Developers are in the grip of football fever, building iconic stadiums that will revive out-of-town areas. We look at the challenges in design, security and crowd control and highlights the retail and hospitality potential

Demand for stands and stadium development

Following the urgent safety-related works to create all-seater stadiums carried out in the aftermath of the Taylor report in the 1990s, a further wave of stadium development has occurred. While most premiership football clubs have made significant investments in their facilities, there is also potential for development in the Football League and in rugby, where gate receipts are critical to the financial health and competitiveness of clubs.

The strategic rationale behind redevelopment can be varied, but there is strong evidence that in addition to the benefits of increased capacity, stadium redevelopment has a powerful impact on a club’s profile. Ground sponsorship, opportunities for revenue diversification, and the development of links between clubs and community are additional drivers behind projects. Local authorities have also become more actively involved in sponsoring relocation and redevelopment of grounds as part of wider regeneration projects.

A third potential player in the equation is a commercial developer, either motivated by opportunities to redevelop the existing site or keen to use sport to anchor a broader commercial development on an out-of-town site. The liberalisation of gambling in the UK may provide a further source of co-investment into sports stadiums.

Sport stadium development

In 2003 the mould-breaking KC Stadium in Hull opened, establishing a new model for multi-use stadiums and community involvement. While it is the quality of the team and the management that count on the pitch, the extra revenue that ticket sales and other uses can generate can make a huge difference to a club’s ability to invest in its playing resources. Arsenal’s £200m investment in a new stadium demonstrates the strategic importance of increasing ground capacity, while less fashionable clubs such as Reading FC show that through a combination of ground sharing and a diversified revenue stream, high quality facilities can be enjoyed in the lower divisions.

Key characteristics of stadiums

Grandstands and stadiums are a truly iconic building type. The scale and highly visible engineering of many stands makes them landmarks in their own right – a trend reinforced by the quality of venues such as the Telstra Stadium, Sydney, and the Estadio do Dragao, Porto, where the 2004 European Championships will open.

However, stadiums and grandstand buildings are deceptively complex and create a number of challenges for the design team, not least dealing with the sheer obtrusiveness of the typical stand. The main challenges associated with the stadium as a building type include:


  • The inward focus of the building, a characteristic which is emphasised by perimeter security measure as well as the design of the stand. This can be partly addressed by incorporating public uses such as retail orleisure/hospitality;
  • Massing of stands and the size of structural elements, which makes it difficult to reconcile any development with its surroundings. Furthermore, their size means that the viability of developments can be very sensitive to the cost of key visual elements, mainly the roof and structure, which encourages the use of economic materials
  • The size of key elements: tiers, concourses, stairs, ramps and roofs can all be large and, as a result, inflexible. For example, where there is a discontinuity in design – open corners in a football stadium, or the switch from a double to a single tier beneath a continuous roof, then it is difficult to achieve an economic, visually satisfying and durable design solution.

Meeting the needs of the users

Getting the right development can be a complex process. Inevitably, there are trade-offs between the development, the range of facilities offered and overall affordability, which increasingly depends upon the success of turning a stadium into a year-round operation. Feasibility issues are particularly important for “event” venues such as the City of Manchester Stadium, originally developed for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Guaranteeing the sustainability of these investments by maximising regeneration benefits and by ensuring regular use is an essential aspect of project success.

Stadium project teams are concerned with satisfying the needs of three main interest groups. Spectators are motivated by the quality of the event experience and, to a lesser extent, by the range of facilities provided, comfort, safety, and crowd control issues.

The prime concern of the players will be the quality of the pitch, predictable playing conditions and atmosphere, together with back-of-house facilities.

The final stakeholder is the owner, driven by the need to sustain revenue and profitability derived from a number of sources including:


  • Maximising capacity
  • Maximising event days. This may involve ground sharing arrangements, together with investment in durable pitch surfaces
  • Generating premium income through club seats and boxes
  • Optimising non-gate sports income related to hospitality, concessions, ground sponsorship, advertising and parking
  • Diversifying operations to provide a 365 days a year income - such as hotels, conferences.

In most instances, the needs of the three groups are compatible.

Areas where conflicting requirements may need to be resolved include:


  • Achievement of optimum viewing distances for different sports in a multi-use stadium. This is not a significant problem in the UK as the two prime users – rugby and football – use similarly-sized pitches. In stadiums where alternative uses are less compatible - football and athletics are commonly co-located in Europe, for example - temporary stands can be used to reconfigure seating for different sports, albeit with potential time and cost penalties.
  • Achievement of comfortable sightlines and seating rakes. The requirement to maximise seating capacity in a confined site may result in requirements for steeply raked multi-tier stands. By contrast, where budget, rather than site area, is constrained, the pitch of stands may be reduced to minimise costs of structure and vertical circulation, together with overall visual impact.
  • Provision of good quality playing conditions. Steeply raked bowl stadiums create a great atmosphere but at pitch level, uneven natural light, rainfall and ventilation can play havoc with pitch quality. These problems have been particularly noticeable in high-sided stadiums or schemes with retractable roofs such as Cardiff. Design features to remedy these problems include “perforating” the bowl to encourage natural ventilation, mechanical pitch ventilation and, in extreme cases, provision of mobile or palletised pitches, such as the mobile pitch at the Arena Auf-Schalke, Germany.

Making the stadium work: Functional design drivers

Stadiums need to be highly functional buildings, providing safe and satisfactory viewing conditions and facilities for large crowds using minimum resources. Cost and value drivers affecting stadium design are dealt with below and this section sets out the key practical design criteria for a stadium.

Sightlines and viewing distances

Sightlines and viewing distances are determined by the sport, the size and layout of the stadium and the orientation of stands relative to the pitch. Distance from the action, the ability to see over the heads of spectators and the absence of obstructed views are key drivers.

The optimum viewing distance for rugby or soccer, taking into account the height of stands, is 90 m diameter from the centre circle. The ability to see over the heads of spectators is determined by the “C” value, which measures the height difference between lines of sight to various parts of the playing area. A “C” value of 90 mm is the good practice benchmark for acceptable viewing, with higher values of up to 150 mm requiring steeply raked tiers.

In practice, complex geometries using dished tiers with higher “C” values at the rear are specified, achieving the optimum balance between sightlines, tier rakes and viewing distances.

Layout and circulation

The design principles for planning of circulation include:


  • Clear routes to get people to their seats;
  • Providing concourse spaceand exit routes to allow for safe evacuation in panic conditions;
  • Subdivision of stand, concourse, concessions, and facility areas to break crowds down into manageable numbers. This subdivision provides the module for planning such features as exits, gangways and WCs.

Generating venue value: Cost and value drivers in stadium design

Reconciling the needs of different stakeholders, different sports and the need to either exploit or minimise the visual impact of a stadium all have a potential impact upon the cost and revenue streams associated with a stadium scheme and the quality of the spectator experience. In putting together the business case for a project, a wide range of cost and value drivers need to be considered. The primary drivers are as follows:


Seat capacity is driven by the business case and the ambition of the club and will determine the following key areas of expenditure:


  • The number of tiers
  • The type of roof and the extent of shelter provided
  • The total size of building in terms of footprint and floor area
  • The extent of support facilities and concession areas required.

Gross floor area

Gross floor area is closely related to capacity and also directly drives cost. Schemes with a high area per seat will generally be more expensive. Where extra area delivers value though hospitality, retail or club facilities, the additional capital cost can be tested in a business case. However, if the space does not generate revenue (such as concourses) or if it cannot be used (such as below tiers), the spatial arrangement needs to be carefully tested. For example, below a capacity threshold, construction of one large two tier stand in a mainly single tier stadium is likely to be more cost effective than the construction of a lower-capacity continuous two tier arrangement, with its extra concourses and vertical circulation.

Pitch level

In a new build stadium, it may be possible to excavate the playing area and lower tier below ground level. The advantages are considerable and include:


  • Reduced overall height and massing of the development
  • Avoidance of requirements for framed structures to lower tiers, including vertical circulation and below tier void space.

However, opportunities to construct sunken pitches may be constrained by groundwater level and the ability to excavate and remove large volumes of excavated material. Costs may be very high if the material is contaminated or below the water table.

Shape and arrangements of stands

Arrangements range from continuous bowl arrangements, through stands with infill corners, to conventional straight stands. Bowl designs are only feasible on complete redevelopments and typically incur a cost premium of up to 5% associated with structural complexity, curved/facetted components, reduced space efficiency and an increased footprint.

Advantages of the bowl arrangement include


  • Improved sightlines
  • Improved atmosphere associated with the enclosed bowl
  • Improved aesthetics based on a single dominant element (for example the roof or external facade).

Disadvantages other than cost also include increased viewing distances at the rear of side stands and issues relating to pitch quality.

Straight stands are cheaper to construct due to simpler structures, repetitive detailing and more efficient space planning. Adopting a plan based on separate straight stands also enables capacity to be added incrementally.

The main disadvantages of straight stands relate to the piecemeal nature of the overall stadium, together with unsatisfactory options for “closing” corners. “Atmosphere” can also leak from grounds that do not have a continuous perimeter roof.

Tier arrangement

Requirements for multiple tiers are determined by overall ground capacity and, to a lesser extent, by the available development footprint. Single tier stands are more cost-effective but offer poorer sightlines as capacity increases.

By contrast, while multiple tier stands enable more intensive development of the site, negative cost and efficiency drivers include:


  • Structural complexity
  • Vertical circulation requirements - including issues of fire safety
  • Issues associated with height massing and planning generally.


Clear span structures are required to provide unobstructed views and weather protection to all seats. As the roof is the dominant element, design statements are often made with either the roof or its structure. The primary structural options available to the project team, in order of cost and complexity, are:


  • Goal post/arched trusses
  • Cantilevers
  • Tension structures.

Solutions based on goal post trusses are only suitable for straight stands. Cantilevers and tension structures are suitable for all stand arrangements. Cost drivers affecting the overall cost of the roof include:


  • Spans, determined primarily by the depth of the stand
  • The overall roof area, determined by factors such as stand height and depth
  • Dimensional restrictions on cantileversSolutions at corners
  • Requirements for architectural detailing - which may result in a sub-optimal structural solution
  • Wind loads.

Spectator comfort

The primary determinants of spectator comfort relate to space standards on the tier, provision of facilities and ease of navigation. Quality of seats may also affect spectator satisfaction. Better quality accommodation may attract larger gates, justifying investment associated with spectator comfort driven by:


  • Higher costs for increased footprint, gross floor areas, tier and roof area to provide equivalent capacity
  • More extensive fit-out to provide more facilities such as WCs
  • Requirements for dedicated access facilities for boxes and club seats
  • Design of circulation and signage to facilitate safe movement of crowds.

All year operation

Addition of facilities to increase event days and extend the range of uses of a stadium is a significant cost and value driver. The benefit is in diversified revenue streams which need to be offset against commercial risk together with increased costs in the following areas:


  • Gross internal floor area - additional accommodation for services/concessions that may extend beyond the boundaries of the stadium
  • Additional changing, club administration facilities and concessions associated with ground sharing
  • Premium fit out to executive boxes to enable year-round usage as meeting suites.


Space planning and services provision for catering, retail and other concessions can result in over-provision or abortive works unless early input is received for consultants/franchises.

Capacity for expansion

Designing in structural capacity for the expansion of the basic stand will result in premium costs for frame and superstructure, and potential abortive costs of roofs if demolished within their design life. It is more economic to design to the full capacity of the intended long-term use, so provision for expansion should only be considered if growth is anticipated with a defined timescale.

Other drivers associated with a development include infrastructure costs associated with new sites, or the demolition, access and phasing costs associated with working with an existing stadium.

Venue sustainability and long-term use

With stadiums projects now being used to anchor regeneration programmes and out-of-town development, the link between sporting facilities and the long-term social and economic sustainability of the investment are key issues. With stadiums developments, the long-term objectives are firstly, to ensure that the facility is used as intensively as possible, and secondly, to optimise the use of facilities for either community or commercial use.

Stadiums constructed for one-off events, rather than for a club with an established programme, have to find a long-term use. Examples include the City of Manchester stadium, which has been converted into a football venue, following the Commonwealth Games in 2002. Issues associated with the successful transition from initial use to long-term use include:


  • The planned ability to reconfigure the stadium from an event use to general use through changes to tier arrangements
  • Provision of event facilities for media and VIPs in temporary space that can be adapted for permanent use in the final configuration
  • Identification of and investment in facilities required for initial event and general use.

Where a range of community-based facilities are provided as part of the stadium development, as in the KC Stadium in Hull, it is vital to ensure that infrastructure is in place to promote and provide access to the facilities upon completion of the development.

Another aspect of the sustainability of a stadium is whole life performance. While the operating costs of stadiums are not a significant component of a club’s expenditure, the liability associated with long-term maintenance and replacement can be considerable - particularly for elements of the building that are subject to wear and tear or those which are exposed to the elements. Accordingly, the consideration of long-term performance compared with initial cost is an important but often ignored aspect of the development equation.

Procurement and funding

With joint ventures between clubs, developers and local authorities becoming more common, procurement issues have become more complex and, in particular, the management and transfer of risk has taken a high profile.

Clubs are occasional developers and are unlikely to have the specialist management skills in place to deliver a major project. Accordingly, the selection of advisers and delivery route will affect not only the completed stadium, but also the impact of the construction project on the day-to-day running of the club.

The key steps that need to be taken to ensure successful delivery of the project are as follows:


  • The development of a clear project vision and objectives
  • The completion of a business case that tests the balance of facilities
  • The identification of a project owner with decision-making powers within the client organisation
  • The production of a brief, setting out organisational issues, development parameters, budgets and timescales
  • The appointment of a specialist project team.

Due to the utilitarian nature of much standard stadium construction work, design and build has been a commonly adopted procurement route. With full control over the design, contractors are able to offer low cost schemes with a high degree of product certainty. However, for clients seeking strategic advice, or aiming to develop a solution which optimises value-added and accommodates the needs of a range of stakeholders, the involvement of a specialist design team, at least up to scheme design stage, can realise long-term benefits. The development of a high quality scheme may also assist with the planning issues.

In these circumstances, a develop and construct route, possibly involving the novation of the professional team, should deliver a product that is closely focused on the client’s needs and which takes full account of the cost and value drivers affecting the project.

Risk is a key element of the stadium procurement equation. As club revenues are relatively inelastic, cost overruns or delays in completion can have a significant effect upon the long-term viability of a scheme. Similarly, the vulnerability of clubs to changes in revenue related to promotion and relegation mean that contractors and consultants have to secure their position, either through bonds or through risk premiums built into contracts which often pass most of the financial risk to the project team.

In the circumstances, it may benefit the client to review the extent of risk transfer inherent in the form of contract adopted, as a more equitable balance of risk between the parties may deliver a better value solution to the client.

Other issues associated with procurement include the fit out of hospitality and concessions areas, where interfaces between the shell works and the concessionaires’ requirements should be resolved at the earliest opportunity to minimise over-specification, co-ordination problems or abortive works.

Cost breakdown

The cost model is based on a regional stadium with a total of 25,000 seats. The development has a gross floor area, which includes the area of the tiers, of 35,800 m2.

The stadium features a continuous roof enclosing one two-tier stand, with the rest of the seating arranged on a single tier. The scope of works described in the cost model excludes the fitting out of back-of-house areas, hospitality areas and concessions. The total value of the fit-out works is approximately £4.25 million. Included in the scheme are costs for the pitch and floodlighting, totalling £1.15 million.

Rates in the model are at 2nd quarter 2004 price levels, based on a lump sum contract and a location in South East England. Costs of site preparation, fit-out, external works, loose equipment and catering equipment are excluded, as well as professional fees and VAT. The model also excludes allowances for site of project and normals.

Rates in the model may need to be adjusted to account for specification, site conditions, procurement route and programme.