How Sustainable is a World Cup?
…or European Championship for that matter?
I recently came across an article (Warning: Google Translate content) on a German website called Stadionwelt (Stadium World), that dealt with the rather grim reality in post Euro 2004 Portugal, or better the post Euro 2004 SuperLiga.
The article was about the possibility that a couple of stadiums, that were either expensively renovated or built from the ground up for UEFA’s showpiece tournament, could be teared down again in the near future. The stadiums turned out to be far too big for the local clubs. For example, second division side SC Beira Mar from the small town of Aveiro competes in the 30.000 capacity Estádio Municipal de Aveiro, built for €94m. Third/Fourth division sides Farense and Louletano, from the equally small towns of Faro and Loulé, share the 30.000 capacity Estádio Algarve renovated for €61m. First division side U.D. Leiria plays in the 30.000 capacity Estádio Dr. Magalhães Pessoa built for €20m, and averages around 4000 per game so far this season – with a home game crowd of 22.000 against Benfica improving the average of otherwise a couple of hundred up to one or two thousand per game. I guess the local authorities never really expected that the clubs’ rent could help repay the money borrowed to build the grounds, but maybe they at least hoped that they could cover running costs. Yet, it seems this modest goal isn’t too realistic either, resulting in some politicians suggesting that it may make more sense to simply tear some of the stadiums down again, to at least stop losing more money with them.
I guess, UEFA couldn’t care less what happens with the stadium infrastructure in the host country, once they handed out the trophy, counted the money and moved on. And it’s certainly also up to the host to have a plan for the stadiums beyond the tournament. Still, Portugal is actually a rather tame example, as the stadiums aren’t that big and that expensive – at least relative to the minimum requirements of a FIFA World Cup.
In a letter sent by FIFA to nations bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, FIFA “states that around 12 stadia with a minimum capacity of 40.000 will be needed to host the tournament. The stadium for the final will have to have at least 80.000 seats.”
These requirements are completely disconnected from the realities in the majority of football leagues around the globe. The German Bundesliga is currently the only league that averages over 40.000 per game and that has/had twelve or more clubs in the first division with 40.000+ average attendances. The other big European leagues in England, Italy and France have the potential to fill stadiums of that capacity as well. Spain seems to feel that a joint World Cup bid with Portugal makes more sense for them. The US can of course just pick twelve American football stadiums of their liking. A country like Brazil, in the still slightly distant future and given current economic growth continues, could find them useful as well. Then you’d need to wait for some Asian countries and India to not just support Manchester United, but actually go and watch football in their local leagues, which currently isn’t happening. You could even make an argument, that the US might be better off building a few smaller football specific grounds for a World Cup, that have a chance to actually be of use to an MLS franchise later on.
The South African Premier Soccer League averaged around 8000 in 2008/2009, and even if the World Cup gives the local league a major boost, you can already easily predict that the beautiful stadiums built for the World Cup will be largely underutilized once Sepp Blatter handed out the trophy. South Africa will have to deal with the costs and FIFA with the money they earned.