It would be inaccurate, and extremely unfair, to label clubs with the backing of a “small” stadium to be irrelevant. The current European champions play in front of just over 40,000 home supporters, while the Premier League champions are looking at similar numbers for home games. But despite both teams being backed by incredible wealth, it’s not enough when there is room for greater stadium development.
What constitutes a big stadium? Does it have to be over 60,000 capacity? Because Manchester City’s ground is certainly keeping up with the times in terms of modern appearance. However, it still knocks me back to think that college football stadiums boast capacities of close to and over what the Nou Camp holds. These are stadiums which house players who are unpaid and who are essentially part-time athletes. But college football is the second biggest sports industry in America behind only the NFL, so why shouldn’t the biggest clubs in England and Europe move forward when they too can look to themselves as a huge sports industry?
Of course, it’s not as black and white as simply building a new stadium, but how much are clubs being held back by just competing in front of, say, 38,000 people every other week? Clubs like Tottenham want to move up the ladder and stand firm among the Champions League regulars, but is White Hart Lane and its location a Champions League level venue—especially with the target of where Tottenham want to be?
What about Arsenal and Highbury? The club have gone through a dry spell since the move to the Emirates Stadium, but surely no one can suggest the move wasn’t absolutely necessary. Arsenal currently look to get around £3million for each home game; Manchester United even more than that. The Emirates can stage concerts, private functions, European cup finals, and the club look to make even further use of it through the Emirates Cup and the revenue it brings from fans who don’t have the opportunity to attend home games.
It’s also a difficult line to draw with clubs and stadiums that have long been their homes. But Liverpool evidently need a move, either away from Anfield or through the development of the current stadium. Would people really protest the notion of moving into a bigger and modern stadium? Yes, there’s the disappointment of losing some of the identity of the club on match days, but that is something that can be built up again in new surroundings. Liverpool need the backing of a big stadium, especially considering the ownership problems and the need to boost revenue. The kit sponsorship deal was impressive, but it certainly needs to go hand-in-hand with something equally impressive in terms of venue.
I wrote recently about the importance fans have in the eyes of the suits in football, summing up that the supporters really play little part in the greater decisions of the game. Some might say that the fans of the game is what keeps it all together, but is football really in danger of losing its fans altogether? Clubs may see a decline in attendances for whatever reason, but will we ever look to a time when the supporters of all clubs in England unite and walk out on the game? So with that, maybe every major club in England and Europe should look to take advantage of a product that is growing and seeing greater demand.
I also touched on football markets in the country and the pull that the game has in certain areas. Make no mistake, this is a football country first and foremost and well ahead of any other sport, but clubs like Wigan don’t compete in a football town. Are football stadiums seen as traditional and an important piece of the club’s history? Look at Fulham and the story of the way their stadium was built; a small building, or cottage, attached to the corner of the ground where the players are gathered. In many cases, it’s a pleasant story and something that separates every club, football or other. But the need to move away and head into something modern and forward thinking is important and necessary.
You’ve only got to look at the benefits a bigger stadium brings. Arsenal are not pushed forward by outside investors, yet the club have successfully built a stadium while adjusting their policy in the transfer market. Not every club can have that good balancing act of moving forward and still competing at the highest level each year, which should force a nod to the workings of Arsene Wenger at the club. Where would Everton go if they brought in revenue that tripled their current figure? However, whether sharing a stadium with Liverpool is the answer is certainly up for debate.
Clubs need to start actively pursuing the idea of moving forward and taking greater advantage of their markets. By that I mean doing a little more than dancing around with new stadium plans and then abandoning them for two years. Football has the money to do so, and the biggest in the Premier League are certainly in a position to move forward.
How would it affect FFP? Well, Uefa say that expenditure towards things like youth and stadiums don’t count against clubs. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but there are plenty who would do well to research their fan bases and the return they’d get on a bigger stadium. Look to Shakhtar Donetsk who recently moved into the Donbass Arena. A European regular? Absolutely. A giant in Ukraine? Another check. And a great plus for the country following their co-hosting of the European Championship