Juventus have started something. There was not a great deal of interest during construction of their new stadium, but now that everyone else has seen the end product there are a lot of envious glances being cast their way.
Other clubs in Serie A want what they have, except instead of attempting to undergo the long process Juventus had to endure they are taking the shorter, easier route that will ultimately prove less fruitful.
Udinese became the latest to announce that they plan to renovate their current stadium, reducing the capacity in the process. Milan have previously verbalised their intentions to have improvements made to San Siro by 2015 so that the stadium can host the Champions League Final.
But it is a shortcut, barely a quick-fix to the stadia problem that plagues the vast majority of Italy’s clubs, and because grounds are still owned by the local councils it is ultimately futile when it comes to generating significant revenues.
As owners, the local councils still syphon the vast majority of profits that come from the stadium. And because of the nonsensical relationship between football clubs, their grounds and the councils, there is a great reluctance on the latter’s part to sell to the clubs in question.
This is because they do not have to pay any part in any developments of the stadia. Udinese’s plan is being funded by a private investment of over €20m, while the improvements to San Siro are funded by Milan and Inter. So while the clubs are transforming their grounds into arenas that can, in Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani’s words “be used seven days a week”, the councils will be taking large chunks of the increased profits that come with adding restaurants and executive lounges.
The same applies to increasing attendances. The modernisation of Italy’s grounds is largely being conducted with attracting more people in mind, but if the money these new attending fans are paying is heading straight into the pockets of the councils then there is little motivation for the clubs to bother.
Most have already cottoned on to this, hence why many of them show little interest in renovation and why their grounds still appear old and out of date when compared to those across the rest of Europe.
Financial Fair Play has forced the hands of those in the UEFA competitions – they have to try and improve stadium income, however small that may be, in an effort to compete with their European counterparts and that means renovation. Yet Milan, Inter and any Italian team in the Champions League not named Juventus will continue to struggle until they own a stadium.
The current system is not easy. Galliani spoke of Juventus having “favourable conditions” for building a stadium – referring to a council that allowed them to demolish the Delle Alpi and build the new arena on the same plot. But for other clubs without the ability to do this, gaining permission for a new arena is troublesome – councils and municipalities have no real desire to lose an easy profit-machine by having teams own their grounds.
It results in some having to take this shortcut – stadium renovation – because there is not yet an alternative. Clubs have been waiting for over three years for the Legge Crimi, or the Legge Stadi as it became subsequently known, after Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation and the formation of a new government with a new sports minister.
This will improve the working relationship with city councils and make it easier for Italian clubs to build their own stadia, identifying plots of land for the arenas in conjunction with councils. Importantly, it gives the councils 90 days to make a decision – a drastic reduction on the current shambles and, providing the arena is financially viable and given the OK, allows clubs to set the ball in motion much quicker.
However, the law has yet to be passed after some spectacular stalling with amendments to the details. Italy’s Tourism and Sport minister Piero Gnudi has stated he hopes to have this process complete by the end of the year, but this is a law that was first drafted in October 2009, so it may be best to take this with a pinch of salt.
President of the Lega Serie A Maurizio Beretta hopes the law can be passed “quickly” – the clubs need this to be the case. If only so they can stop wasting time with renovation.