The Italian Job

English football club Brighton and Hove Albion’s Amex Stadium is being used as a blueprint for a wave of new-build stadia in Italian football’s top-flight Serie A. Elisha Chauhan spoke to the club’s CEO and Juventus, the only club in the league to currently own its stadium, about what will be required to make the new venues successful.

When Italian deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano put his weight behind long overdue laws to help the country’s football teams build their own stadia, perhaps surprisingly he picked out Brighton’s Amex Stadium (American Express Community Stadium) as an example of best practice.

“We will work alongside the clubs on new stadia, using Brighton as a model,” he said in November. “It’s time to launch phase two – clubs and state together. The stadia need to be modernised, using private funding.

“We and [Serie A] are going to form a task force to resolve the problems. With the stadia open seven days a week, they will be monitored by the clubs, who will be their owners. We’ve made a revolutionary and ultra-modern decision and we’re going to facilitate the reduction in bureaucracy.”

Italian clubs currently rent their stadia from the government, with the exception of current Serie A champions Juventus, who opened the country’s first privately-owned football stadium in September 2011. Italy’s stadia are also outdated, with most seeing little improvement since the country hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1990.

The £120 million Amex also opened in 2011 and is considered to be a model for others due to its slick look, hospitality and conference areas, and innovative design that enabled it to have additional seating tiers installed after original construction was completed.

“The Amex has a very modern design so that all spectators have a fantastic view of the game whether they’re in the most or least expensive seats,” Brighton chief executive Paul Barber told SportBusiness International. “Visiting fans are also treated with respect, which means their mood and temperament is much better than perhaps in different stadia.

“We always import the local beer from the away fans’ part of the country, which goes down well because they feel more welcome and at home. We also light the concourse areas in the colours of the away team to create a better ambience at the stadium in the away end. Overall, the fans have a really good time with us regardless of what the game result is at the end.

“I would advise Italian teams to take all these aspects into consideration. The design of the stadium is not just about watching the game, it’s about encouraging supporters to enjoy the stadium facilities and making sure the fans are treated with respect.”

Planning Problems

First proposed in 1998 and to be completed before 2005, Brighton experienced a six-year delay after it failed to get planning permission from local authorities. This is also a common problem in Italy.

“Brighton wanted to move to a location that happened to be recognised as an area of ‘outstanding natural beauty’, so it was inevitable we would be met with opposition,” says Barber. “The Amex also sits between two different local authorities, but we now have excellent relationships with both, and that’s because we delivered on our plans for sustainable transport, job creation and providing economic benefits to the city.

“However, one of the benefits of having a stadium slightly out of town is that fans tend to come earlier and leave later. Visiting fans spend, on average, three times longer at our stadium and its surrounding facilities than at any other club in the league.”

Like Brighton, Juventus also had legal setbacks when trying to build a new stadium. Its former home Stadio delle Alpi – also the site of its new stadium in the city of Turin – was constructed in 1990 as part of the World Cup preparations. This meant that its proposal for a new and more appropriately-sized venue only four years later was frowned upon by local government.

“In Italy there’s a lot of bureaucracy and Turin already had two stadiums, so it wasn’t easy to find an area to build the Juventus Stadium. It was difficult to convince and get permission to build another new stadium from all parties involved, especially the municipal [local] government,” Juventus commercial director Francesco Calvo told SportBusiness International.

“The club’s management also wanted to change the rules of Italian football by owning their own stadium because, clearly, owning your own stadium gives you much more flexibility, for example changing the pitch, lighting and whatever else you would like to do.

“When you don’t own a stadium you only use it on the weekend for games, but when you own it you can use it seven days of the week, and you can define the source of revenues. We also wanted to base the stadium on the English model, because that was the only country at the time with good privately-owned venues.”

Capacity Conundrum

Whereas England football clubs can design their stadia according to the specifications of the team, Italy has instead sanctioned venues to cater to the needs of its cities. This has resulted in large stadia that Italian football teams find extremely difficult to fill, adds Calvo.

“We are very happy with having 41,000 seats in our stadium, because we can sell-out more games and the stadium is always full, which improves the atmosphere for the fans and also helps with the acoustics to offer a better fan experience,” he says.

“I believe it is a necessity for all Italian clubs – if they want to improve to become modern and align with this era – to build their own stadium. The new law is made to facilitate this, and I would advise Italian teams to build a stadium based on their specific needs, and not for the needs of its city.”

Serie A clubs Roma, Udinese and groundsharers AC Milan and Inter Milan all have stadium projects in the pipeline. Last year Roma signed off a 55,000-seat stadium to be ready by the 2016 season, moving away from the 72,000-capacity Olympic Stadium that it shares with rivals Lazio.

Udinese’s Stadio Friuli home opened in 1976 and has a capacity of 41,000, which is currently limited to 30,500 for football games. The club’s new project will scale the stadium back to just over 25,000 seats, and aims to enhance fan experience following its completion next year.

“It’s always good to look to examples of what has already worked,” says Barber. “Our club receives a lot of visitors from local authorities both in the UK and overseas, because people are very interested to see what we achieved and how we achieved it.

“English Premier League teams, lower-league teams and international clubs have all come to see and learn from The Amex. We’re also hosting a large delegation from the Middle East this month that is very keen to understand how we built our stadium and what kind of designs we’ve used.”

By reducing the size of Italian stadia, the country’s teams can also increase both fan experience and engagement, says Calvo: “Your power is not defined by the size of your stadium.”

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