With the world’s favourite game in unprecedented deep-freeze, it almost seems perverse to announce the building of the world’s biggest stadium dedicated to soccer.
After all, even though the leading leagues in Europe are desperately trying to restart their football seasons, the games are going to be played behind closed doors (Germany’s Bundesliga will restart this weekend).
Nonetheless, there has been much fanfare in China for the news that Guangzhou is to get a new lotus-shaped stadium – a design inspired by its local reputation as “the capital of flowers”.
It will be built by property giant Evergrande as home to the Chinese Super League club that it co-owns with Alibaba and which goes by the name Guangzhou Evergrande. The new ground is expected to have capacity for as many as 100,000 fans, squeaking past Barcelona’s Camp Nou as the world’s largest ‘football-only’ stadium (the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and Melbourne Cricket Ground can all host larger crowds).
Xia Haijun, president of Evergrande Real Estate Group, expects the project to make a major splash, telling media during the groundbreaking ceremony to prepare for a “landmark comparable to the Sydney Opera House and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and an important symbol of Chinese football to the world”.
Some netizens have needed more convincing about the venue’s flower-like design. “It’s so stunning that if you look down from space the stadium looks like a giant zit ready to explode,” one mocked. “Tacky, tacky, tacky. I think this is what artbooks would define as the aesthetic of the nouveau riche, ” derided another.
The stadium is scheduled to open in 2022, in time for the Asian Cup, which China is hosting the following year.
Construction of the venue – which is expected to cost Rmb12 billion ($1.69 billion) – is starting in a new location to the south of the city, close to the high-speed train station (the team currently plays at the government-owned Tianhe Stadium, which is in Guangzhou’s city centre).
There is a shortage of large football stadiums in China. At the moment, the biggest can accommodate no more than 50,000 people, lagging behind other countries. That means that the Chinese have struggled to meet the requirements of hosting major tournaments.
Industry analysts also point out that decent stadia are crucial to the commercial viability of football clubs – something that won’t be lost on Guangzhou Evergrande: the football club reported a $274 million loss for 2019.
“If you want to make money from professional football you need to have your own stadium. Take Bayern Munich’s Alliance Arena. The club saw its profits go up after it started having its own stadium. That’s because matchday income and other commercial sales (like advertising, merchandise and fan engagement) go up significantly,” Sina Sports agrees. “Evergrande is going to be way ahead of other teams in terms of self-operation and money-making ability.”
Evergrande has plans for the project that go well beyond the football team too. Like most new sports arenas there will be plenty of investment in corporate hospitality. But the development will also feature children’s play areas, restaurants and plenty of retail space. As the company puts it, the new facility will “house over 380 well-known brands from at home and abroad to create the highest grade, the most comprehensive and the most popular sports and cultural complex.”
The company has also announced plans to build two more stadiums in China with capacities of 80,000 each, asking fans to pick their favourite designs from a selection of options.
The push for the new arenas is prompting speculation that China could be gearing up for a bid to host the World Cup, possibly in 2030. Guangzhou’s new stadium would be a contender for some of the biggest games. But local politics probably wouldn’t permit the southern city to host a World Cup final, which would surely be reserved for the capital Beijing.
That might mean a revamp for the Beijing National Stadium, otherwise known as the Bird’s Nest, which was built for the hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games.
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