Roma's New Stadium Plan Shows Path That Italian Clubs Must Follow

Paolo Bandini@@Paolo_BandiniSpecial to Bleacher ReportMarch 27, 2014

Artist's impression of the proposed new Roma stadium
Artist's impression of the proposed new Roma stadiumUncredited/Associated Press

For Alessandro Florenzi, a new stadium might make success a little less exhausting. On Tuesday night the Roma player scored his first-ever goal in front of the Stadio Olimpico’s Curva Sud—where the club’s most fanatical supporters reside.

Like so many players before him, he rushed to celebrate under that stand. To get there required hurdling one waist-high advertising hoarding, rounding another one and sprinting 20 yards across a covered running track

Little more than 12 hours later, he watched with the rest of his team-mates as Roma formally unveiled plans for a new stadium.

The 52,000-seat venue in Tor di Valle—designed to allow subsequent expansion to 60,000 if required—will feature state-of-the-art technology, from a continuous video board running the entire circumference of the stands right through to a hydraulic lift that will raise players up from the changing rooms to the pitch.

But the single most significant innovation was also the most obvious one. Unlike the Stadio Olimpico, this new home—known as Stadio della Roma for the time being—has been designed without a running track, reducing the distance that players such as Florenzi must travel to celebrate with fans. And, rather more importantly, allowing those spectators to see the goal better in the first place.

There are far worse places today to watch a Serie A game than the Stadio Olimpico—which unlike some other Italian venues has at least undergone some attempt at modernisation. Constructed in stages from the late 1920s onward, the stadium has been remodeled on a number of occasions but most recently in 2008, when every seat in the stadium was torn out and replaced.

Ultimately, though, there is only so much that can be done with a building that was designed in a different era and with different objectives in mind. No stadium with a running track will ever be an ideal place to watch football, and the shape of the Olimpico—a low-slung bowl whose stands are more shallow than at most modern stadia—places fans even further away from the action.

In this age of high-definition broadcasts, it is easy to see how some supporters might prefer the view from their own sofa. Unlike in countries such as England, Italian football fans with the appropriate satellite subscription are also able to watch every top-flight game live on TV. That option starts to look even more appealing in light of enduring problems with violence and racist abuse in some stadiums.

Those latter issues are not eliminated simply by building new venues, of course. Juventus, the first club in Serie A to own their home ground, have been obliged to close sections on multiple occasions this season as a punishment for the behaviour of certain supporters (even if the most common offence, territorial discrimination, remains a highly contentious one). 

But it is true that modern venues can be designed in ways that are more easily policed, with better access points for stewards and improved surveillance systems to pick out persistent troublemakers.

The evidence would certainly suggest that more people feel comfortable watching games at Juventus Stadium than did at the Bianconeri’s former homes. The club’s average attendances in the three years since it opened have been almost double what they were at Turin's Stadio Olimpico between 2006 and 2011. 

And yet, as positive as the new move has been for Juventus, they remain anxious for other clubs to start following suit. Owning a stadium has allowed the Bianconeri to drastically increase revenue through both improved ticket sales and other commercial initiatives, but their opportunities are still restricted by the greater context in which they find themselves.

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 16:  Juventus FC General Manager Giuseppe Marotta looks on during the Serie A match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on February 16, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

As general manager Beppe Marotta told CNN last year, per Chris Murphy, it is impossible for Juventus to charge as much as they would like for entrance to their cutting-edge facility, when rivals are not in position to do the same.

"There are a lot of resources which can be gained from the stadium but we also suffer from the same show, which is being put up at our competitors' stadiums,” he said. “They are obsolete and they price them completely differently. You can debate that Juventus vs. AC Milan is the same as AC Milan vs. Juventus in terms of the show on the pitch but the theater is completely different.”

A rising tide, on the other hand, ought to lift all boats. Marotta could also have mentioned the fact that full stadiums are far more appealing to TV audiences than half-empty ones. Packed modern venues will do nothing to harm Serie A’s standing with international broadcasters. 

That is why stadium projects such as Roma’s are vital to the long-term health of Italian football. But as encouraging as it is to see progress made by the Giallorossi, it is equally dispiriting to see how slow things are moving elsewhere.

Besides Roma and Juventus, only Udinese have a concrete stadium plan in place, having secured a 99-year leasehold of the Stadio Friuli and subsequently launched an ambitious plan of redevelopment

Others remain at a more preliminary stage.

Sampdoria have identified a potential site in the Foce neighbourhood of Genoa but are still assessing its viability.

Fiorentina, likewise, have a proposed venue in Novoli, as well as a detailed €150 million plan for the stadium itself. However, the desire of owners Diego and Andrea Della Valle to develop accompanying businesses on the surrounding land is being met with resistance, just as it has at previous proposed sites.

And then there are clubs such as Lazio, Napoli and Inter, whose owners have stated their intention to create new structures but whose plans have not yet been formalised. Worryingly, the passage of the much-discussed new Stadium Law, which was supposed to encourage the construction of new venues, is now being cited by some as an additional obstacle.

While the law has cut down many of the bureaucratic processes that teams must clear when building a new venue, an amendment made during its Senate reading also prohibits construction companies from being granted accompanying parcels of land on which to create residential developments.

Without that potential sweetener to offer to contractors, many owners fear they will not be able to keep costs down to a manageable level, according to Italian website Wired.  

None of this, though, has stopped Roma. The Giallorossi still have many hurdles to clear, and plans to have the new stadium open in time for the 2016-17 season might yet prove over-ambitious. But as Juventus have already demonstrated, the rewards for fighting through the bureaucracy are great. And they will only become greater as more teams follow their lead. 


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