Are the World Cup stadiums worth the investment?

StubHub Center_02_MD

When a country wins the bid to host a FIFA World Cup, it provides a glimpse into the host country’s culture and landscape. This is particularly attractive to developing nations that use the international event to jumpstart economic and infrastructure development, and prove themselves on a world stage.

With the world turning its attention to Brazil, for the 2014 World Cup, the matches will be staged in 12 different venues spanning the country.  Eight of these are newly constructed stadiums, and four are remodels of existing stadiums, ranging from 35,000 to 65,000 seats.  Brazil is estimated to be spending more than $3.5 billion on construction, development and renovations to these stadiums, some of which are still under construction. It’s unclear how these stadiums will be used after the World Cup is over.

As a comparison, the Russian government spent $6.7 billion on 14 facilities for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, 12 of which were built at a frantic pace after 2012. Another $16.7 billion was spent on upgrading rails, roads and infrastructure. *

These statistics highlight the growing concern about the enormous spending for facility construction leading up to international events.  Only time will tell if these venues are worth the investment.  But in as little as six years after the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing’s National Stadium (also referred to as “the Birds Nest”) is considered a white elephant complex.  Hailed for its iconic design, the facility only hosted 12 events last year and has lost $44 million since 2010.

Some host countries have tried to mitigate the expense, and potential long-term waste from overbuilt facilities that are under used post event. A number of strategies are used by architects and organizers to create lasting use or “legacy” for these venues.


The most visible and widely reported response is through “overlay.”  This simply means expanding seating capacities and amenities of existing or new venues to accommodate a maximum crowd for a limited time period, then reducing the seating capacity post-event.  Overlay tactics include:

  • Temporary pop up fields of play that have the ability to incorporate the city or country as a background, such as the volleyball court designed for the 2012 London Olympics at Horse Guards Parade.
  • Modular or prefabricated components, such as additional suites, concessions, toilet rooms and other amenities that are removed after tournament.
  • Additional seats and concourses that allow the stadium to expand upward and then contract.
  • Permanent, flexible space, such the grass berms at the north end of Stub Hub Center in Carson, Ca.  At Incheon Football Stadium in Korea, the large plaza at the south end of the bowl can be used for seating, concessions or an Expo when the stadium hosts soccer matches for the Asian Games in September.

Long-Term Tenants

The most decisive success factor for a venue is to secure a long-term tenant.  Host countries of international events have put little forethought into acquiring long term tenants for large stadiums, leading to inconsistent or non-existent revenue streams post-tournaments.

Major League Soccer requires every team to have a long-term stadium contract.  This strategy results in stability for the teams, cities and players by automatically guaranteeing revenue from 17 home matches each year.  In addition to matches, these venues host pro and minor league practices, exhibition games, soccer academies and special events, which form the base structure for the stadium’s revenue stream.

These stadiums are also scaled to their community’s year-round use, with the largest being Stub Hub Center at 28,000 seats.  The U.S. also has the luxury of using its large NFL and collegiate stadiums for international games.

Toyota Park - Stage


Even with a long term tenant, most arenas and many stadiums must rely on constant use throughout the year to remain viable. In the U.S., arenas such as the Staples Center, Madison Square Garden and the Palace of Auburn Hills each host more than 150 events a year including concerts, family entertainment and conventions.  Several MLS Stadiums, such as Rio Tinto and Toyota Park, were designed with accessible staging and storage to allow for fast conversion times from soccer to special events.

Revenue Generation

Another source of revenue generation is through premium seating, concessions and retail sales.  The U.S. model, based on sports fans with shorter attention spans, can be modified for international stadiums where fans traditionally don’t like to leave their seats during soccer matches. For example, at the recently opened Tele2 Arena in Stockholm, ROSSETTI designed club concepts and suites targeted to specific support groups.  This not only enhances the fan experience at 30 matches, it increases revenue opportunities.

Tele2Finals116 %28Medium%29

Future host countries can create positive sports legacies by looking past the World Cup or Olympic Games and into a future of sustainable venues that benefit sports and recreation in their countries for decades.  This requires many years of planning with all stakeholders to put into place factors for success before venue design and construction begins.



Matt Rossetti, FAIA, LEED AP, is the President of ROSSETTI. His focus is on creating design that resonates value to clients: aesthetically, functionally and, most importantly, by achieving their business goals. To accomplish this, Matt founded ROSSETTI’s Return On DesignTM approach which predicts value-oriented design for the investment.  The firm has generated innovative design solutions across a range of sports including tennis, soccer, hockey, basketball and football. He has been at the forefront of urban revitalization by integrating sports and entertainment developments with mixed-use master planning. In 2012, Matt was elevated to the College of Fellows by the American Institute of Architects for his expertise, study and work in the field. 

ROSSETTI-designed venues include: Stub Hub Center, Rio Tinto, Toyota Park, Incheon Football Stadium and Sungui Arena Park, and the Tele2 Arena (with White Architects) and Stockholm Globe Arenas.

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