Have you ever seen the proposed design for the new Napoli Stadium? What about the renovation of Bologna? How about that Siena re-model with the grass roof (yes grass, not glass)? Or the Stadio Della Roma project that has been going for pretty much a decade at this point?
For fans of Serie A, these proposed structures are a huge source of amusement, as many already know that bureaucracy will gobble these up before the plans are even put together. Even if one did manage to slip through, it still would cause suspicion, as the thought would be it would probably end up a ‘white elephant’ like the San Nicola in Bari. Things are changing, however, and soon the landscape of Italian football could be forever transformed.
The state of the current stadia in Italy is genuinely concerning. If you take away the likes of Juventus and Udinese, most of the current crop of teams have stadiums that hark back to Italia ‘90 or worse. Take Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi, for instance, or Bologna’s Stadio Renato Dall’Ara. They are both beautiful arenas that stand out from the ‘flat pack Ikea’ looking structures of some other European grounds. The problem is, there are no club shops, the facilities are inadequate, poor bars, terrible Wi-Fi for press and they do not enhance the fan experience. Others, like the Stadio San Paolo in Naples, literally had chunks coming off the walls and water pouring into the press box every time it rained.
Compare this to Arsenal in the UK. They have a modern stadium, created to make the most of the fan experience. They look to sell tickets abroad, so their ideal visitor is not necessarily the season ticket holders (these are expensive), but more so the fan who comes once, buys drinks, food and spends a lot of money in ‘The Armoury’ their massive club shop. This fan spends money, as they try to make the most of their visit. The fan has everything. Notice I did not say atmosphere, because you cannot charge for atmosphere.
With this being the case, Italian clubs are missing huge opportunity to maximise their revenue. So why do they not simply upgrade the stadiums? Surely they can do this, albeit in more of a Bundesliga manner so they can keep space for Ultras, corporate and families? Wrong. For many years, the debate has been two-fold. Most of the clubs rent and do not own their own stadiums, so who invests, the local authorities or the club? Secondly, laws originally meant for buildings of architectural importance, hamper practically all renovation projects.
Change is needed and now it looks like it may be happening. The Italian Government has looked at the national game and realised it is a business. As Italy’s economy has been decimated by the COVID pandemic, it needs a kick-start and football is one area they have identified. They have focused on the stadiums and looking to put together a stimulus package called the ‘Shock Plan’.
Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has been behind a movement that calls for the aforementioned limitations to be lifted, so clubs can re-build or at least renovate. “It’s essential we remove the urban development limitations. It’s unthinkable that San Siro can be renovated, but not the Stadio Franchi in Florence.”
The Franchi has struggled to get redevelopment plans, ironically, as the sheer age of the stadium means it falls under the legislation as . Even in Italia ‘90, the renovation was so limited that it did not change the structure. Compare this to San Siro, this could be torn down because it had major renovation works done 30 years ago to fundamentally change the shape. Stadiums in Italy are seen not as antiquated, but antiques.
Over the next few days, the so-called ‘Sbloccastadi – Stadium unblocker’ will be voted through in the Senate. If passe,d it may see a huge overhaul of Italian football stadiums, as clubs decide to rebuild or, like Fiorentina, renovate. For anyone who wants to know if this will be a success, look at Juventus. The modern stadium not only increases revenue, but it also helps recruitment, as players want to come to an Italian city, but they also want modern facilities. This in turn keeps the seats filled and the circle continues. Just look at Juve’s share price in the last few years.
The knock-on effect moves to TV rights, this is the major key. Cameras want to show atmosphere and full seats. If they see this and better players, then the money for the rights increases, this filters to the club and recruitment becomes better, the cycle continues again. Italy are already taking strides to stealing some top players from the major leagues and the timing of these stadium laws could be critical.
Italy sells itself to the world already. This is why people still love Italia ‘90, they loved Serie A in the 1990’s and they still love the atmosphere on the Curva. If Italy can model themselves on the Bundesliga stadiums, the league will rocket its way to a position of strength. They will be more appealing to the world’s top players and the TV rights will come. Italian stadiums may soon have room for families, corporate, Ultra and season ticket holders alike and the visual spectacle will be immense. This will not happen overnight, but when it does, it will be some much-needed tender love and care.