Stadia: "These are not decisions that should be made purely according to cost, programme and an architectural beauty parade"

23 June 2020

Valencia
Photo: PA Images Valencia’s Estadio Mestalla prior to the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Valencia and Atalanta on March 10, 2020, which was played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The Estadio Mestalla is among the highest ranked stadia in the world.

Clubs need to avoid falling into certain traps when considering stadium renovations or moving to a new venue.

Clubs across Europe are under growing pressure to pursue major stadium developments, with the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium setting a new standard.

Spurs’ home ground went straight to the top of Buro Happold’s latest Venue Performance Rating (VPR) rankings.

The company is working with Everton on its new stadium, and is measuring how the venue can perform against each of the project’s ‘Key Principles’.

Jonathan Dyson dyson@offthepitch.com

For any club considering major changes to their stadium, or building a new venue, it is vital to ensure any developments fit with the club’s identity, values and ambitions, according to Andy Pottinger, a director in the Sports and Entertainment team at Buro Happold, which works with football clubs across the world on their stadium design.

When Tottenham Hotspur opened its new stadium last year, it immediately raised the bar for European football stadia, and clubs are now under increasing pressure to push ahead with major developments of their own, in order to catch up.

Buro Happold produces its own Venue Performance Rating (VPR) league tables.

Drawing on an array of data, together with Buro Happold’s own 20-year venue design experience, the VPR provides metrics measuring all the key elements of a stadium’s performance.

Holistic vision

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium went straight to the top of this year’s rankings, which are divided into three areas – Experience, Revenue and Impact – in a new version of the VPR system. 

Spurs’ home ground is the top-ranked stadium in the Overall VPR league table and also tops the Revenue table, while Barcelona’s Camp Nou leads the way in Impact, and Valencia’s Estadio Mestalla is the highest ranked for Experience. 

The VPR tool, together with Buro Happold’s consultancy services, is designed to help clubs achieve a holistic vision and proceed with new stadium developments in line with their overall plans – and avoid being distracted by a particular suggestion about a certain stand or new feature when that may not be the right fit for the club.

Andy Pottinger, director in the Sports and Entertainment team at Buro Happold.
Photo: PR Andy Pottinger, director in the Sports and Entertainment team at Buro Happold.

Pottinger says that this will be important, for instance, for Leeds United, Manchester United and the two Milan clubs, who could soon be set for major changes to their venues. 

“Each must make huge decisions in the coming years on how to develop their stadiums, or to create new ones entirely,” he tells offthepitch.com. “These decisions will influence the success of the club on and off the pitch for the next 50 years. Surely these are not decisions that should be made purely according to cost, programme and an architectural beauty parade. 

“Every club is different, and each has different characteristics, challenges, opportunities, hopes and desires. Many clubs talk of their ‘way’ – the Leicester way, or the Norwich way, for instance. We believe this pursuit of individuality should include the stadium and how it evolves.”

Everton’s ‘Key Principles’

Pottinger adds that the VPR performance models are now being used “to support the client’s decision-making through the entire life span of a project – from day one in the client’s office, through to post-occupancy testing to establish how we did.”

He points to Everton as an example. Buro Happold is working with the club on its new Bramley-Moore Dock Stadium, proposed to be opened for the start of the 2023/24 season. The stadium’s desired outcomes, or ‘Key Principles’, are publicly available and include, for instance, an extension of Everton’s community activities.

“We are actively measuring how the design of the stadium is expected to ultimately perform against each of these Key Principles,” reveals Pottinger.

Stadium science

Buro Happold’s VPR was first introduced last year, with the first league table appearing in Brand Finance’s Football 50 and used as part of its annual assessment of the world’s most valuable football clubs in terms of brand value. Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium topped both the stadium and the overall rankings for 2019.

Through its VPR, Buro Happold aims to develop a scientific understanding of how stadia perform for its clients, operators and end-users. “The aim has always been to introduce ‘stadium science’, inspired by how sports science has transformed the way in which clubs, as well as fans, scouts and agents, appraise players,” says Pottinger.

This is possibly the best comparison with the VPR, because it includes perceptions of atmosphere, location and even pies

The new version of the VPR is designed to take stadium science to a new level, with the inclusion of more data, such as geospatial information and sentiment analysis. In addition, Buro Happold has created 3D models of more than 70 stadium seating bowls to improve its acoustic assessments and to allow the introduction of metrics like spectator density. 

The calibration and comparison with fan surveys, revenue metrics, client consultation and additional online information sources have also been enhanced, and Pottinger says “this is an ongoing process that will continue to refine the tables in the coming years.”

Strong fan engagement

According to Buro Happold, its VPR tool:

•    Allows fans, players, owners and other stakeholders to understand where a stadium sits among its rivals.

•    Enables a capability for deep performance assessments of existing stadia, to truly establish their performance in relation to revenue, results and reputation.

•    Enables a capability for predictive modelling, allowing for the comparison of multiple options and future stadia, both with each other and with existing stadia.

Each of the three primary league tables – Experience, Revenue and Impact – are designed to complement each other and help clubs recognise how their performance in one can influence their performance in another.

Pottinger explains that, for example, “even when viewed from a purely financial perspective, it is still important to recognise the potential benefits to future revenue gained from a high Experience or Impact performance, through higher attendances, strong fan engagement or better performance on the pitch, for instance.”

Something in a similar vein

Buro Happold’s VPR is also intended to build on other club and stadium rating systems which already exist. The UEFA category system is one of the best known. This guarantees a minimum level of infrastructure, such as floodlighting and TV studios. The UEFA club coefficient is another, which focusses on team performance in European competitions.

And in England there are the multiple league tables generated by the92.net, populated by those trying to visit all of the grounds in the top four tiers of the English game. 

“This is possibly the best comparison with the VPR, because it includes perceptions of atmosphere, location and even pies,” says Pottinger. “Our goal has been to create something in a similar vein, but structured in a way that it can help owners and chief executives make informed decisions on the future infrastructure associated with their club.”