The  modernisation  of Italian Stadiums

It is September 2015, and AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi has just announced that the club will continue to share the San Siro stadium with city rivals Internazionale, scrapping plans to build a new stadium in the Portello district of Milan due to a disagreement over the land. Club sponsor Emirates was going to provide financial backing for the 48,000 seater stadium but Berlusconi assured the press that he was too in love with the San Siro to leave. In reality, this failure to modernise is a huge blow to the club who saw their match day revenue drop by 6% in 2014-15, and according to the Deloitte football money list; the €24.9million figure accounted for just 10% of their overall income.

It was a similar story last year for city rivals Inter, who dropped to 17th in the football money league, their lowest ever position – despite their commercial revenue rising by 18%. The Nerrazzuri’s attendances rose by 9% on average, but their matchday income actually decreased by 3%. A lack of European football for the first time in years was certainly a contributory factor, however these figures are part of a wider problem for Serie A.

The fact that Italy has the second highest number of teams in the football money list shows that if clubs on the peninsula can maximise their matchday income, they will be able to narrow the gap significantly to other European clubs. With Financial Fair play rules now in place, it is more important than ever for clubs to maximise their income from the stadium, in order to balance out their spending.

But why is Italy so behind in this respect? World Cup Italia ’90 is remembered for many reasons, but twenty five years later, many Italian clubs are still bound by the shackles of debt left behind from the stadium renovation programme. The overall cost of bringing stadiums in Italy up to standard was 84% over its budget. Funding was partially sourced from CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, who insisted on installing athletics tracks in many of the grounds. This has led to the ultras being far away from the pitch and has been a contentious issue ever since. Potential matchday profits have also been hindered by the high rents paid to the local councils and the lack of a modern infrastructure to allow revenue to be generated through corporate channels. Without an owned stadium, clubs also lack assets, making the type of foreign investment other European leagues have enjoyed far less likely.

Juventus have set the standard for the other Serie A teams with the building of the Juventus Stadium on the site of the Stadio Delle Alpi in 2011. This former stadium was detested by Juventus supporters and shows how outdated the stadiums built for Italia ’90 have become, the Delle Alpi lasting just 16 years before it was demolished. The new stadium made Juventus €41 million last year and is one of only three owned by clubs in Serie A; along with Sassuolo’s Mapei Stadium and Udinese’s Stadio Friuli. The 41,000 capacity, environmentally sustainable stadium, features a shopping centre, club museum and an array of corporate hospitality options which comes under the umbrella of the Juventus Premium Club.  Perhaps most importantly to the fans, the seats are much closer to the pitch, providing a universally unobstructed view.

Adam Digby, author of Juventus: A history in black and white; states that the love for the Juventus stadium amongst the Bianconeri fans is unanimous.

“After years of sharing the Olimpico with Torino or playing in the soulless Delle Alpi, Juventus Stadium feels like home. It’s given a sense of belonging and because it’s small and full – therefore making tickets scarce – attending a game feels much more important than before when they were playing in front of a half-empty ground.”

When asked about how the construction of the Juventus stadium directly correlates to success on the pitch, Adam replied that he “doesn’t believe it’s responsible for the initial success; that was down to the impact of Antonio Conte and some incredible transfer business. However, it is essential in sustaining it, allowing Juve to slowly increase their wage bill to keep the best players & of course to buy quality replacements for those who choose to move on. It’s difficult, because with the rest of Serie A so far behind, the perception of the league is difficult to overcome, Juventus can’t do it alone & need Italy’s other big clubs to join them in the modern era ASAP”.

Juventus aren’t the only club taking steps to modernise, however. AS Roma have taken steps to leave the oversized Stadio Olimpico that is shared with Lazio, commencing building work on a 52,000 seater stadium of their own; modelled on the Colosseum in the Tor di Valle area of Rome. The club claim that this new stadium, due to be completed in time for the 2017-18 season, contains the “finest premium seating in World football including private luxury suites, loge boxes and club seats” The club have also constructed a section to replicate the Curva Sud, capable of holding 14,000 in a bid to satisfy the Roma Ultras.

The realisation that the existing stadia in Italy is holding Serie A clubs back in comparison to other European clubs has started to take hold and it is not just the traditional bigger clubs that have put plans in place to modernise. Along with the revamp of Udinese’s Stadio Friuli, Torino recently laid the first brick in their new Filadelfia stadium, which is just a stone’s throw from their current ground at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin.

There is a long way to go for clubs in Italy to get their stadia on par with the European elite, and Italian bureaucracy can prove a stumbling block on the way to progress, as proved in the case of Berlusconi’s Milan. If you compare the Rossoneri’s €24.9million matchday income to that of fellow Emirates sponsored club Arsenal’s €119.8 million per season, you can clearly see the gulf between the two. It is worth noting, however, that season tickets cost between £1,000 and £2,000 at the Emirates stadium (opened in 2006) – a pricing structure that would not be viable in Italy.

Despite this, if Italian clubs can continue to improve and even own their stadiums, freeing themselves from the oppression of council stadium ownership, the league will begin to attract further investment and a return to European dominance of the late 1980s and 90s could be on the cards.

Follow Chloe Beresford on Twitter: @ChloeJBeresford