PtG Article 20.02.2012

UEFA Euro 2012 – lasting legacy or a ‘New Portugal’?

Despite major delays, new and spectacular stadiums in Poland and Ukraine will be ready to host this summer’s UEFA Euro 2012. But will there be a long lasting legacy justifying the massive investments?

By: Jens Alm

In this summer’s UEFA Euro in Poland and Ukraine eight stadiums – four in Poland and four in Ukraine – will host the tournament’s matches. All of them are newly built or have undergone major renovations due to the event. The overall cost for the eight stadiums is $ 3bn and, except for the Ukrainian venues of Donetsk and Kharkiv, all of the UEFA Euro 2012 venues are publicly owned. 

As highlights, the overall cost for Ukraine alone to host UEFA Euro 2012 may surpass $14bn. Major infrastructure investments in airports, roads and sports facilities have been necessary, and although Donbas Arena and Oblast Sports Complex Metalist were mainly privately funded, the Ukrainian government has spent more than $1bn on the other UEFA Euro 2012 venues, the Olympic National Sport Complex in Kiev and Arena Lviv.  

Just like Ukraine, Poland has invested a massive amount of money in this summer’s event. According to, Poland has spent $26bn on roads, airports, hotels and stadiums. In contrast to Ukraine all of the UEFA Euro 2012 venues in Poland are publicly owned and the different government levels have altogether spent close to $1.5bn on the four stadiums. 

Beyond the eight stadiums that will host UEFA Euro, four additional stadiums in Poland and Ukraine have been built or renovated due to the event. The four additional stadiums were included in the joint application from Poland and Ukraine but did not make it as UEFA Euro 2012 venues. The overall cost for the four venues was $500 million. 

Portugal’s doubtful legacy 

The massive investments raise questions about the legacy of the UEFA Euro 2012 venues. Will the stadiums be used after the event and to what extent? Will the long lasting economic and social legacy be positive for the host countries, or will it rather result in a huge debt?

Play the Game is currently writing a report on the legacy of stadiums that have been built or undergone major renovations to host a major international sporting event. The first draft of the report is scheduled to be published in March and shows, among other things, that several of the venues of UEFA Euro 2004 in Portugal have had a problematic legacy – to put it mildly. Portugal spent close to $1bn on the 10 stadiums that were built or majorly renovated due to UEFA Euro 2004. The investment was almost twice as much as estimated in the bid. 

Just like Poland and Ukraine a majority of the 2004 venues in Portugal are publicly owned. Six of the ten stadiums were mainly funded by the hosting municipalities and it is primarily the municipality owned stadiums that have had huge legacy challenges. 

A common denominator for the publicly owned venues is the absence of decent attendance figures. Several venues are struggling with low attendance figures and it is solely the venues with the three major Portuguese clubs, SL Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto, as anchor tenants that have good attendance figures. These venues were also mainly funded by the clubs. 

The absence of spectators and events has resulted in major economic difficulties for several of the Portuguese municipalities. One stadium has lacked an anchor tenant since the 2011/12 season, three stadiums have been for sale and some of the municipalities have huge debts in connection to their UEFA Euro 2004 venue. 

Building for UEFA rather than local needs 

Just like in Portugal, it is most likely that the privately funded venues in Ukraine have the biggest chance of having a positive legacy. Both Donbas Arena in Donetsk and Oblast Sports Complex Metalist in Kharkiv would probably have been built even if Ukraine had not hosted UEFA Euro 2012. As their attendance figures show, a local sporting demand exists in both cities and the venues were not only built to meet UEFA’s stadium requirements for UEFA Euro stadiums. 

It is, however, obvious that several of the other UEFA Euro 2012 venues were built to meet the requirements of UEFA and that the current local sporting situation in each host city not has been taken into account. The pattern is similar to the one in Portugal where several of the constructed venues at present have major problems attracting bigger crowds and are relatively empty in relation to their capacities. 

Poland and Ukraine have invested three times as much in stadiums as Portugal did, and it is an obvious risk that many of the venues will be a heavy future financial burden for many of the host cities. It is therefore crucial that the anchor tenants of the UEFA Euro 2012 venues increase their attendance figures dramatically and that the venues host additional events to avoid empty stadiums and empty municipal pockets. But is that going to happen?

UEFA’s responsibility

In the worst scenario the two host countries will not only face misplaced and useless investments – public money that that could have been used much more efficiently elsewhere – but a straight economical loss.

All together both countries are estimated to have made an investment of $40bn, of which $3bn was on stadiums. The apparent risk of financial deficit for both of the host countries contributes to the need to question the economical sustainability of hosting a major sporting event. Can the political and cultural benefits of organising UEFA Euro 2012 justify the extravaganza? Or is it simply a waste of resources or just a smart way to lure public investment into the pockets of private entrepreneurs? Is it desirable to host a sporting event and invest billions of dollars when it is most likely that both the stadiums and public pockets will be empty when the event is over?

The legacy of UEFA Euro 2004 in Portugal clearly shows that the expected bright future and positive legacy from a mega event can turn into a financial burden very easily. But other venues that have hosted UEFA Euro games have also experienced difficulties afterwards.

If more than a very few large European countries are expected to be  able to host sustainable UEFA Euro tournaments in the future, UEFA has to rethink to whom they award the event and how they can limit the current trend of increasing demands and costs burdens on the taxpayers in the host countries. Although bidding countries and host cities have a responsibility to be much more realistic in their assessments of major sports events and their long lasting legacies, the one and only who makes the playing rules is UEFA. 

Euro 2004 and Euro 2012 stadiums

First draft of mega-event stadium study scheduled to be published in March

Over the past six months the Danish Institute for Sports Studies/Play the Game have examined 75 stadiums in more than 20 countries that have been built or undergone major renovations up to the hosting of a major international sporting event (i.e. FIFA World Cups, continental championships in soccer and the Olympics). The objective of the upcoming report has been to study the state of each stadium and examine the stadium’s legacy in terms of events and spectator attendance.

A part of the report’s result was presented at the 2011 Play the Game conference in Cologne and the first draft of the final report is scheduled to be published in March 2012. 

See the conference presentation

Read the article

Jens Alm is an analyst at the Danish Institute for Sports Studies. A special thanks to Francisco Pinheiro, who has contributed with information on the Portuguese venues.