Liverpool gets approval to expand stadium after wrecking neighborhood, crying blight

Speaking of Vice Sports, Aaron Gordon has a good piece up on Liverpool F.C. getting approval last week to expand its stadium’s capacity by 14,000 seats, and how it did so by secretly buying up houses in the neighborhood around the stadium, leaving them to rot, then getting the Liverpool city council to approve tearing them down as an anti-blight measure:

As of last year, Liverpool F.C. owned 150 homes around their historic stadium, Anfield. Almost all of them were vacant. “There are thieves ripping the lead off people’s roofs,” Chris Coyle, whose mother lived among the vacants, told the Liverpool Echo at the time. This was just the tip of the iceberg: the Guardian reported that over the past decade, miscreants lit some of the blighted houses on fire, threw bricks at the few remaining residents, and in 2001 a woman using one of the vacant homes was murdered. In what one resident called “dereliction by design,” Liverpool was accused of buying properties just to let them rot, driving prices down and residents out so they could more cheaply expand Anfield.

Gordon acknowledges that it’s not clear whether this was the original plan or just a lucky outcome — as he puts it, “t would be far too generous to credit Liverpool with carrying out a nefarious, coordinated plot across three ownership groups when it demonstrated so much incompetence on and off the field.” Either way, though, it’s a new twist on stadium shenanigans — I’ve seen a lot of crazy tactics over the years, but this is the first time I’ve seen a pro sports team accused of blockbusting.

Barça fans to vote on team funding own remodeling of Camp Nou, because Europe

European soccer remains generally outside the scope of this site, but I think I can make an exception for freakin’ F.C. Barcelona, which has announced it will conduct a major remodeling of its historic Camp Nou stadium rather than replacing it. The cost will be about $800 million, will run from 2017 through 2021 while the team still plays there, and will include added seating, new restaurants, and a new roof.

The cost will be covered entirely by Barça’s cash reserves, bank loans, and naming-rights fees, and as if that’s not enough to create culture shock for U.S. sports fans, check out this quote from team president Sandro Rosell:

“The option of building a new stadium on a new site has been rejected as the final cost could have saddled the club and its members with debt and tied the hands of future boards of directors,” added Rosell.

That’s eminently logical, and of course not at all the way we do things here, where fears of saddling teams with debt are typically used as a reason to demand public subsidies, not to scale back costs.

In other we’re-not-in-Kansas news, the Camp Nou remodeling will be voted on by Barcelona’s 222,000 members, since these fans are effectively shareholders in the team. I can’t even imagine what this system would look like if it were implemented here, since as we all know, voting on things is un-American.

Tottenham said to be considering NFL-ready stadium, according to legendarily unreliable newspaper

This was reported in the Daily Mail, the British tabloid that once won an award for “worst misrepresentation of a scientific article in a national newspaper,” so major grains of salt, but: The owners of the London-based Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly looking into building a new 65,000-seat stadium that would be able to be converted to football, thus giving them the ability to play host to a London NFL franchise.

The Mail reports — citing “sources” — that “it is understood that plans being drawn up for the Premier League outfit may include a sliding pitch to protect the playing surface for when it is used for NFL matches.” Which is pretty handwavy even for unattributed stadium plans, but given that we’re talking about an NFL team that so far exists only in the mind of London NFL boosters, it’s probably about as should be expected.

In the meantime, let’s just enjoy this awesome rendering of now-scrapped earlier plans for a Tottenham stadium, just because a building with “NAMING RIGHTS” stenciled on the roof is the perfect image for our sports era.

Liverpool owner Henry: New stadiums only work if they let you jack up ticket prices

For anyone still in need of being disabused of the notion that new stadiums are money machines, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry explains it all for you, in the course of telling why a new building wouldn’t be a panacea for his Liverpool FC soccer team.

Asked about whether Liverpool needs a new stadium to compete with other top clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United, Henry says, “New stadiums that are publicly financed make sense for clubs. I’ve never heard of a club turning down a publicly financed stadium. But privately carrying new stadiums is an enormous challenge.”

By way of explanation, he provides a chart showing not just seating capacity at the rival clubs’ stadiums, but average annual revenue per seat as well. “Even if Liverpool were able to get to 60,000 seats, there would have to be an increase from £900 to £1550 in revenue per seat as well to catch Arsenal,” says Henry, continuing:

“New stadiums increase revenues primarily by raising ticket prices — especially premium seating.

“In America, as an example, 3 NFL (American football) clubs have moved into new stadiums over the past 3 years. The New York Jets average ticket price rose by 32% when they moved into their new stadium. The New York Giants rose by 26% and the Dallas Cowboys rose by 31%. In baseball, ticket prices rose 76% when the New York Yankees moved into their new stadium 3 years ago.

“At Emirates Stadium match-day revenues rose 96% the first year while seats had increased 57%.

“Building new or refurbishing Anfield is going to lead to an increase from £40M of match-day revenue to perhaps £60-70M if you don’t factor in debt service.”

In short: The way you make money off a new stadium is by using the schmancier amenities to jack up ticket prices, not by selling more seats — something that should already have been obvious when you look at, say, the New York Yankees, who reduced the number of seats in their new stadium. And though Henry doesn’t spell it out, if refurbishing or replacing Anfield would only generate an extra £20-30 million before debt service, then it’s hardly going to be worth it, since debt service on, say, a £400 million stadium upgrade — about $600 million — would completely eat up any new revenue.

So, yes, privately financing stadiums is an “enormous challenge,” at least if you’re not in a market that will support dramatic leaps in ticket prices. Or to put it another way: Most new stadiums are only worth it if you can use somebody else’s money to pay for them.

Liverpool row over Anfield gets heated

Staffing constraints usually keep me from covering European stadium campaigns, but it’s tough to ignore the news out of Liverpool, where the owners of Liverpool FC are likely abandoning plans to expand Anfield, the site where they’ve played for the last 119 years, and instead will likely look to build a new stadium in a nearby public park.

Making things especially interesting is that Liverpool is owned by the Fenway Sports Group, aka Boston Red Sox owner John Henry. And while Henry initially said he would prefer a Fenway-style rehab of Anfield, team exec Ian Ayre now says that’s unlikely to happen:

“Land/property acquisition, environmental and statutory issues are creating barriers to our ambition.

“It looks increasingly unlikely there is any way we can move forward on a refurbishment of Anfield.”…

“In terms of a Stanley Park stadium versus redevelopment, there is absolutely no question that a refurbishment of Anfield would come at a significantly lower cost than a new build.

“It’s disappointing that based on where we are at the moment, we seem to be unable to press on with the more viable economic option of a refurbishment, but we remain committed to finding the best possible long-term solution.”

So if rebuilding is cheaper and the owners want to do it, what’s the holdup? FoS correspondent David Dyte helpfully provides aerial evidence:

Note the housing surrounding the current stadium, and the relative wide open spaces of Stanley Park to the north. David observes that “‘statutory obstacles’ sounds like code for ‘eminent domain is a pain in the ass in England’ to me,” and it looks like he’s correct, more or less: A report in the Independent notes that Liverpool was looking at buying up properties around Anfield for an expansion, but that the club balked at requirements that they compensate local residents through a community benefits agreement, known in the UK as a Section 106 Agreement.

Liverpool city council leader Joe Anderson has now lashed back at Henry’s team yesterday, declaring:

“You can’t build something right next to someone’s house that blocks daylight — whether Liverpool FC like it or not. That is something that exists. It existed 10 years ago when they were talking about it then, and it exists today.

“They are not our rules, they are national legal requirements. We will do everything we can to assist Liverpool FC and help them. … There is a cost in redeveloping Anfield, they may have to wait three years before they can start. Even if it gets planning permission, that does not mean that people can’t appeal. People have rights. They have to be able to object and there has to be a strong regeneration argument. You can’t just move people out of their houses because you want a [redeveloped] stadium. There have to be wider benefits to the area, that includes jobs and the environment.”

Portugal told to consider razing new soccer stadiums

Further evidence that stadiums built for mega-events like the Olympics and the World Cup are white elephants as soon as they’re built: Elected officials in Aveiro and Leiria, Portugal are saying those cities should consider demolishing stadiums built for the 2004 European soccer championships to save on maintenance costs and make way for more useful development.

To be fair, it doesn’t sound like either city is going to jump at this idea, and either way, razing the stadiums isn’t going to wipe out the $214 million in construction debt the two cities took on. And replacing them with shopping malls or business centers, as former Portuguese economy minister Augusto Mateus suggests, isn’t necessarily going to help, given that those could end up just diverting development that would otherwise happen elsewhere. (Caveat: I’m not as up on the latest in Portuguese land use politics as I really should be.) Still, that they’re even having this debate should be a bit of a red flag to cities being told that new stadiums will help put their cities on the map — once again, be careful of “on the map” for what.

Worst. Stadium name. Ever?

European sports leagues are usually outside this site’s purview, but sometimes we just have to take notice: For example, when the Newcastle United football team (that’s soccer to you North American readers) announces that it’s signed a naming rights deal to rename its 117-year-old St. James’ Park to “sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park Stadium” for the remainder of the season. The cost to the online sportswear merchant: Absolutely nothing, as the new name is being used to “showcase” the park’s naming rights for a more long-term sale next summer. And did we mention that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is also owner of Sports Direct?

So far British fans and the media have mostly reacted by pointing and laughing, with Telegraph columnist Jim White writing that compared to this, “FC Dallas‘s Pizza Hut Park is a beacon of understatement.” Okay, pointing, laughing, and trying to form a fan cooperative to buy out out Ashley and turn the team into a community-owned club like in Madrid and Barcelona. Because we all know those Europeans are a bunch of socialists.