The trouble with new stadiums 1
Posted by John Beech on June 27, 2010
You may have noticed – I am not a fan of the new stadium. At the Supporters Direct Conference I spoke briefly about ‘the myth of the new stadium’, and over a couple of postings I’ll elaborate on why I don’t, in general, rate them.
Broadly, there are three lines of argument that are trotted out by the boards of clubs when the subject is raised:
- We’re a club with ambition and we need more seats to reflect that ambition.
- We’ve got the wrong sort of stadium. We need one better suited to maximising our revenue streams.
- There’s this amazing property deal we can do. We’ll sell the old stadium for redevelopment and there’ll be loads of money to build the new one.
In this first posting, I’ll look at the first of these not entirely mutually exclusive issues. It’s an important one not only with respect to the case for a new stadium, but also for the all important issue of the proposed size of the new stadium. I have yet to come across a case where the proposed new stadium is actually the same size as the existing one, let alone smaller.
The recently published Deloitte report National Interest: Annual review of Football Finance [which is based on accounts, and hence on financial years, but is in effect covering the 2008/09 season] reveals some very interesting data on both stadium capacity and attendances, from which load factor (the percentage of seats occupied) can be calculated). The reduction in capacity caused by compulsory seating and the seeming popularity increase in football may lead one to assume that stadiums are bursting at the seams every other Saturday. This is certainly not the case.
Here is the summary of the data for the ‘average’ club in each of the top 4 tiers:
- Premier League: Capacity 38,593; load factor 92%
- Championship: Capacity 25,437; load factor 70%
- League 1: Capacity 14,424; load factor 52%
- League 2: Capacity 11,622; load factor 36%
If you assume 95% load factor is getting on for a full house and a point at which you might seriously consider the need for a bigger stadium, then it’s only really in the Premier League that this is the case. Of course this is data for the average club, and we need to look at individual clubs. The only clubs which achieved 95% load factor were:
- Premier League: all clubs except Aston Villa (93%), Blackburn Rovers (75%), Bolton Wanderers (81%), Everton (89%), Manchester City (90%), Middlesbrough (81%), Newcastle United (91%), Sunderland (82%) and Wigan Athletic (73%). Some of these lower load factors reflect the fact that the club has already built a newer, larger stadium.
- Championship: none – the closest was Norwich City with 94%, followed by Cardiff City [then at the old ground] on 89% and Derby County on 88%.
- League 1: none – highest was Northampton Town on 71%.
- League 2: none – highest was Luton Town on 59%, followed by Shrewsbury Town on 57% and Exeter City on 56%.
On this basis then, the only clubs with a sound argument for building a new, larger stadium are a handful of Premier League clubs and Norwich City (although in their case the blip in League 1 might have given them cause for thought, but not for long; sensibly they are planning an increase to the capacity of Carrow Road rather than a new stadium ). Least in need of a larger stadium was, unsurprisingly, Darlington on 12%, followed by Rotherham on 14% (but they were already in exile in the 25,000 seater Don Valley stadium) and Notts County on 22%.
The ambition or need argument simply does not wash for the vast majority of clubs. ‘Ah’, you cry, ‘but what about the other two arguments? Surely you’ve only confirmed the need to develop other revenue streams, which justifies a new stadium!’
Erm, actually no. Watch this space for upcoming postings!