Raising the roof

Once temples to the gods, stadiums have become economic powerhouses and iconic city landmarks – and big business globally

In ancient Greece, stadiums such as those found in Olympia and Delphi were built as temples to the gods, with events providing entertainment for the masses. Since then, sporting venues have played a key role in societies, providing bursts of economic energy and infrastructural and urban regeneration. They also provide a vital if less-spoken of role, providing humans with a shared experience. Where else can we gather together to sing, to share disappointment, or to celebrate?

From a pure economic standpoint, stadiums and arenas nowadays are big business. The MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, which opened in 2010, cost an eye-watering US$1.6bn to build, but the latest home for the New York Giants and New York Jets NFL teams brought with it a number of other benefits, including improvements to surrounding highways and the construction of a new train station.

The stadium employs more than 4,000 people on game days, and in addition to housing the giants (both figuratively and literally) of American football, the venue has also been used for other events – everything from professional wrestling, to Taylor Swift in concert. Major events such as Wrestle-Mania and the Super Bowl created a huge economic impact, generating US$101.2m and US$600m respectively for the local region. Similarly, London’s O2 Arena – the busiest arena in the world – contributes £405m a year to the city’s economy, with more than seven million annual visitors attending events such as pop concerts and the ATP Tennis World Tour finals.

Barcelona's Camp Nou
Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium was given a facelift by architect Norman Foster in 2007

“Through a combination of state-of-the-art facilities, scale and quality of customer service, the O2 has been able to attract a series of fantastic new events to the UK,” says Alex Hill, Senior Executive Director of AEG Europe, which operates the venue. “It continues to be a great draw for London.”

Areas surrounding sporting venues are particularly well-placed to enjoy the benefits of new facilities being built. Research conducted in 2011 by the London School of Economics found that the construction of a new stadium could raise local property prices by as much as 15 per cent, while the value of homes located near to existing English Premier League football stadiums has been found to be rising at double the national UK rate, according to British bank Halifax.

“The boost to property prices in these areas partly reflects the local regeneration that typically takes place alongside the building of modern sporting arenas, including better transport links,” says Craig McKinlay, Director at Halifax. Similar effects have been noted in the Santa Clara Valley in California – home to the newly built Levi’s Stadium – where a luxury apartment complex less than a mile from the new stadium set a sales record of US$500,000 per unit, approximately double the average unit price in the local area.

“While I won’t attribute 100 per cent of that to the stadium, it is attributed to an economy and an area that has activity happening. And when you have activity, it’s like a domino effect – more happens,” explains Myron Von Raesfeld, President of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors. “It’s a big halo. When you put over a billion dollars into something, I think it has an effect that really spreads.”

London's O2 Arena
More than 7 million people visit London's O2 Arena every year for music and sports events

Olympic host cities have long witnessed a similar “halo effect” that comes with constructing new venues and hosting marquee events such as the Olympics and other world championships.

Barcelona has used its Olympic venues to entice other major sporting events to the city, according to Mayor Xavier Trias.“In Barcelona, holding major sports competitions is now a key part of our development,” he says. “I’m convinced that sport is the perfect way to inject life into a city, to improve its wellbeing and to put it on the international stage.” The Spanish city has remained in the global sporting consciousness through a succession of major events since the 1992 Olympics, including the 2010 European Athletics Championships and the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Such events have also become commonplace in Dubai following the building of the Hamdan Sports Complex in 2010. The world-class facilities have been a significant draw when bringing a number of major events to the emirate, with the multi-purpose venue staging the 2010 World Swimming Championships, the 2014 U17 Basketball World Championship and the annual Swimming World Cup and Diving World Series.

Dubai's Hamdan Sports Complex
The $US300m complex in Dubai has two 50m Olympic-sized pools, with the technology to turn them into four 25m pools at the flick of a switch

The Hamdan Sports Complex is able to host such a wide variety of events due to its remarkable versatility, with the two 50m swimming pools able to convert into 25m pools of varying depths at the touch of a button, and moveable floors and advanced pool-covering technology providing a sturdy surface for numerous non-aquatic activities such as basketball, handball and volleyball, as well as concerts, conventions and exhibitions. As has been witnessed in other cities around the world, each of these events brings with it a series of knock-on benefits for Dubai, including increased tourist visitors, economic boosts and the prestige that comes with hosting marquee sports championships.

In December last year, Hamdan expanded its portfolio of elite events by welcoming the inaugural International Premier Tennis League and the Badminton World Superseries finals, further positioning it as one of the world’s top sports facilities and highlighting Dubai’s ability to host world-class events. The venue has caught the attention of leading figures within sport, with Julio Maglione, President of the International Swimming Federation, hailing it as having “one of the most beautiful pools in the world” and Bob Bowman, who coached US swimmer Michael Phelps to 22 Olympic medals, describing the facilities as “the best in the world”.

The years to come are also likely to see cities such as Dubai reaping even more benefits from their sporting facilities and, while constructing arenas and stadiums does not guarantee success (see the Olympic venues in Athens for an example of how not to do things), it’s clear that if the vision is strong – then the rewards will surely follow.