The stadium renovation conundrum: Is bigger necessarily better?

Many clubs across world football have replaced their history laced fortresses with swanky modern new-builds, but why is this gamble such an attractive prospect to top sides?

Arthur Ferridge
3rd November 2023
Image: Twitter- @thespursweb
As a sport, football is perpetually growing. With more competitions, more fans, and more money orbiting the game than ever, the executives in all the top club’s boardrooms are always looking to add bigger green numbers to their spreadsheets. One column always seems to present itself as an easy opportunity for improvement: ticket sales.

It’s a fairly simple equation: sell more tickets, make more money. All you need to do is find a bigger stadium. And if you can't find one preexisting, why not build your own?

This step has been taken by a handful of Premier League clubs in recent years, most notably Tottenham Hotspur, who knocked down the legendary White Hart Lane in 2017, redeveloping the property with a brand new, state of the art stadium, making space for an extra 26,566 supporters at the eye-watering cost of £1 billion. With the average Tottenham ticket reportedly costing £52, the club stands to improve its matchday ticket sales by over £1,000,000 per home game. Multiply that by a minimum of 19 home games per season, and you have clear proof of concept.

At face value it’s a no-brainer investment. Spend the money on a new stadium, revolutionize your ticket sales, and recoup the costs over the next few seasons. You just have to make sure that you don’t get relegated in the process, a risk which will be making Everton fans sweat as they face a third consecutive relegation battle after having broken ground on a brand new £500 million stadium in 2021.

While the stadium upgrade appears to be a financial no-brainer for most big clubs, there is another crucial factor to consider: the fan experience. Football supporters as a demographic are sentimental to the point of obsession, and will not be easily torn from their beloved stadiums, which become temples to the teams and players that inhabit them.

With the recent purchase of a large plot of land next to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea all but confirmed it's intent to demolish its historic West London home in favour of a bigger, more modern and, knowing the Boehly ownership, incredibly expensive new stadium.

Like many British clubs, Chelsea have occupied their home ground for over 100 years. Stamford Bridge has played host not only to some of Chelsea’s most iconic moments but also to some downright legendary footballing moments. Its pitch has been graced by some of the greatest players to ever touch the game, from superstars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to club legends like Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard. With so many decades of football heritage baked into the turf, fans are less than eager to level their beloved Bridge in favour of a sterile new build, which will prioritize function and capacity over heritage and atmosphere.

West Ham are a perfect case study for the risks at play. Their 2016 move from the beloved Boleyn Ground to the massive but characterless London Stadium increased matchday capacity by over 30,000, though it came with a sharp decline in fan experience. The London Stadium’s bowl architecture and presence of a running track mean that a great deal of fans find themselves sat uncomfortably far from the pitch, dampening the viewer experience and, in turn, the matchday atmosphere.

A rumoured stadium change never fails to raise spirited debate, particularly now that both Newcastle and Manchester United are considering major renovations to their home grounds. In an age of inflated transfer prices and astronomic player salaries, it is difficult to argue against the financial incentives of an expanded stadium, but from the fan perspective, leaving behind the sentimentality of a historic home ground in favour of a brand new stadium isn’t easy.

As with all things in football and in life, money as a motivator will almost always win out, though this is a sad indicator of football’s progression out of the hands of the fans and into those of the businessmen in charge.

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AUTHOR: Arthur Ferridge
Head of Sport, 2023/24. @rthur_ferridge on Twitter/X

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