Until recently, the importance of football stadiums in Italy had always been neglected, leading to second-rate generic sports stadiums being built – particularly in comparison to those in England and more recently Germany. The infrastructure of the Italian game as a whole has lacked investment and this has left stadiums for the modern age underdeveloped. Safety and the quality of the matchday experience from the fan goers’ perspective has little improved over the past twenty years or so. This has stemmed from the system of ownership in Italy, with local Municipalities owning the land as apposed to the actual clubs themselves.
There is very little need or pressure to modernise or raise the capacity of the local stadium. Italy is lagging behind the rest of Europe and sees the stadium as a functional building rather than a central landmark to the status of the club or even the city. You just have to see the likes of the Emirates Stadium, the Allianz Arena or the Veltins-Arena as to how important an impressive stadium is. It is more than just a capacity issue as it can help attract the casual football fan, as well as open up other areas to generate revenue through the building such as corporate hospitality and greater sponsorship opportunities. An arena fit for the sport can only add to the sense of occasion and make the fan’s experience of the game in front of them all the more special – why else is the Brazil – Italy friendly set to take place at the Emirates Stadium in February?
Sadly there have been past opportunities to invest in Italy but it has always come as part of much larger project. One of the best examples was in the build up to Italia 90 where stadiums were built or refurbished in the run up to hosting the World Cup. Apart from this spell where stadiums were brought up to an acceptable standard for the time, there has been little money spent since. Even back then poor decisions were made. The Stadio delle Alpi was developed especially for the World Cup, but it’s poor development as a generic stadium first and football stadium second has led to its demise. Another example where the function of the stadium built is beyond accommodating the football can be seen with Bari’s Stadio Nicola. An impressive stadium nonetheless, even today the 58 000 capacity is far too big for a club of Bari’s stature and again it was built as another athletics stadium with the stands a good distance away from the pitch.
Unfortunately, since Italia 90 the mindset appears to have changed little, with only the promise of hosting another international tournament impetus enough for the government and football association to invest in decent infrastructure. However, since April 2007’s decision to award Euro 2012 hosting rights to Poland and Ukraine ahead of Italy, it appears that things are starting to shift, with potentially big changes in store that will raise the profile of the Italian game again, putting it back on a par with La Liga and Premier League.
The origins of this story go back months, in some cases even years, but it has been brought to light again this month with work due to start on the demolition of the delle Alpi coupled with the news coming out of Rome that Lazio’s proposal to leave the Olimpico has been given a potential green light and that Inter and Milan are looking once again at having their own grounds.
Plans for Lazio’s Stade delle Aquile look mightily impressive, but we must remember they have been around for a long time. Talk and rumours of new purpose-built stadiums have been around for the best of a decade and Lazio’s desire to leave the Olimpico was made clear after winning the league back in 2000. It has always been just talk there is very little definitive information out there as to the likeliness of any investment.
However, we could finally be witnessing the start of a revolution in the Italian game. Juventus who are currently tenants of Torino, purchased the Stadio delle Alpi for 25m Euros with plans to redevelop it and these are well underway and they are scheduled to be the first club in Italy to own their stadium when it opens in 2011. Lazio’s ground plans look to once again be gaining momentum and it is thought that Roma will buy the Olimpico. There have also been reports this week that Inter are looking to leave the San Siro to build their own ground in the city, with rivals Milan staying at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. The clubs have begun preliminary talks with city council officials on the possibilities available.
The fans make Italian football what it is and it will be interesting to see Roma versus Lazio or Inter versus Milan where the away team is well and truly playing away and how intimidating these stadiums will be. Questions have been raised over Juve’s plans that it could be an off-the-shelf design and lacking atmosphere although who could argue that it could be any worse than the delle Alpi was?
The point of all this is that clubs are starting to take things into their own hands, realising that if they want to grow, then the stadium is the key source of revenue, not just from match day but also from direct investment of sponsors and owners. Milan, Juve and Inter are huge names in world football, yet so many of the world’s billionaire’s are choosing instead to invest in English clubs because of the business potential.
The likes of Atalanta, Siena, Empoli (and the list goes on) all have potential plans to build new stadiums. Dreams could soon become a reality. If just a handful of the bigger clubs invest in new stadiums and attract interest from potential investors, then more of the smaller cubs will be able to follow suit. With Italy still desperately wanting to host either the World Cup or European Championship, government investment could be the catalyst to kick start this revolution into overdrive.