A huge investment that delivers no guarantees

Darlington ArenaOne defining feature of each major international tournament is the staggering flurry of new, impressive arenas which appear in the host nation. At Euro 2012 this summer, visitors to Poland and Ukraine will marvel at newly constructed or reconstructed stadiums built for millions of pounds – but what of their legacy?

In both the international and domestic spheres, the construction of a new stadium is seen in football as the ultimate indication of an ambitious club making progress; a signal of aspiration, desire and hunger for greater things. Failure to secure a move to more majestic surroundings can be taken as a pronounced harbinger of stagnation – the protracted delay in construction of Liverpool’s new stadium has been widely highlighted as a precursor of this season’s decline.

However, for all the undoubted prestige a club may assume, the building of a new stadium can often prove a heavy burden. Repeatedly in the modern game, clubs extend far beyond their means in the search for greater success, leaving them vulnerable to financial deterioration in the face of being forced to meet spiraling costs at disparity with generated profits. Is it better for clubs to remain where they are at the expense of mediocrity, or risk over extending themselves in pursuit of glory?

Recent cases across the football pyramid tend to suggest that taking the former option is far more advisable to maintain short-term stability and security, with only the most prestigious, profitable clubs attaining any form of long-term benefit from constructing a new ground.

At the more extreme end of the spectrum, the Darlington example offers the most consummate warning to any clubs looking to utilise a new stadium as a tool of progression. Rather than propel the club to the dizzy heights as outlined by owner George Reynolds upon its opening in 2003, the Darlington Arena has left the club a dire state of affairs, culminating in their near extinction earlier this season. With Darlington set to play two tiers below the Football League next season, it appears the only means of ensuring the club’s survival is to entirely disassociate themselves with the financial crippling Arena in search of a sustainable, more prudent home.

Another example of owners leaving clubs in financial peril is at Oxford United, where former owner Firoz Kassam has left the club with a significant staidum grievance. Upon completing the half built ground on the Minchery Farm site in 2001, Kassam’s sale of the club in 2006 did not coincide with the sale of the self-titled stadium. As such, Oxford have been left to pay substantial rent to Kassam’s stadium company ever since in order to play at a three-sided stadium fatally lacking in character, placing great financial constraints upon the club itself.

Higher up the ladder, instances such as those at Coventry and Southampton further show the hazards of new stadiums. Coventry’s expansive Ricoh Arena will play host to League One football next term following years of gradually decline, both on and off the field for the club. Likewise, though Southampton have now picked themselves up significantly, the decade following their move to St Mary’s saw two relegations and administration in 2009 as the club struggled to meet soaring maintenance costs away from the riches of the Premier League.

On the international stage, the mightily impressive arenas built for the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan have been left alarmingly redundant after the FIFA bandwagon rolled out of town, hemorrhaging management companies alongside the few clubs themselves who hold tenancy of the ground.

Whilst the allure of constructing a new, sparkling stadium may be too much too resist, history suggests that working within a club’s means is a far more sensible alternative to being lumbered with a recessive financial burden. Liverpool may want to take heed from Arsenal, as the construction of the Emirates has suffocated Arsenal’s transfer budget in the succeeding years yet provided the club with an invaluable resource which is at last reaping rewards. Outside the elite of English football, however, overextension in search of a new stadium has left many clubs highly susceptible to financial decay.

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