How will the growth of professional football affect stadium design in China?

As the China Super League (CSL) becomes increasingly popular and big sums of money start to flow into football in China, the growth in the professionalization of the sport is becoming a reality. Populous Senior Principal and Director of Asian Projects, Andrew James recently spoke at the World Soccer Congress in Shanghai about lessons Asia can learn from the successful European Leagues. These are some of his key insights.

Populous: Do you think stadiums in China will follow the traditional European and American model where stadiums are purpose built for one team or do you think they will follow the Australian model where stadiums are multiuse?

AJ: As the popularity of live sport in China grows, stadiums will increasingly be built for a team. Until now, most have been built for athletics, such as a sports park, but as more money makes its way through the teams, it makes them more valuable and powerful and puts them in a position to be able to afford to build their own stadiums.

 Populous: In the West, more and more stadium owners are recognising and catering towards the wide variety of fans that use their venues. What stage are venues in Asia at in terms of recognising these fan segments?

AJ: In Asia there is still not generally a recognition of the different market segments of fans. I think the CSL will be the first to move into this level of professionalization. The CSL teams will grow very quickly but I think this is still five or six years away. In Asia, there is still a desire to have stadiums that can be as big as possible.  What hasn’t been realised yet is that one of the secrets to making money out of a stadium is by making it smaller rather than bigger to create a demand. Then what happens is that the wealthy people buy season tickets so they can have access to all the games, paying for the whole year in advance. This initial influx of cash gives teams and stadium owners the security to go to their bankers or financiers to borrow more money. It’s the same principal as buying apartments off the plan; but instead the wealthy fans buy corporate boxes off the plan.


Emirates Stadium

Arsenal Football Club, one of the EPL’s top revenue earners, did a great job in identifying their different fan segments during the design of Emirates Stadium 10 years ago. They knew they had a large supporter base that attended every match and looked for ways to commercialise this. They devised a system of club areas with six or eight different types of club seating and specialised food and beverage offerings. We often say 20% of fans contribute to 80% of the game day revenue and Emirates Stadium was designed to maximise this.  It moved the goal posts and took advantage of market segments in a way that had not been done before.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Another EPL club, Tottenham Hotspur, are picking up from where Arsenal FC left off. Our London office is currently designing the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which will house a broader range of suites and corporate boxes than what is commonly offered. The design includes a number of larger boxes and a double-height banquet hall which can be used not only on game day but also on non-event days. The aim is to use these spaces seven days a week for first-class conference experiences

Populous: So is it mainly about designing multiple spaces for corporate fans?

No, not at all. Stadiums are recognising that fans range from being able to spend $50 per game to $5,000 per game. While the $50 per game fans bring in less revenue, they are essential for the creation of atmosphere at the game. All fan segments need to be catered for in order to create a memorable game day experience. The value of the $50 fans is incalculable due to the value of the atmosphere to a live event.

Tottenham Hotspurs’ new stadium will include a large single-tier, ‘home end’ stand of 17,000 seats creating an intense atmosphere during matches. Combined with the 5-storey atrium space in the south stand, this will provide an unequalled level of facilities for all supporters, a place to gather and focus home support before and after matches.

Populous: How does this way of thinking influence the design of a stadium?

AJ: In order to be able to properly incorporate these opportunities into the stadium they need to be carefully considered at the very beginning before the design starts. It is hard to satisfactorily retrofit a stadium to be able to cater to different market segments. You need to understand the different segments of your fan base and how you will cater to them in order to design a stadium for the future.

Populous: Do teams in the CSL see their EPL counterparts as examples of a successful financial model?

AJ: A few teams in the CSL have started researching financial models of stadiums and clubs, but they are not just looking to the EPL. They are also looking at clubs within Spain’s La Liga and the Bundesliga in Germany.

Populous: Can you see a time when Asia will lead the way in stadium design?

AJ: In some ways yes. In Asia, architecture can be much more adventurous in terms of form. There are fewer rules to comply with so it is a freer place to design. Our clients in Asia often ask you to show them something different, whereas our clients in the Western markets are very much driven by architecture which demonstrates cost benefit. Asian clients tend to be more expressive as well and often the decision making power is held by just one person. You might be dealing with a big industrialist with a lot of money, and he or she just wants a stadium that reflects them; individualism is much more prevalent. In the Western countries with a more mature sports market, there are a lot of professionals in the industry and they tend to create greater structure and conformity.

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