Football stadiums: grounds for optimism

As football rapidly expands around the world, local and national teams are investing heavily in advanced new stadiums that will change the way we experience the game, Vision finds

The winning strike in the second half of extra time by Ismail Al Hammadi to secure an historic Gulf Cup win for the UAE over Iraq did more than just ignite celebrations among players and fans at Bahrain’s National Stadium in Manama.

It also underlined the success of a side that is currently blazing a trail in its bid to qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Its victory over Uzbekistan in March put the UAE top of qualifying Group E and coincided with the announcement of the match schedule and venues for the 2015 tournament, which will be held in Australia.

But what do host nations stand to gain from staging emerging tournaments like the Asian Cup? It’s the first time the Asian Cup will be held in Australia, at grounds including Brisbane Stadium, Canberra Stadium and Newcastle Stadium in NSW. “Regional cities such as Newcastle will benefit, as it will promote a relatively unknown part of the world to Asia,” says Aidan Ormond, Editor of Australian FourFourTwo magazine.

Lasting legacy

But the real measure of success of an international football tournament is the legacy it leaves to the host nation. In November 2012, Jakub Borowski, a chief economist in Poland, revealed that visitors to the nation during the three-week, Euro 2012 football tournament spent €216m – far exceeding the pre-contest estimate of €184m. In a survey 92 per cent of fans said they would recommend Poland as a tourist destination. Visitors to the country are predicted to rise from 10 million annually to 13.6 million by the end of 2013.

Hosting a football tournament can change the perception of a country too. Austria, principally seen as a winter sports destination, has witnessed a steady annual eight per cent growth in summer tourism, since co-hosting the Euro 2008 tournament. Portugal has also diversified its tourist profile beyond the beach-holiday clientele after hosting Euro 2004.

But holding a football party doesn’t come cheap. Poland’s tournament-linked investment was around €22.5bn – much of it EU funded – which contributed in the main to a major overhaul of the country’s transport network. Around four per cent of spending went on the four Euro stadiums, which in turn inspired a stadium building boom in other cities.

The money ploughed into developing new stadiums is leading to the creation of state-of-the-art, eco-friendly venues with plans for more hi-tech grounds, which will rival other famous landmarks in cities around the world.

“Future stadiums will be made from sustainable materials,” explains Karin Bertaloth, architect with AS&P (Albert Speer & Partner GmbH), who have designed stadia for the 2022 World Cup. “One of the stadiums for Qatar is designed like a shell. We wanted it to look like a tourist attraction – the sort of building that you want to go in and look around.”

Stadium evolution

Eckersall and stadium planners attending the event discussed the construction plans of the Education City stadium for Qatar 2022, which have been designed to harness power and reduce cooling demands in the region’s harsh desert climate. Reducing running costs and enhancing environmental factors are a recurring theme in new stadium design.

The Turkish club side Sivasspor announced in February 2013 that it’s been given the green light for a new 33,000-seater stadium, built by national firm TOKI.

It will be specially designed to cope with the climate extremes of the Sivas region, in which temperatures can fall as low as -15°C in the winter and soar to 40°C-plus in the summer.

It will include a wind-powered HVAC system in the stands that will filter and circulate the air to create a constant temperature. The roof will feature rotating solar panels to provide 798,000 watts of power, and a drainage system that will convert rain and melted snow to water supplies for the playing surface and the training pitches.

But it is the advance in hi-tech multi-media facilities for a greater fan interaction and home-viewing experience that most of us will notice in regards to the revolution taking place in stadium design.

Liverpool FC, in the English Premier League, became the first club to offer free high capacity WI-FI over 3G connections to fans in March 2013. The service enables the club to provide in-match stats, food and drink offers, and access to online retail. “It will offer fans access to share digital content during the match and allow us to gain insight and feedback from the fan base,” explains Andrew Robinson, Head of Digital Media and Technology at Liverpool Football Club.

The developments in 3D viewing and camera technology have led futurologists at communications firm Orange to suggest that soon fans will be able to feel the stadium atmosphere no matter where they are. “Stadium-like views will be available on your mobile phone,” explains Graham Fisher, MD at Orange Research and Development. “You can choose where you’re sitting, choose a viewing angle, even to be in your favourite stand.”