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Froome & Friends

If you’re a cycling fan, Wednesday 13 December 2017 was a big day. News of Chris Froome’s Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for the asthma medication Salbutamol tore through the Cycling media. Across Europe, it made mainstream headlines. Disappointed is an understatement. I was gutted.If you’ve read the introduction and despaired, worry not. This is not an impassioned defence of Chris Froome and Team Sky. They have lawyers to do that for them.

This is, in fact, a question that should be on the mind of anyone that calls themselves a sports fan, focused through cycling’s prism of narcotic notoriety:

How on earth do we actually feel about dopers?

Let’s get the big one out of the way first. Innocent until proven guilty. In sport as in court. You cannot be found guilty until it has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

What does this mean for Froome? Salbutamol is not a banned substance. It doesn’t require the infamous Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) woven into the Wiggins inquiry. Froome’s AAF is not a guilty verdict. He has the right to explain why twice the permitted concentration was in his system after Stage 18 of the 2017 Vuelta a España.

If proven a physiological anomaly, Froome should be absolved and his Maillot Rojo should stand. If not, a lengthy ban and the loss of his Vuelta title will tarnish what would doubtless have been an imposing legacy.

So where does this leave him? There may be better ways to illustrate an answer to my question than the Froome example.

Cycling will forevermore be haunted by the spectre of doping. It is therefore right to be cynical. However, we should not yet doom Froome to villainy. His guilt has not been proven, though public opinion may have condemned him already.

The contrast with how Sir Mo Farah CBE is perceived is stark. One of the country’s most celebrated athletes, he is also inextricably linked with Alberto Salazar. In May 2017, an employee at Nike’s world-(in)famous Oregon Project made accusations that Dr Jeffrey Brown (a doctor working with Salazar at the time) deliberately falsified medical records before sharing them with the United States Anti-Doping Agency USADA.

The accusations, specifically with regards to performance-boosting quantities of the amino acid L-carnitine, were damning. They’re not too dissimilar to those levelled at Froome. Yet Sir Mo is revered still. He was voted Sports Personality of the Year 2017.

There must be more to it than cycling’s chequered past.

Athletics is far from clean. Icarus, Bryan Fogel and Grigory Rodchenkov’s exposé of the Russian state-sponsored doping programme was nominated for an Academy Award. And Sochi 2014 is fresher in the memory than Lance Armstrong’s final Tour de France in 2010.

Froome should be the quintessential British sporting icon. Not for him the celebrated British Cycling Academy pathway. Instead, an incomparable work ethic has taken him from humble beginnings in Kenya to four Tour de France titles. The archetypal underdog, a quietly-spoken and modest demeanour is at odds with a supreme athleticism and competitive ruthlessness.

Many point to his birthplace in the heart of Africa. They point to his residence outside the UK. They say he focuses only on marquee events. They complain he has the strongest team, the latest equipment, the best coaching. All this before the doping allegations.

Is that Froome or Farah? For the above could be said of both.

Yet Farah basks in the reflected glow of public affection afforded by his four Olympic gold medals. Perhaps better than any other he has used his Olympic success to nurture a persona adored by sports fans.

That may be the point. Is Froome’s greatest fault that, despite his mastery of his sport, the Tour de France bears no comparison with the Olympics? Olympic success is like no other, and Farah will forever be associated with the Games.

Have his four medals made Mo emblematic of the Olympic ideals? If so, have then Froome’s four Tour titles made him the embodiment of cycling’s pharmaceutical reputation? Is this why he is vilified as Farah is knighted?

What of those pantomime villains, the proven cheats? This should be easy. Yet, again, it isn’t. Yet, again, cycling and athletics are the two sports that best illustrate the discrepancy.

The same Vuelta at which Froome recorded his AAF was Alberto Contador’s last. Arguably his generation’s greatest Grand Tour rider, El Pistolero retired in style. He won the penultimate stage atop the ferociously steep Alto de l’Angliru. The next day he pedalled into Madrid ahead of the peloton, enjoying a hero’s welcome alone.

A fairy-tale ending for a man who was banned from the sport for two years after testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol (a powerful corticosteroid) at the 2010 Tour. Contador fought the ban, claiming he’d unknowingly eaten a contaminated steak. Whilst it was wild boar for Tyson Fury, for Contador it was beef.

His case ended up in Lausanne, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In 2012 he was given a back-dated two-year ban from the sport and was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia titles.

In other words, he was proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Remember that?

The double-standard is different this time. In this case, it’s Justin Gatlin that provides the insidious foil to Contador the flawed hero. In fact, Gatlin is possibly the most unpopular man in sport.

He was famously booed during the medal ceremony that saw him crowned 100m World Champion ahead of a retiring Usain Bolt. It’s impossible to argue that this was during small-scale competition either. There is no such thing as small-scale with Bolt in the lane next to you.That was before fresh scandal engulfed Gatlin. He is surely now beyond redemption. An investigation by The Telegraph revealed members of his team, including his coach, offered to supply undercover reporters with performance-enhancing drugs.

So, in answer to my question, how we feel about dopers is simultaneously logical and illogical. Sport is built upon this nebulous passion.

We fickle fans choose our heroes carefully. We select those athletes we think reflect our values and abilities. That’s why it’s possible for some to simultaneously condemn Froome and revere Farah, applaud Contador and boo Gatlin. After all, who would boo themselves?

End of an era as McDonald’s ends IOC deal

"McDonald’s was one of six IOC partners whose current contracts pre-date the price hike and expire in ‘20. The others are GE, P&G, Dow Chemical, Visa and Coca-Cola. The other TOP members have all renewed or signed since the price hike. All of these brands are going to be looking at that scenario, and making a decision about whether the additional investment they’re going to require is going to generate a bigger incremental return"

Read more in Sports Business Journal here and Sportcal here.

 

And Then There Were Two: Will It Be LA or Paris That Hosts The 2024 Olympics?

LA 2024 and Paris 2024 Olympic Games

This being a gap year in the Olympic cycle, in 2017 we have no Olympics to look forward to, either of the Summer or Winter variety. But, as always in these gap years, there’s an Olympic spectacle of a very different, but no less competitive, nature to observe: the contest for the right to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be decided when the IOC meets in Lima in September.

When the IOC members gather, ostensibly their choice is simple - either Paris from the Old World or Los Angeles from the New, now that Budapest has joined Hamburg, Boston (LA’s forerunner) and Rome in opting out of the race owing to citizen activism. But paradoxically it will also be the most difficult hosting decision that the IOC has had to make for many years, because not since the latter days of the Cold War have the IOC and the Olympic Games faced so many existential threats: the spectre of the doping crisis and the continuing fallout from the IOC’s controversial decision not to ban Russia from Rio 2016; a flawed youth strategy resulting in an aged fan base worldwide; and the huge costs and questionable social and economic benefits of hosting the Games, vividly demonstrated by Rio’s many and continuing problems.

Against that forbidding background, what is now top of the IOC agenda ahead of Lima is not which city can best stage the Olympics, but which one can most effectively help combat the IOC’s two biggest existential threats: to make the Games and what they and the IOC stand for relevant to a new generation of consumers, in particular younger consumers; and at the same time to persuade a new generation of host cities to bid to stage the summer and winter Games, particularly in America and Europe, where disaffection in city halls and suburbs alike is strongest.

Both are key themes in the LA and Paris bid pitches.

LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.

Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.

But the IOC’s dilemma runs much deeper than choosing one or the other: its problem is having to make a choice.

Saying no to LA would probably end America’s interest in bidding for the Games for a generation, the IOC having thus rejected bids from the three biggest American cities (following New York and Chicago, which bid for the 2012 and 2016 Games respectively) in succession.

Quite apart from ‘biting the hand that feeds’ in the shape of the country which is by far the biggest IOC investor, given NBC’s $12 billion Olympic broadcast contract and the IOC’s six US-headquartered global sponsors.

It would also mean that the IOC passes up the opportunity to use an LA Games to bring in new global sponsors from the world’s biggest economy – just as it has used Tokyo 2020 to sign Bridgestone and Toyota.

Saying no to Paris, again for the third time in succession, would also probably end France’s interest in bidding again for the Games in the foreseeable future, and run the risk of further emptying the dwindling pool of major European cities prepared to throw their hat into the ring.

So what will the IOC do?

There are clues in their recent behaviour.

First, a preference for long-term strategic deals – witness the NBC extension through 2032 (Thomas Bach’s first major deal as IOC President) and the recent Alibaba sponsorship through 2028 – rather than for playing the market.

And second, President Bach’s characteristically reformist statement back in December that the current bidding process “produces too many losers” and must be reviewed.

Go figure.

Now, making predictions in these interesting times in which we live is a risky business.

But assuming that the controversial Trump Presidency and the looming French Presidential election don’t derail the LA and Paris bids, I predict that when the IOC leaves Lima in September, they will do so having awarded the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously to Paris and LA.

And probably in that order, for three reasons.

One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.

Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.

But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.

No surprises, except maybe one: a look at LA 2024 sponsorship

The Los Angeles 2024 Olympic Bid published its Games budget overview last week, which included a first look at its estimated revenue from domestic sponsorship.

The headline of the release that accompanied LA’s budget talked about “No Surprises”. And I wasn’t surprised that the estimate of $1.93 billion was, by LA’s admission, conservative. That’s what Olympic bids always do when it comes to sponsorship forecasts. But I was surprised at just how conservative it was – in my view overly conservative.To put this into context.The US is the world's largest advertising and sports marketing economy, and in turn its media and brands are by far the biggest investors in Olympic media and sponsorships.

So I was expecting to see LA estimate the biggest-ever domestic sponsorship Games revenue.

But that's not how it played out.

Yes, the LA estimate would be a record for any completed Games to date. But even allowing for price elasticity of demand, having already signed 15 Tier One and 27 Tier Two partners, Tokyo 2020 appears to have already generated well over $2 billion from domestic sponsorship given its rate card of $128 million and $51 million respectively for Tier One and Tier Two deals.

So that's the new benchmark, from an ad market that's 25% the size of that of the US.

Another benchmark. The LA estimate is less than double London 2012’s final total of just over $1 billion, which was generated by a much, much smaller ad market - 12% of the size of the US - in the teeth of a recession.

When Tokyo won the right to stage the 2020 Games, I predicted that it could reach $2 billion of domestic sponsorship revenue. If LA wins the race for 2024, I believe that over $2 billion is a certainty and $3 billion highly likely.

I suspect that the two other models LA used would have reflected a similar scenario.

But LA didn’t need to run the risk of over-promising and under-delivering. A conservative $1.93 billion works for LA’s no risk budget, and even at the lower end of the scale, still comfortably eclipses the $1.086 billion from domestic sponsorship estimated by Paris, its chief rival in the 2024 race.

No surprise. No surprises.

Climbing Reaching New Heights With Olympic Spot

Shauna Coxsey, Tara Hayes, Matt Cousins and Nathan Phillips. Four names you’re probably not familiar with, but it might not be long before you are. All four are climbers and not just the best in Britain but some of the best in the world. With yesterday’s announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that climbing is to be one of five new sports added to the Olympic programme, they could be set to take Tokyo 2020 by storm.
The progression of climbing from a sport regarded for eccentrics and adventurers to one on the fringes of mainstream consciousness has been swift. Yet the reasons behind its incredible growth are as diverse as the sport itself and the IOC’s decision could be another leap forward.

Entering the Mainstream

Arguably it was two climbers, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, who pushed climbing into the spotlight like never before, with their historic free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan last year. Their epic 19 day ascent of the 3,000 metre Dawn Wall, drew media attention from around the world and made stars (if only reluctantly) of Caldwell and Jorgeson. Whilst the media’s gaze was only fleeting, it gave a unique look at a sport that has slowly been taking off around the world, particularly in the UK.According to the British Mountaineering Council the number of climbing walls in the UK has risen by over 100 in the last five years alone, with 350 public access walls listed in the BMC wall directory. The increase in walls is driven largely by an uptake of young people joining the sport, with the number of people taking part in the BMC Youth Climbing Series rising by 50% over the same period.

Technology, Technology, Technology

So the sport is a clearly a growing force but why and how has it become so, and more interestingly, how far can it go? The simple answer is technology. As with so many extreme sports new technology has allowed climbing to grow through improved equipment, providing a safer and more complete experience of a sport that inherently carries risk – without removing the thrill. Sport climbing is itself a descendant of the introduction of technology. Permanent anchors are secured to the rock face from which climbers can place protection to ensure survival from even the most eye watering falls.

The shift may appear to be a natural progression from the days of Royal Robbins placing steel pitons into the Yosemite cliffs, but the effect has been more wide-ranging. The improvements in rope, harnesses and other climbing gear has allowed the very best climbers to push the limits of what’s possible. The dynamic and occasionally terrifying nature of these new challenges has opened up the sport of climbing to a new thrill seeking audience, one that is looking to not only participate but create and consume as much content about the sport itself as possible.

Climbing Content

In 2006 film makers Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer created the first Reel Rock film tour, taking a collection of short climbing films to live audiences all around the world. Now in its 11th year the tour has been a huge success and attracts sponsors such as The North Face, National Geographic and Petzl, highlighting the growing appetite for climbing content. It appears the sport has become as much about capturing the ascent, as the ascent itself. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

It’s a question that a number of companies and brands are already looking to answer. Epic TV has been quick to provide a channel for the new band of climbers wishing to share their latest exploits, earning them not just an audience but an opportunity to create their own brand with which to attract sponsorship and turn professional. Climbers such as Alex Honnold and Sean McColl regularly share not just their climbing achievements, but their training regimes and other aspects of their lifestyle that hold as much interest to fans as the climbing.

So the sport is growing, with new stars, increasing brand presence and a highly engaged audience mostly made up of Generation Z and Millennials - surely then a place in the Olympics would be a positive next step for a sport on the rise? Yet there remain concerns, including those from professional climbers such as Adam Ondra, who feels the expected format of the competition may need to be amended to reward the more aesthetic aspects of the sport. It’s a concern that isn’t exclusive to climbing, with the much publicised trouble surrounding golf at this summer’s games proving that format is a difficult area to get right for even the biggest of mainstream sports.

Where Next?

Regardless of the concerns around format, it’s clear that climbing is entering another stage of its development and a place in the Olympics will act as validation to the thousands who compete in and watch the sport worldwide. It won’t be long before brands outside the outdoor and adventure space take notice and names such as Coxsey, Hayes, Cousins and Phillips move from the unknown to the everyday.

The PeRiodic Table – the Science of Sponsorship at Rio 2016

Getting an Olympic Games right is rare alchemy. The Road to Rio has been long and hard for athletes, organisers and sponsors alike. In the seven years since it won the bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the country has experienced more than its fair share of drama: rioting around #changebrazil, a FIFA World Cup meltdown against Germany, the spectre of political corruption and the tragic emergence of Zika.Is the country really ready for the Games? Can the infrastructure hold up? Will the doping scandal forever tarnish Rio’s moment in the sun?

These will all have been questions and concerns for the sponsors of Rio 2016 – the 59 different brands that make up the four partnership tiers of the Games represent a unique ecosystem that has helped ROCOG meet its $570m target for sponsorship revenue and played a key role in making Rio a reality.

While sponsorship is never an exact science, Synergy’s PeRiodic Table is an interactive graphic that allows you to explore a little more about each of the brands that are part of the Games. From sponsorship category to Twitter following, our interactive infographic – designed to be sorted and filtered as you see fit – provides the chance to discover some of the stories hidden beneath the surface of Rio 2016’s sponsorship landscape. Click here for the full table.

Heritage Matters: whilst the entire list of brands is typically sorted in alphabetical order, it’s notable that Coca-Cola sits before either Atos or Bridgestone in the TOP sponsor hierarchy. This is a quirk of Coke’s gift of rights: they will always be the first-mentioned brand in the IOC’s sponsorship recognition programme, acknowledging a relationship stretching back to 1928.

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It: at time of publishing this, only 11 of the 46 brands with an active Twitter handle featured Rio 2016 marques on their profile. A potential missed opportunity for lager brand Skol, whose Twitter presence has perhaps the most overt Olympic theme, but lacks any actual recognition of its officialdom.

Missing The Tweet Spot: although it’s true that not every brand has to have a Twitter footprint, it’s interesting to note the official sponsors without a social presence, or those that have failed to build one ahead of the Games. For international brands with only a local relationship (anyone outside the TOP sponsor tier) like Nike, Nissan or Airbnb, the use of Brazil-focused feeds is also worth noting. While likely to be down to the IOC’s commercial restrictions around the use of social media, it will be interesting to see how many of the global Twitter handles end up giving a RT to their local market counterparts.

Toyota Revs Up For Tokyo: although the brand signed up as one of the IOC’s new TOP sponsors back in 2015, Nissan were already a Tier 1 sponsor of Rio 2016. This means Toyota can only talk about Rio in Japan (something Nissan cannot officially do), before turning their global attention to Tokyo 2020 following the conclusion of the current Games.

Necessity Is The Mother Of Investment: the outbreak of Zika not only created valid concern amongst athletes and spectators, but also led to the signing of OFF! – the Games first ever insect repellent partner. It probably depends on your level of cynicism whether you think this was to ensure a consistent quality control in terms of the level of safety provided to participants and attendees, or simply to head off commercial concerns around ambush of the category by unofficial brands.


Have a play with the various filters and sorting methods at the top of the screen, and see what stories you can unearth within the PeRiodic Table.

10 Themes To Watch At Rio 2016

The tears of joy that marked Rio’s winning Games bid are a distant memory, replaced by troubled preparations, crisis in Brazil and the spectre of doping. But it’s going to be a great party – right?

1. Back in 2009, Rio’s winning bid was sold as a showcase for Brazil’s booming economy and the Carioca vibe. Seven years on, Brazil’s economy has tanked, the Petrobras scandal has engulfed the Government and big business, and civil discontent is raging. And if all that wasn’t enough, along came Zika. No modern Games has been staged against such a crisis-riven domestic backdrop. The showcase has become a spotlight on a country in crisis.2. Athletics is uniquely important to the Olympics’ image and credibility. And the spectre that haunts the Olympics is doping – in particular of athletics. So, following the IAAF’s disgrace and the exposure of Russia’s state-sponsored doping, the IAAF decision later this month on whether to allow Russia to compete in Rio is of huge significance. Whichever way it goes, it will be key to the Games story – and the Games’ credibility.3. On the track, one man above all will once again carry athletics, and the Games itself, on his shoulders: Usain Bolt. Rio’s story will also be the story of Bolt’s last Games. Few, if any, have been as important to the Games, to their sport, and to sport itself, as Bolt. Rio will quite rightly be a celebration of that. But the Olympics post-Bolt? Big shoes to fill.4. A great Games off as well as on the track is critical for the IOC. Worldwide, cities and their citizens are increasingly sceptical about the benefits of hosting the Games, leading to fewer and fewer bidders. Rio’s legacy – chiefly, its effect on the city’s image and infrastructure – will therefore be a major talking point. But the biggest scrutiny will be on Games-time operations. Organisational failures continue to dog the preparations: failure at Games Time however is simply not an option.

5. Famously, the 'Olympic Ethos' is that the most important thing is not winning but taking part. Whereas, if you know Brazil, you’ll know that for Brazilians, sport is all about winning! The interplay between these two contrasting philosophies will be fascinating, especially given the huge importance to Brazilians of winning the Olympic football tournament — the only major football title they’ve never won — and the probability of Brazil winning far more Paralympic than Olympic medals.

6. Creatively, this Games could be special. The creative collisions between Brazil and Rio and the Olympics and Paralympics should be really inspirational for all the brands involved in the Games. I’m hoping they rise to the occasion, particularly the global Olympic Partners, and raise the bar for Olympic and Paralympic Marketing.

7. With the average age of an Olympics fan now over fifty and rising, 2016 is Year Zero for the IOC’s new digital channel – an attempt, above all, to sell the Olympics to the young. How well the Olympic Channel performs in reaching new audiences will, in terms of the future of the Games, be the story of this Olympic year.

8. Rio will be a testing ground for one of the biggest changes to the Olympic sponsorship ecosystem in years – non-sponsors of the Games being officially allowed to use athletes in marketing campaigns around Rio, following the IOC’s decision to bow to athlete pressure and relax Rule 40. Which brands are given waivers, and to what extent their activity impacts Games sponsors will be one of the biggest Rio sponsorship stories to follow.

9. London 2012 was the first truly Socialympics, but Rio will take this to new heights given how social Brazilians are – Brazil leads the world in time spent on social media. And for the Brazilian consumer, one platform will be an incredibly influential force during the Games – WhatsApp, which is used by 100 million Brazilians. Rio will be the first WhatsApp Games.

10. Every Games evolves the Olympic and Paralympic brands. Some leave particularly fond memories — LA, Barcelona, Sydney, London. Some, for varying reasons, the reverse — Munich, Moscow, Atlanta, Athens. All the signs are that Rio will have a more profound effect than most, with the outcome uncertain. Rarely has so much been at stake for the Games, for its host city, and for the IOC. Rarely, if ever, has sport been in such crisis. So let’s hope that when we look back on Rio, we remember it for all the right reasons.

And for being a great party too.

This article originally appeared in the 2016 edition of ‘Now, New & Next’, Synergy’s annual look ahead at key issues in sports and entertainment marketing.

Rule 40 Guessing Game For Brazil’s Rio 2016 Athletes

Here in Brazil, as we reach 100 Days To Go to Rio 2016, the Games buzz is growing, albeit overshadowed by the ongoing political and economic crisis and the latest and most Games-related tragedy in Rio.

Giovane Gavio, two-time Olympic champion and first Brazilian to carry the Rio 2016 torch (Embed from Getty Images)

But day in and day out, Brazilian TV channels are broadcasting test events, qualification events and press conferences. The Olympic Torch Relay starts next week. And of course, Brazilian athletes all over the country are getting ready for the Games.

But on one important front, our athletes face massive uncertainty. While the USOC and their counterparts around the world have released their new Rule 40 positioning, the Brazilian Olympic Committee has yet to confirm its policy. Even by Brazilian standards, this is very late.

With the Games being staged in their home country, many of our athletes have been able to land lucrative personal sponsorships, with some having signed ten or more brands as partners. However, right now, the athletes and their brand partners don’t know what they will be able to do – or not do – to activate their sponsorships before and during the Games.

So with 100 days to go to Rio 2016 and counting, you can add to all the uncertainties about the Games those of the Brazilian athletes, their agents, and sponsors about Rule 40. Watch this space.

 

Guilherme is the founder of Ativa Esporte, the Brazilian sports marketing consultancy, which is Synergy’s partner in Brazil.

Roman’s New Empire: Why Chelsea’s New Stadium Bucks The Trend

Chelsea’s new stadium by Herzog & de Meuron


Towards the end of last year, Chelsea (finally) submitted plans for their new stadium on the Stamford Bridge site – something of particular interest to me as both a fan and architecture graduate. The release of the designs was followed by the now obligatory social media backlash. A run through comments on various news sites brought up comparisons with a slinky, an ash tray, a filter and, my personal favourite, an egg slicer. Factor in the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater and London is one Baguette away from a rubbish sandwich.

But despite these ‘creative’ insights, I like it.

The UK is littered with identikit stadia, distinctive for their plastic facades and truss supports. In the Premiership, Swansea, Southampton and Leicester’s grounds are almost indistinguishable. The story is much the same in the lower leagues. Reading’s stadium, for example, sticks out on the town’s outskirts like a grey Lego/K’NEX hybrid toy.

I will concede that these teams have an excuse. Many old grounds were in need of an overhaul and the ‘off the shelf’ nature of these pre-fabricated stadia appear the most cost-effective way to improve the match day experience. However, that excuse holds less weight when you consider the super rich teams at the top of the Premier League.

The Emirates stadium cost £360M to build and, whilst impressive in scale, is largely a bland mass of coloured plastic and glass. The Etihad bowl isn’t much better and it looks like Tottenham will be heading the same way too.

There are lots of examples of great stadium design out there. However, the sad fact is a lot of them rarely get used.

The most interesting venues seem to be saved for one-off tournaments – the Olympics and World Cups. It was great seeing 80,000 people pack into London’s iconic Olympic Stadium to watch ‘Super Saturday’ and witness the enthusiasm for football across South Africa’s impressive array of World Cup venues. But there is an under-lying problem. What happens to these stadia following the tournaments’ conclusions?

The notorious issues of legacy and spiralling budgets seem an inescapable side-story to international tournaments. Brazil’s organisation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, both mired in debt and political controversy, is a very current case in point. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the debt of which was only paid off 30 years after the 1976 Games, another.

In the UK at least, football is the only sport both lucrative and popular enough to fund such ambitious design, with the Olympic Stadium viable proof. For all Lord Coe’s rhetoric of a strong athletics legacy, we needed West Ham to step in as permanent tenants (landing the deal of the century in the process) to justify the construction cost.

‘The Big O’ designed by Roger Tallibert


You may question why the design of a stadium is actually that important, considering its principal function is purely to seat fans and showcase the sport. However, I would argue that the best venues in the world – iconic landmarks such as the old Wembley, Lord’s and Fenway Park – accomplish much more than pure function.

The reality is most people who encounter these huge arenas do it from the outside and never actually enter, particularly in a prominent city location like West London. Therefore, exterior form and contribution to the local area are crucial.

Looking at Chelsea’s new stadium, the brick piers are the most prominent feature and, in my mind, also the most successful. They give a sense of occasion and celebration which typifies a football match. Two thousand years ago the Romans needed an arena with the grandeur of the Colosseum to do its festivals justice. In the 19th Century, the Victorians advertised their industrial prowess through magnificent train stations, which we still use today.

Monumental brick piers at the new Stamford Bridge

Sport has an equal social impact on our generation. It is part of our national culture and deserves a significant legacy. Somehow I don’t see the Etihad stadium lasting the next 100 years. At least the robust piers of Chelsea’s new stadium look like they might.

The Chelsea project is also in safe, responsible hands. Herzog & de Meuron (the former an avid football fan and player) are excellent architects with an outstanding track record in stadium design. The Bird’s Nest in Beijing is their most famous work but the new stadium in Bordeaux is equally stunning. Add to that the colour changing Allianz Arena and it makes for a fairly impressive portfolio.

Of course premium design comes at a price, so good on Mr. Abramovich for splashing out on bricks over plastic. Not everyone will like it but at least it makes a statement. A stadium is more than a way to make money from fans. It is a club’s home, steeped in heritage and history, a pilgrimage destination made by thousands every week. Chelsea deserve huge credit for bucking the trend and giving their fans an interesting venue to come to. It might even do some good for the reputation of football, and wouldn’t that be nice for a change?