Stadia under the spotlight

Sport Business News

Stadia architecture over the years has developed from the purely functional where the main objective was to get the desired number of spectators as close to the action as possible with a structure that was sufficiently aesthetic in order for local residents, the nation and even the world to become proud of it. Now stadia are becoming not just accepted, but icons in their own right.

Creating something for spectators at the venue and in front of their TV is only part of the story, as a typical stadium is only used for a few hours per week. For the rest of the time it is either just there taking up a lot of space or is a symbol and/or tourist attraction. Making venues wash their faces financially and avoid becoming white elephants is now being taken more seriously than ever. Traditionally spectators could not clearly see the minute detail of action that is possible today at stadia. Roman gladiators came out in arenas such as The Coliseum in Rome and hacked each other to pieces, but the entertainment often was on the other side of the arena and so to ensure that everyone was entertained, it was necessary to have several fights at the same time in different corners. If a spectator was really keen, or if a certain fight was not horrible enough, they could wander to the other side to sample something else. This concept has recently been used in modern stadia such as The Aspire in Doha where football, swimming, table tennis, gymnastics, athletics and judo can be found under one roof. Here, spectators are able to walk between the different sports. For several thousand years the concept of a stadium remained basically the same–it was about entertaining opponents/teams and the spectators at the stadium, always during the daytime. There were two major catalysts that changed this. The first came after World War II when lighting technology had just become such that it could be used to enable sports to take place in the evening, i. e. such as at the Charleroi Stadium in Belgium in 1949. Following this, it was television that enabled the spectator to get close to the action and even to know more about the game than the people at the stadium. The mobile phone is now adding another dimension with spectators at the stadium enjoying the live experience combined with the detail available from broadcasting watched on their phones during the entertainment and providing the ability for spectators to interact via SMS with big–screens. A successful sports venueThere are five key stages in the lifecycle of an event or venue. 1. Project inception – initial market appraisal, concept development and outlines planning issues, funding sources and an economic evaluation. 2. Project feasibility – more detail on the site evaluation, business plan, design and costings and event bid preparation. 3. 'Proposed design and construction' – project management, planning application support, due diligence, engineering design and construction. 4. After the venue has been constructed there is an event management phase that looks at the operational plan, including crowd and traffic management, security and emergency planning. 5. Facility management and after–event use that might include alterations to the venue and staff development. Venues for sports events range from a fixed built location such as a large stadium or arena for an Olympics or world championship event, to temporary seating structures near rivers or greens for rowing or golf events. (The latter will be covered during January 2011 on the MEI site). There are several different parties involved in bringing a new venue to fruition. These include financiers, designers/architects, project consultants and construction companies and well as facilities and service suppliers. Some companies fulfil one of these roles, whereas others combine elements or work together to form consortia when bidding for major sports event work. Avoiding 'white elephants' is a must, such as happened with the 2002 FIFA World Cup, while balancing the iconic needs of a large sports event. "Build realistically, not egotistically" is becoming an industry mantra. "There's a real danger that venues can become white elephants, " confirmed industry consultant Richard Callicott. "There's no point in building an expensive venue for the sake of it, it needs a long–term strategy. If you are going to build an arena you need to know what is going to be used for afterwards. " Callicott used to be head of sport for the city of Birmingham in the UK and part of his job was moving Birmingham forward after its 1992 Olympic bid. "The only value of an iconic venue is that it might attract more spectators or tourists, " added industry consultant Helen Day who has worked on many major sports events and was an advisor to London 2012 for its successful Olympic bid. "But the most important thing is that a venue should be able to deliver the sport and ancillary services. "Temporary structures and seating are becoming increasingly more important when hosting major sports events, and rightly so, said Callicott. "Why build a 40, 000 seat stadium for a one–off event if you only need 30, 000 seats afterwards? You are better off building the 30, 000 venue and adding the rest of the seats temporarily. A half–empty large stadium on television looks a lot worse than a full, smaller one with a buzzing atmosphere. "A great example of effective after–use planning took place in the UK. Before becoming the home of Manchester City Football Club for the start of the 2003–04 football season, the $125m City of Manchester Stadium hosted the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The seating requirements of the end–user–in this case a Premiership football club–were worked out first and only three–quarters of the stadium was built for the Games and a temporary stand put in providing seating for 38, 000 spectators. Once the event was over, the temporary stand was taken out, as was the running track. The stands were then brought in and the fourth side closed off, creating a 48, 000 venue for Manchester City. "There's a good case for recycling temporary facilities from an Olympics and giving them to a poorer country–e. g. in Africa–so that it could host an Olympics in the future, " added Joe O'Neill, managing director of temporary seating provider Arena Seating.

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