Italian Stadiums Desperately Need to Be Modernised for the Good of the Game
When Italy lost out to France in the bid to host the European Championship in 2016, few observers were surprised.
In fact, many saw it – and still see it – as proof that Italy’s dilapidated stadiums, which back in the 1980s and 1990s were the envy of the entire footballing world, are now ruining Italian football.
This was indeed a lost opportunity to push for more money from the government to allow an extensive overhaul of stadium infrastructure in Italy.
Remarkably, the majority of stadiums that currently play host to Serie A games were built in the 1930s and 1940s. While they were refurbished in time for Italia ’90, 25 years on from the tournament, almost everyone agrees that things desperately need to be updated.
Clubs don’t own their own stadiums
The main obstacle to commencing renovation is the fact that all but one of the stadiums used by clubs currently in Serie A are in fact owned by their local authorities. Juventus is the exception here, and the club now plays its home games in a sparkling new stadium. Perhaps it is therefore not a surprise that Juventus have been the successful side in Italian football in recent years, winning consecutive league titles and reaching last season’s Champions League final. A further sign of their success is that they are, at the time of writing, ranked at odds of 25/1 with 32Red to win this campaign’s European Cup, which is better than any other Italian club.
Elsewhere, Serie A teams cannot do as they wish, and as a result, they continue to play in the same dilapidated stadiums. In fact, club President of Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, once swore to remove his team from the city if plans for a new stadium were not approved.
An unfortunate side effect of outdated stadiums is falling attendances, with the average gate now around 16,000, which of course is far behind major European leagues. In fact, some teams in the lowest rung of the English Football League boast attendances that are competitive with some Serie A clubs.
Falling attendances result in dwindling revenues, and a lack of funds means that Italian clubs can no longer compete with the financial muscle of the English Premier League. Fans of AC Milan were dealt a huge blow in September when President Silvio Berlusconi announced that his club would continue to share the San Siro with city rivals, Inter. It transpired that plans for a new stadium had been scrapped due to a “disagreement over the land”.
Without the 48,000 seater stadium in the Portello district of Milan, one might foresee further hardship on the pitch. AC Milan are currently placed at 40/1 to win Serie A, which serves only to emphasise the mammoth task facing the former giants of European football.
The gulf between the Premier League and Serie A is illustrated further by comparing AC Milan’s €24.9m match day income from last season to that of fellow Emirates sponsored club Arsenal, which stood at €119.8m.
Are stadium improvements evident on the pitch?
After years of sharing the Olimpico with Torino, Juventus Stadium feels like home to its many passionate fans. While it would be naïve to credit the new stadium (opened in September 2011) with all of Juventus’s recent success, the complex is clearly important in the long term.
It has allowed the club to steadily increase its wage bill. This in turn has allowed Juve to keep its best players and buy quality replacements for those who choose to leave. The club has some way to go to attain the heady heights of yesteryear, but improvements off the pitch are arguably beginning to beckon in improvements on it.
Roma are also taking steps to modernise. In fact, the club plans to relocate to a new 52,000-seater stadium in the Tor di Valle area of the country’s capital within the next two seasons. This will allow Roma to leave the far too large Stadio Olimpico, which it currently shares with city rivals Lazio.
The design of the new stadium is, aptly enough, modelled on the colosseum; a symbol of past glories par excellence. It is due for completion in time for the 2017/18 season. Roma are at the time of writing placed by 32Red, 10Bet and Marathon at 100/1 to win the Champions League, while former mainstays, AC Milan, did not even qualify. This just goes to show that such improvements are clearly well over due.
Yet if Italian clubs can continue to improve their stadiums and free themselves from the oppressive cost of council-owned stadiums, the league will begin to attract further investment. They might even see a return to the European dominance within the next few years.