An expensive outlay that brings no guarantees

In the modern game of football, just about everything is for sale in terms of sponsorship and an influx of money can make all the difference to struggling clubs, it seems nearly every day we are hearing about a club selling the naming rights of their stadiums – Newcastle have become the Sports Direct Arena – and with Manchester City making such a large amount of money from renaming their stadium The Etihad, who can blame them?

It is not just the naming rights however, now more and more clubs are looking to either expand their current stadiums or move to a new home, to mixed reactions from their supporters, yet just how much of an impact does a move actually have on the club?

It is evident that to create a successful team, far more is needed than a large stadium, with Stoke having one of the best and most intimidating atmospheres in the league, their home – the Britannia is nowhere near the size of say the Emirates, yet has a much better atmosphere. Even the Old Trafford faithful were infamously accused of being a ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ by the never short of an opinion Roy Keane, yet you wouldn’t get this accusation at the Britannia or Anfield.

It seems everyone is being linked with a move to a bigger and better stadium, with owners and chairmen arguing that the extra revenue gained from a stadium with a larger capacity will not only help the club compete financially but will attract more supporters and enable more fans to go to games – take a club like Liverpool, whose demand for both match day tickets and season tickets far outstrip that of their capacity at Anfield. Certain stadiums have either been expanded as far as is able, or are simply gridlocked and are not able to increase capacity, leading to the suggestion of moving to a completely new location.

This inevitably brings its own problems, with fans worrying that the history may become lost along the way – it is clearly inevitable that a new home will take time to get used to – the recent example of Arsenal leaving long-time home Highbury for the Emirates can be used here, with the fans and players needing time to adjust to the 60,000 plus seater stadium. Even now, the atmosphere at the Emirates is still lagging behind the level produced at Highbury, and this is such a valid concern of fans and one that is often overlooked and underestimated.

Despite the loss of history for fans and the accusation that a clubs new home can be accused of lacking in atmosphere –  especially should the supporters be further away from the pitch than before-  more and more clubs seem to be looking at the possibility of moving to new homes – Chelsea seem set on either expanding or moving away from the Bridge, and both West Ham and Spurs made cases for moving to the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 games have concluded.

It cannot be denied that the increase in revenue has the potential to immensely help a club, and if you take a club like Chelsea or Liverpool who could easily fill a 60,000 capacity ground, which is roughly an extra 20,000 or so tickets every match day, the dividends are clear to see from a financial capacity – this is even more vital for clubs like Liverpool who do not have a billionaire owner to fall back on.

This could then go some way towards clubs becoming more financially self-sufficient – something that in light of the FFP regulations is becoming more and more vital and will effect clubs such as Chelsea more so than ones without megabucks owners as they simply cannot justify the money they spend in a break even context, thus clubs see increased revenue from bigger stadiums as a way to aid this.

There is also the need to compete with teams such as Arsenal and United – not to mention clubs like Barcelona and Munich in terms of their ground size and impressiveness on European nights.

Yet all this does not necessarily equate to success – whilst a great deal of revenue can be gained from a larger stadium, there is also a huge cost in firstly building a new stadium and then maintaining said ground. For clubs like QPR  who feel it would be beneficial to move to a bigger home – do they really think they can fill a ground of 60,000 plus should they fall out of the Premier League – something that is not an impossible scenario to envisage?

West Ham are not even in the Premier League, and are a yo-yo team at best, granted with a large fan base, but can they really fill a ground as big as the Olympic Stadium week in, week out? Fans now more than ever can access matches on the TV and internet, and simply may not be in a position to afford a ticket every week to see a live game. Of course it is inevitable that along with a move to a new round, the ticket prices will also increase, and as they are hardly cheap anyway, will fans really be prepared to pay even more just to see a game of football – especially if they have mortgages and families to think of?

Despite moving to the impressive Emirates Stadium, Arsenal have struggled to win trophies, and in actual fact did better at Highbury, with the Arsenal Ladies team being the only ones to contribute to the trophy cabinet in recent memory. Anfield has one of the best atmospheres in football, yet plans are afoot for a move to Stanley Park – there is no guarantee with a new stadium a fantastic atmosphere would follow.

There is much more to being successful than moving to a bigger stadium. Capacity and revenue aside, owners and chairmen often forget that stadiums can hold a great deal of history and tradition for the fans they rely on to fill the seats, and this is something that is vital to the atmosphere of a ground, and can go a long way to being the ‘12th’ man teams sometimes need.

Weighing up the potential benefits of a new home against the drawbacks is a difficult task, and with fans having such definite opinions either way, it is an unenviable task for chairmen to make. What do you think? Is your club looking to make a move?

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