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Kicking off: The pace of change
Steve Cameron recalls a conversation he had with some eminent stadia professionals about how the industry will look in a decade from now... Not as easy as it sounds, as demonstrated in Brazil…
So there we were, a diverse group – architects, an engineer, a journalist and an industry analyst – having lunch and chatting about the changing world of sports facilities. Inevitably, the question came up, ‘What will our business look like in 10 years?’ Everyone took a stab at it, pointing to raging evolvement in technology, the ‘new face’ of global politics and so on. When it was my turn, I simply shared a story…
Several years ago, when Populous architect David Orlowski was running the sports design group at Ellerbe Beckett, the company made a serious attempt to fire-up some business in Brazil. “There’s money in that country, in addition to the poverty that outsiders tend to think about,” Orlowski said. “And obviously there’s passion for the game everywhere. On top of that, Brazil clearly needs new facilities. They’re playing in old, dangerous lumps of concrete.”
So Orlowski and his gang approached several clubs in Brazil. They even came close to wrapping up a ground-share deal with Fluminense and Botafogo, who would have shared a classy, 40,000-seat venue in Rio de Janeiro.
But then came a shock.
“When you think of designing a new stadium, you get an idea for the general look, the shape of the bowl and things like that,” Orlowski said. “And then you begin seeing where you’ll put amenities – things such as a nice restaurant. That’s the way we were thinking. The truth is, though, we really didn’t know the culture – what an actual football experience in Brazil was like.
“So we went to a game, and I’m still dreaming of our new stadium with all the whistles and bells. And then we see thousands of fans, all hanging out on the street outside. Right away, I realised the whole restaurant thing was crazy. Everybody we saw came to the game with maybe five reals (about US$3 today).
“With that, they could get a ticket, drink a bottle of beer outside the ground – and eat dead-cat-on-a-stick.”
Orlowski’s experience – which mirrored that of others before him – made it seem that Brazil, where football was mired in corruption, match-fixing scandals and government interference, was light years from any serious attempts to build modern stadia.
Oh, by the way, that South American push by Ellerbe Beckett isn’t exactly ancient history. We’re talking just a few years ago.
And now? Of course we know that Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup, that sparkling new facilities are under construction all over the massive country – and that other projects like multi-purpose tourist destinations alongside sporting venues are not dreams at all. Brazil is happening.
Yet less than 10 years ago, no one could turn the first shovel of dirt in the land of samba. Populous tried to work out an arrangement with Flamengo, the most heavily supported team in Brazil with an estimated 35 million fans, to build a new training centre.
Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst – a giant US investment company – not only created plans on a new stadium for Corinthians in São Paulo, but that venture reached the stage where a sales office was taking orders for suites.
Both of those efforts collapsed, apparently offering more evidence that Brazil simply could not be developed according to any US or European model.
(Hicks, Muse chairman Tom Hicks apparently couldn’t get football out of his system, so he later partnered with Canadian George Gillett to buy Liverpool FC, an effort just as disastrous… for different reasons.)
The bottom line to all these tales is simply a reminder how fast the sports facilities industry can change – and not just because someone invents a better retractable roof.
Hey, it’s tough enough to predict how things will go in one year, let alone 10 of them.
Did you really guess, say, two years ago that Qatar would be hosting a World Cup – and it would be seriously suggested that every stadium, training facility, toilet and burger stand would be air-conditioned?
I didn’t think so.
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