The great expansion of the football phenomenon internationally has ensured that the whole world has been populated with numerous sports facilities, which can be used to hold competitions in the various football championships worldwide. Among the most beautiful stadia we have, for example, the “Maracanã” in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, restructured for the 2014 World Cup and with capacity of 90,000 spectators; or the “National Stadium of Beijing”, in China, opened for the 2008 Olympics, which due to its particular shape has been nicknamed the Bird’s Nest; or the stadium of Al Ain Football Club, in Abu Dhabi, an architectural jewel inaugurated in 2014, whose architectural design harks back to the geometry of the date palms which are typical of the area.
Coming to Europe, the homeland of modern football, we can, on the other hand, see some discrepancies in the way of defining the concept of “stadium” in the five most influential championships.
Germany may be considered the country which can boast Europe’s most advanced football stadia. Despite being at least 50 years old on average, the most recent restructuring work started with the new millennium. So they are modern or modernised stadia, of which the majority (14 out of 18) are owned by the clubs which use them.
The Germans are, therefore, those who over recent years have best adapted their stadia to the needs of teams, clubs, fans and other operators. On the one hand, we therefore find safe and large stadia and, on the other, structures of great architectural value. A very important feature of German stadia is also the fact that they are usually in places that fans can get to easily and have ample parking. In addition, the fact that tickets are the cheapest in Europe and the stadia tidy and clean means that every match is sold out.
Among German stadia the most striking in terms of its look and functionality is certainly the Allianz Arena, the stadium owned by Bayern Munich, opened in 2005 and renovated in 2012, which can hold 71,000 spectators. Another very famous stadium is the Signal Iduna Park (formerly Westfalenstadiumn), owned by Borussia Dortmund and renovated in 2005, which can boast a particular structure with sharply sloping stands, which, when the stadium is full, gives the team the sensation of being surrounded by a real wall of fans.
Also England is, together with Germany, at the top of the table in terms of the usability of its stadia. Here, owing to the wave of violence in the ’80s and ’90s, it was felt necessary to modernise all the stadia to make them more modern and functional, also, and above all, from a security viewpoint.
In reality English stadia were not built recently. Since England is the birthplace of professional football, it is here that we find the oldest stadia. Despite this there are in fact 7 stadia which have been built in the new millennium: London Stadium (2011), Emirates Stadium (2006), KC Stadium (2002), Etihad Stadium (2002), King Power Stadium (2002), St. Mary’s Stadium (2001) and Liberty Stadium (2003). Among these the most advanced are certainly the London Stadium, the home of West Ham, and the Emirates Stadium, owned by Arsenal, both in London.
Despite the average age of the remaining stadia being 100 years old, all the English stadia can boast recent renovations, and the oldest restructuring is that made to Stamford Bridge in 1990. However, the latest news is that as from 2017 and up to 2020 new restructuring projects will be launched for most of the English stadia, and among these one of the most ambitious projects will in fact be the restructuring of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, which has been entrusted to the same Swiss architects who created the Bird’s Nest in Beijing and the Allianz Arena in Munich.
To this may be added the fact that in England only 2 stadia are publicly owned, the KC Stadium where Hull City play and the Etihad Stadium where Manchester City are based. All the others are owned by the clubs which use them.
Spanish stadia, on the other hand, are not so modern as those in England and Germany. Their average age is 50 and in terms of capacity they have an average of around 40,000 spectators. Among the Spanish stadia the oldest are without doubt those of Valencia and Villareal, which date back to 1923, but were respectively renovated in 1973 and 2005.
Unlike in Germany and England, however, in Spain 9 stadia are still publicly owned: Alavés, Eibar, Leganés, Sporting Gijòn, Malaga, Real Sociedad, Granada, Atletico Madrid and Celta Vigo in fact still do not have a stadium owned by the club. Among the most striking Spanish stadia we can mention Camp Nou, owned by Barcelona, and Santiago Bernabeu, owned by Real Madrid.
Here there are smaller crowds than in Germany, but always a significant number. The teams which attract most fans to the stadium are Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.
In France the situation is very similar to that in Italy. Here just 2 stadia out of 20 are owned by the clubs which play there. However, thanks to the fact that France hosted Euro 2016, the French championship can now count on 4 new stadia (Stade des Lumières, Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Matmut Atlantique and Allianz Riviera) and on 6 more stadia which were completely restructured for the competition (Parc des Princes, Stade de France, Stade Velodrome, Stade Municipal, Stade Felix-Bollaert and Stade Geoffroy-Guichard).
In addition, France continues to see large crowds at its stadia, with an average use of over 70% of capacity at every game. The percentage of used capacity in French stadia therefore seems higher than the Italian average (50%), but only because French stadia have lower capacity than Italian counterparts and therefore it is much easier to fill them.
Italian stadia are at the bottom of the table in terms of renovation and renewal. They are mainly old stadia with an average age of 60, the majority of which have, however, been recently restructured. The two stadia which were the first to be restructured are the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and the Stadio San Paolo in Naples, which were restructured for the last time in 1990 ahead of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
The situation of Italian stadia, of which only that owned by Juventus was built in the new millennium, is not very encouraging, above all if we add the fact that there are very few stadia owned by clubs. Among these are the Mapei Stadium, owned by Sassuolo, Juventus Stadium, owned by the club of the same name, and Nuovo Friuli “Dacia Arena”, owned by Udinese, the restructuring of which ended this year.
As for their capacity, three Italian stadia exceed 60,000 spectators (Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan, Stadio Olimpico in Rome, and Stadio San Paolo in Naples), but despite this the Serie A, one of the 5 most successful championships in Europe, continues to hold the record for the lowest use of stadia with just over 50% of capacity used.
FILLING EUROPEAN STADIA
As regards the number of fans who in Europe go to the stadium to see a football match, we have examined for each championship the 8 clubs which recorded the highest average attendance during the 2015/2016 season.
As for the Bundes League, from the data about the average attendance during the past season it seems immediately clear that attendance at the stadium by German fans is very high, and above all that for the three most popular clubs, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Schalke 04, on average almost every match is sold out.
This data can be explained by two reasons in particular. Above all as from 2006, the last year in which the World Cup was held in Germany, the opportunity was taken to build new stadia and to improve the existing ones in order to make them more comfortable and improve the visibility they offer. Another important factor must be added here: in Germany, where for the past season it was possible to buy a season ticket in the stands for less than € 80, average season ticket prices were below those of the Premier League (on average € 430), Liga (on average € 120), Ligue 1 (on average € 400) and Serie A (on average € 300). All this makes it more attractive for fans to buy match tickets and they can enjoy an excellent view, the height of comfort, and excellent prices.
As for the Premier League, it is necessary to consider that separately. Here too average attendance seems very high.
However, this is not due solely to the comfort of the stadia and the ticket prices, which in reality are anything but cheap (they are perhaps the most expensive in Europe), but to a factor which differentiates this championship from the other four: in England the Premier League is not broadest in full by pay-TV channels, but only in part. Sky in England has the right to broadcast just 4 games from the Premier League each week, in other words 140 games out of 380 each season. To these we may add another 28 which are broadcast nationally by BT Sport.
So in total 168 matches are broadcast on TV in England and of course the fans do not have the chance to know in advance which matches will be shown and which not, and so consequently, in order to avoid the risk of not seeing their team’s match, they prefer to buy a ticket for a particular match or indeed a season ticket.
This system has ensured that most English stadia sell out almost every match, with a consequent improvement in the level of spectacle which has over time helped make the Premier League the best-known and most popular championship worldwide.
Things start to change with the Spanish Liga, where the average number of spectators is quite high, but where matches are rarely sold out, even for the most closely followed teams in the championship.
In defence of Barcelona and Real Madrid it, however, must be said that the size of their stadia is much greater than many others in Europe. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to sell out a match. If, on the other hand, we look only at the average number of spectators per match we note that, for these two teams, the figures are the same or even higher than those in the Bundes League and Premier League, but between the second and third teams in the table there is a huge gap of almost 25,000 fans.
However, the Spanish Liga is already taking steps to find a solution to the emptying of stadia over the last two seasons. One proposal from Spain is that of introducing monetary sanctions for all the clubs who fail to fill their stadia to at least 75% of total capacity and that below 50% these sanctions would even be doubled.
The French Ligue 1 and the Italian Serie A are the two championships (out of the 5 most popular in Europe) to have the lowest percentages for attendance at stadia. As for Ligue 1 the statistics for the last season are as follows:
From the previous table it seems clear that the most popular French team, Paris Saint Germain, has had an average level of spectators that is just over half of the most popular team in the German championship, Borussia Dortmund, which had an average of 81,200 spectators. However, if we consider the fact that French stadia do not have a very high capacity, unlike in Germany or England, we can see that the percentage of capacity use (70%) is not as bad as it seems.
As for the Italian Serie A the situation is as follows:
In reality in Italy 4 out of 10 people define themselves as football fans. This means that, out of a total population of 59 million, around 24 million are supporters of a team. However, of these only 47% describe themselves as passionate and active fans, in other words around 11,248,000 people. If we make a rough calculation of the season tickets sold for the various teams in Serie A for the 2016/2017 season, we note that the number of season ticket holders is only around 240,320 (so around 11 million people are missing “in action”), compared to a total of 502,000 season ticket holders (as of 5 July 2016) in the Premier League, to give an example, i.e. more than double the number of Italian season ticket holders.
These numbers are due to a wide range of reasons. First of all Italian stadia are, in most cases, uncomfortable and do not offer a great view in every part of the stadium. To this we may add the fact that, even where the view is not the best, the prices for season tickets and match tickets are very high, including for the popular parts of the ground. Most of the stadia are hard to reach and this puts a lot of people off from going there.
Another factor to bear in mind is that of TV rights for the broadcasting of matches. As in Germany, the pay-TV channel, Sky Italia, broadcasts all Serie A matches live and in high definition through the networks of Sky Sport and Sky Calcio, thus offering a more attractive service than going to the stadium for fans of Italian teams.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TV RIGHTS AND FILLING THE STADIUM
The presence of pay-TV channels which show the matches live, has led to various changes in football over the last twenty years, changes which have had a differing impact depending on the various European championships. Taking into consideration Germany, England and Italy and comparing the number of games shown just on Sky (not considering other pay-TV channels present nationally), we can draw some significant conclusions.
Sky in England, although being able to broadcast fewer than half the Premier League matches, has signed a contract for 6.9 billion euro for the championship, to which may be added 3.5 billion for the international rights for the period from 2016 to 2019, for a total of around 10 billion euro to be split among the clubs playing in the Premier League. Thus, not only thanks to a lower number of games broadcast by pay-TV, the stadia are almost always full, and English clubs can also benefit from a mouth-watering payment from Sky.
In Germany, however, it is Sky Deutschland which holds the exclusive monopoly for all the games of the Bundes League, and will continue to hold it for the period 2017/2021, with the only difference being that instead of showing 100% of the games on an exclusive basis it will broadcast only 93% of them, thus starting down the road already trodden by the Premier League and so favouring even more attendance at stadia. In addition and despite this, for the next four years a contract has been settled of around 1.4 billion euro, 70% more than agreed for the current contract which is expiring, with higher revenues for the Bundes League clubs.
In Italy, on the other hand, the situation is increasingly complex. Here in fact, in the presence of Sky Italia which has the right to show all the Serie A and Europa League games (and more besides), there is also a further pay-TV platform, Mediaset Premium, which broadcasts the games of the top 8 Serie A teams (thus bringing 8 live games into Italian homes on two channels at the same time) and the Champions League games on an exclusive basis. The presence of two pay-TV channels for the same content has heightened the competition in Italy to obtain more rights on one side and the other, and so has led to an increase in the games shown live in order to win over an increasing number of virtual fans at the expense of the number of fans in stadia.
The different way of managing pay TV depending on the country has thus led to different effects in the various European championships. If we consider the fact that Sky entered Italy at the same time as England, when Italian football was still at the peak of world football together with English football, and that, while the Premier League has remained at the top, the Serie A is clearly experiencing a fall, with a worsening in the quality of facilities and the loss of much of the paying public at stadia, we can understand that there may be more than a connection between the growing pressure of pay-TV channels and the attendance in stadia.
THE STADIUM OF THE FUTURE
In light of what we have said so far, it is clear that there is need for a parachute to avoid the total disappearance of fans from stadia. The increasingly strong presence of pay-TV channels, which in itself entails giving greater emphasis to the spectacular side of the event rather than the event itself, could lead to the disappearance of the paying public.
Failure to safeguard support in the stadium could in the future create extreme consequences. For example, it might lead to dressing up the sporting event with other elements, such as the presence of well-known personalities to attract a larger public, or to surround stadia (as already happens in some modern stadia) with shops and other non-sporting attractions to attract more people to take part in specific sports events. Alternatively there might be a total absence of fans in the stands and their replacement with more entertainment-driven elements, such as pretend fans to follow the choreographies of a stadium director or puppets to make the atmosphere more spectacular from the television viewpoint, but at the same time more false and unsuitable for something as emotional as football.
And when we reach that point, what would be the role of football? It would be nothing more than an aggregating force, created above all by the passion and emotions of fans, but also an instrument in the hands of television, devoid of its soul and only embellished from the aesthetic viewpoint, no more, no less.