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Designing stadiums, and making them work and pay

Yesterday’s Sports Venue & Fan Engagement conference (organised by SVG Europe and PanStadia and Arena Management magazine) examined the challenges of designing and re-equipping sports stadiums and making them pay.

An expert panel (Paul Brislin, director and architect at Arup; Peter Ayres, structural engineer at AECOM; and Mark Kelly, MD at Bristol’s Ashton Gate stadium) and moderator John Sheehan, editor of PanStadia & Arena Management, delivered a fascinating account of the many difficulties they face in managing major ‘elite’ projects as well as community or localised schemes.

“You have to know who the operator is and it isn’t always easy,” said Brislin, “National, very high-profile stadiums, for example, sometimes feel threatened by having to face commercial pressures and tend not to be flexible.”

At the other end of the scale, smaller community-based stadia see architects having to cope with “basketball in the morning, an ice show in the afternoon, and a pop concert in the evening” demands,
in an attempt to make the venue pay for itself

“In fact I believe that such community projects should be paid for by the municipality, otherwise it is very difficult to make money,” said Ayres.

However, Ashton Gate’s Kelly explained that such flexibility drives his team forward, and the spin-off benefits could be extremely rewarding.

The site is already home to football and rugby, but also has a vibrant coffee shop on site that is earning cash seven days a week, and supplies an exhibition area; the VIP boxes have been built as boardrooms, and it is possible for celebrity chefs to cater for fans.

“Now we’re targeting 35,000-seater arena music shows.”

The panel said location is key to the design considerations (“Moscow is different to Atlanta”), but there were definite trends including the move to build more VIP ‘tunnel’ and ‘field’ suites, but operators should always remember that provision for TV is vital, and broadcasters want a sea of happy fans, not rows of concrete boxes.