket waiting lists, ever growing popularity of the Premiership etc).
If we were able to add 20,000 seats, I am confident that we would sell them for an average of £20 per match (they wouldn’t be the best seats). This would produce a revenue of c £500,000 per match for roughly 25 matches per season, so about £10m per annum. If such an expansion could be done for £100m it would seem to be profitable, but not massively so. I can see a number of other possible barriers:
Planning permission. This was a major issue when the stadium was first built. The main problems are disruption to the local population on match days and safety and transport problems.
I feel that the resident objections can be overcome. The safety considerations seem more problematic. Certainly the crush on/just after the bridge on the way out doesn’t feel like you could comfortably add 20,000 to it.
But there must be ways to deal with this. There are a lot of 80,000 plus stadiums around the world. This is hardly a unique problem. Surely better use of Drayton Park and Holloway Road stations are possible. The cost of such solutions could, of course, be a barrier to expansion plans. Wikipedia suggests a £60m cost for upgrading Holloway Road.
Is the stadium designed for it? This matters. For example, did they over-engineer the foundations so that they could bear more weight from future expansion? If not, then expensive and difficult reinforcement might be necessary. Was the roof designed in such a way that it could easily be jacked up to accommodate another tier? What are the problems with filling in the ‘airflow’ gaps at the back of the stadium?
I remember when the plans for the Grove were first announced. It seemed obvious to me that the stadium would be designed with future expansion in mind, but in the following fifteen years, I have seen no evidence that this was the case. Does anyone else have such evidence?
Would it be possible to do the work in the summer? If the team needs to leave the stadium for a period, that adds significant costs.
Can it be done in stages (this would ameliorate many forms of risk)? – North stand, West Stand etc. The stadium is a bowl rather than the traditional four stands design of Highbury. Is this distinction cosmetic or integral to the design? (the roof certainly looks like one structure not four) Can its design stand a staged expansion?
Sunlight/air – the stadium was designed to allow sunlight and air to get to the pitch. Surely this can be overcome with the use of mirrors/UV lamps/air fans.
Would the raising of the necessary funds restrict the club financially again? No-one wants to return to the days of financial parsimony.
So I would guess that the financial case for expanding the stadium is not clear cut. It seems like, subject to better information, it would probably be marginally profitable, but may come with risks and possible financing restrictions (Usmanov level anyone?). However it seems to me that there are a number of non-financial reasons for expanding the stadium that our board should be considering:
Home advantage is an important factor in football, and especially the Champions League. Football people often talk about the ‘fortress’ mentality. Some stadia appear to be very intimidating in the right circumstances: Real, Barca, Dortmund, Old Trafford, Anfield, even Stamford Bridge (any views from people who have attended these stadia?).
This intimidation works on both players, and perhaps more importantly referees. Just imagine how it feels to be a lone referee resisting the howling demands for a free kick of 80,000 screaming Barca fans – all within 100m of you – you have a fraction of a second to make your decision! As a general rule, modern bowl stadia seem to be less intimidating. It seems that ‘size’ and ‘steepness’ are factors which contribute to the intimidation factor. An extra tier at the Emirates would increase the ‘steepness’ as well as its capacity (obviously this would not be true of the ‘fill in the gaps’ option).
People in football talk about ‘big clubs’. In some ways this is a puerile debate, but ‘perceived bigness’ does influence decisions in the world of football. This is most obviously observable in the series of poor decisions that Arsenal players have made to wreck their careers by leaving Arsenal to join Barcelona (list too long to show). A number of factors influence perceived bigness (history, money etc), but the size and intimidation factor of the stadium seems to be one of them.
When in the Bernebau, I couldn’t help thinking what impression it must have made on Mesut Ozil when he first looked at the lower, and more gently sloping, Emirates Stadium. I think it must have felt like a ‘step down’ to him.
Acoustics – this is relevant to intimidation and ‘atmosphere’, two factors in which the Emirates seems deficient to me. Some stadia seem to ‘channel’ sound. The addition of a new tier and possibly roof, would allow the acoustic properties of the stadium to be reconsidered. We might even consider a retractable roof, which seems to add to the atmosphere at the Millenium stadium and Wimbledon’s Centre Court. I particularly dislike the way in which the current roof blocks the view of the opposite stand for fans at the top of the upper tier – I think this really reduces atmosphere.
Getting more fans into the stadium will increase the size and loyalty of the fanbase (another factor in ‘perceived bigness’). Fans feel closer to the team if they can actually attend a match.
Overall, my feeling is that, if we are to fulfil our potential to compete on a level playing field with the likes of Real Madrid, our stadium needs to fit the bill. I think another tier of seating is the best way to do this as it will not only add capacity, but also add to the ‘intimidation factor’ and ‘perceived bigness’. I would like to see more debate about this amongst fans, and for questions to be asked of the Board on the subject (one for those of you who attend the Gazidis sessions?).
Two more anniversaries
- 21 August 2000: Arsenal 2 Liverpool 0. Lauren scored for Arsenal on his debut, Henry got the second on 89 minutes. This was the first in a 12 match unbeaten run, after the opening day defeat against Sunderland. However Vieira was dismissed for the second successive game and got a five match ban. Liverpool were reduced to nine players after McAllister and Hamann were sent off.
- 21 August 2001: Arsenal 1 Leeds 2. League Match 2 of the third double season – after a 4-0 away win on the opening day of the season as Arsenal went unbeaten away all season. Wiltord scored the Arsenal goal.