PtG Article 10.05.2012

New 'World Stadium Index' report exposes the best and the worst

Many of the stadiums constructed or renovated for sport’s major events end up as a great financial burden for their public owners and local communities, who are not able to fill the stadiums after the ‘circus’ has left town. That is the tendency shown in a new report from the Danish Institute for Sports Studies (Idan) and Play the Game.

A new study from Idan and Play the Game has analysed 75 mega-event stadiums from 20 different countries and found that the great amount of resources spent on constructing the stadiums are in many cases seriously disproportionate to the utilisation of the stadiums after the event. 

The report ‘World Stadium Index: Stadiums built for major sporting events – bright future or future burden?’ has looked at stadiums constructed or extensively renovated as a part of a mega-event during 1996-2010, including the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Pan-American Games, Asian Games, All Africa Games, the FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships and the Africa Cup of Nations.

The objective of the report has been to investigate the use of the stadiums after the event to see which mega-event stadiums can be called a success and which stand empty after the event, becoming a financial burden for their owners. The main variable in the report is thus the number of spectators per year, and by dividing the attendance figures with the capacity of the stadium, the report has created an index showing the stadium utilisation in 2010 making it possible to compare the stadiums included in the study.

The best and the worst

The most successful stadium in the report, with regards to attendance figures, is Atlanta’s Turner Field stadium, originally built for the 1996 Olympics. It has a capacity of almost 50.000 people and in 2010 the home field of the popular local baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, succeeded in attracting enough spectators to fill the stadium 50 times that year. See the list of the top five stadiums below. 

At the other end of the scale we find Nagano’s stadium, built for the Winter Olympics in 1998. This stadium has also been rebuilt into a baseball stadium, but even though baseball is a popular sport in Japan, Nagano does not have an attractive home team. The stadium, which seats 30,000 people, only managed to attract 18,000 spectators in 2010 equal to filling the stadium 0.6 times. See the list of the bottom five stadiums below. 

The 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany is the single most successful event in the study as most of the stadiums built for the event have seen a large inflow of spectators after the World Cup. Germany’s strong football tradition and the fact that the national football league has the highest attendance figures in the world meant that the local need was great enough to fill the large stadiums on a regular basis. The Allianz Arena in Munich is the single most attended football stadium in the report.

The stadiums built or renovated for the UEFA European Championships in Portugal in 2004 have a more problematic legacy. Aside from three teams, attendance figures in the Portuguese football league are low and, as the report argues, it takes more than a new stadium to get an inflow of spectators. Three of the stadiums couldn’t even fill their stands three times during 2010 and several of the stadiums built for the event have since been put up for sale.

External requirements trump local needs

In many cases, host countries and cities forget to take local needs into account before venturing into great construction projects, customising their stadiums according to the requirements of the major sports organisations such as the IOC, FIFA and UEFA. 

Both FIFA and UEFA have expanded its minimum stadium capacity requirements. Today FIFA demands a stadium that can seat 80,000 spectators for the final and all other stadiums must have at least 40,000 seats, while UEFA requests two stadiums seating 50,000 spectators and the rest seating at least 30,000 to 40,000 people. 

The problem, the report finds, has therefore been that it is difficult to adapt the stadium to the daily needs of the local communities after the event. This not only results in empty stadiums, but also in a great financial burden for the stadium owners, typically cities or municipalities, who have to maintain the stadiums in the future.

The 5 highest and 5 lowest ranked stadiums in the stadium index

Top 5

Bottom 5

Download the report here

Go to Play the Game’s theme page dedicated to the report, where you can find more information on the study of mega-event stadiums, download specific chapters from the report or read other articles from Play the Game regarding mega-event stadiums and their legacies.