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From San Siro to the Stadio Olimpico, Italy is home to some of the most iconic stadiums in world football. Memories of Italia 90, Diego Maradona winning the Scudetto for Napoli, and José Mourinho’s treble-winning Inter side cannot be separated from the stadiums they took place in.
But the last two decades have seen many of these amazing stadiums fall into varying states of disrepair. This is because, unlike most European nations, the vast majority of Serie A sides do not own the stadiums that they play in.
Why is that? What does this mean for the clubs? Is this going to change any time soon? Read on to find out…
Why can so few teams build their own stadium?
In Italy, stadiums have historically been owned by the state. Despite the sport’s boom over the last 30 years, Serie A clubs have struggled to build new, privately-owned stadiums. The reasons why are, predictably, quite complex.
Italian legal administration is notoriously very sticky, and the country has a history of delaying important projects of all kinds for years and even decades, simply because any plans have to pass through an incredibly slow legal process.
It is often the case that football clubs have the money to build new stadiums, but bureaucracy causes them to stall. For example, laws that protect the status of historic buildings – like the listed buildings we have in the UK – are often very rigid in Italy.
This means that clubs planning to build their new ground on the site of an existing one are unable to demolish the stadium that is already there. This is the case for Inter and AC Milan, who were told this year that the San Siro has “cultural interest”, and therefore cannot be knocked down.
Clubs that fail this process and then try to build their new stadiums somewhere else are normally unable to agree such a huge project with the relevant council, and so the projects generally stall again.
Why can’t clubs just buy the stadiums they already play in?
There are two main complications which prevent the easy sale of stadiums to the clubs. Firstly, to protect the history and accessibility of state-owned land and structures, it is generally very legally complicated to sell public property to private entities. Councils have to consider the surrounding community’s access to public spaces which would potentially be lost if sold to the club.
Secondly, in many cases it can be extremely difficult to convince the council in question to give a consistent and reliable income stream. It is typically unlikely that a football team will move to a different stadium, and so councils usually rely on the rents that football clubs pay to alleviate any cash flow concerns they may have.
So, without the ability to buy their stadiums, or build their own, the vast majority of Italian clubs are stuck in limbo – playing in decaying stadiums without the ability to easily renovate them.
As Serie A President Lorenzo Casini puts it, “for industry you need factories and for football you need stadiums. If we look at the situation in Italy it is disastrous. There is a legal administrative problem with the municipalities. Italian football is still the most competitive, even if we look at other leagues or non-top level matches.”
Why do clubs want to own their own stadiums?
There are a number of advantages to owning your own stadium. Firstly, as we’ve touched upon, local councils are typically very reluctant to renovate stadiums unless they absolutely have to. Working with very tight budgets, local government tends to prioritise other issues and therefore lets stadiums fall into disrepair.
In theory, clubs could stump up the money for renovation themselves, but most are reluctant to add value to an asset they do not own – in the event of a sale, it would increase the price they have to pay. Plus, why would they pay to repair a stadium that they might be kicked out of afterwards?
Another benefit is being able to control what they do with the stadium in terms of layout and matchday experience. You may have noticed that many Italian stadiums have running tracks around the sides of the pitch. This is a remnant from Italia 90 – the cost of the renovation programme for the tournament was 84% over budget, and so the committee had to obtain funding from the Italian Olympic Committee, who insisted on some stadiums having the running track.
This move was very unpopular among a lot of Italian fans who felt that their distance from the pitch ruined the atmosphere. When Juventus demolished the much-despised Stadio Delle Alpi just 20 years after it was built for Italia 90, they built Allianz Stadium without a running track, a move that has proven very popular with supporters.
Financial stability and the potential for growth is the other main advantage of owning your own stadium. The rents that clubs pay to the council are always increasing, and owning their own stadium means clubs like Juventus not only don’t have to pay rent, but also have more control over the income they receive on matchday from things like ticket and merchandise sales.
Owning such a large asset also encourages foreign investment, and you only have to look at the ever-expanding appeal of the Premier League to see what that can do for a club.
Which current Serie A teams own their own stadium?
Alongside Allianz Stadium, four other stadiums are owned by Serie A clubs. They are Sassuolo’s Mapei Stadium, Udinese’s Stadio Friuli, Atalanta’s Gewiss Stadium and Frosinone’s Stadio Benito Stirpe.
This means that there are some exceptionally iconic Italian stadiums which are not owned by their clubs. San Siro, home of the Milan clubs, and Stadio Olimpico, home to Roma and Lazio, are the standouts.
60,000-seaters Stadio Diego Armando Maradona and Stadio San Nicola, home to Napoli and Bari respectively, are also notable grounds. Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi completes the set, meaning that Italy’s five-largest stadiums are all owned by the state.
Will more Serie A clubs own their stadiums in the future?
Serie A president’s have made no secret of their desires to own their own stadiums. In 2015, then-Roma chairman James Pallotta said: “If we are going to consistently compete as a top club in the world we need a new stadium, a stadium that is privately owned by AS Roma.”
More recently, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis called for the introduction of a government commissioner who would help clubs build new stadiums, saying: “Minister Andrea Abodi is right about the need for a commissioner for the problem of football stadiums in Italy. Stadiums cannot remain in the unavailable ownership of city councils.”
“Not all city councils have the necessary funds either to transform stadiums that have been obsolete for 60 years or to maintain them. Italian football struggles to wear dinner jackets during its own performances compared to other nations.”
“It is important for Abodi to explain to the chosen commissioner that it will absolutely not be necessary to espouse the usual ‘bureaucratic’ style that has always encumbered our country, freeing stadiums from complex authorisations that are often subject to superintendencies that are completely ignorant of sports culture, but are accustomed by nature to espouse the aforementioned bureaucratic style in its entirety.”
Three of Italy’s biggest clubs – Inter, AC Milan and Roma – have announced plans to build their own stadiums. The two Milan clubs are both planning to construct 70,000-seater stadiums in the south of Milan, Inter in Rozzano and AC Milan in San Donato Milanese. Roma hope that a new stadium in the Pietralata neighbourhood will be completed in 2027.
But plans have come and gone in the past. Whether these will come to fruition is yet to be seen. Plus, many clubs are opting to stay at their current stadium and renewing their deal with the council – most notably Napoli. In the short term, this situation looks set to rumble on.