Italy’s crumbling colosseums – The state of Italian football stadiums

The problem with the stadiums of top teams across Italy, and why it needs addressing

Stadio San Paolo – The home of Napoli

Whenever a casual viewer tunes into a Serie A match, theres a common set of questions that are usually asked, many of which are related to the stadium. “Why are there so many empty seats?”, “Why do so many stadiums have a running track?”, “Why is it in such bad condition?” and more. There are a variety of reasons for this, and in typical Italian fashion, it is likely that little will be done to solve the issues.

The joy of local Italian councils

Verona’s Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, home to both Hellas and Chievo Verona.

First off, we need to identify the owners of most of the stadiums. Unlike other leagues, like the Premier League, most stadiums are owned by the local council of the area. For example, the Stadio San Paolo, in Napoli; It’s owned by the city of Napoli. This is incredibly common across Italy, in essentially every region, such as Verona’s Bentegodi, or Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. 

This usually means that the council is not too keen to spend public money to renovate an essentially private business area, and as such leaves the owners of the clubs and the fans fighting for years to get renovations. Due to the current economic state of Italy, the football stadiums and their renovations have largely taken a backseat (and some may say rightfully so), but this can lead to incredibly substandard and potentially unsafe conditions.

Bergamo’s Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, home (and now owned by) Atalanta

The stadiums aren’t always locked behind the bureaucratic door however, as seen with Atalanta. Atalanta purchased their stadium, the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia (just rolls right off the tongue), from the city of Bergamo for €8.6 million in 2017, which can allow to them to renovate the 21,300 stadium to be in line with modern stadiums. Considering the state of it, it was probably a good investment in the long run for the club.

Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, home of both Lazio and Roma.

Another well known state owned stadium is the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, which both the major Roman teams use. As seen in the photo above, this is another stadium with a running track, which heavily impacts the view of the crowd and separates them from the action. However, one of the teams is taking action, after years of suffering in a poor quality stadium.

Roma are working on their own stadium, Stadio della Roma (temporary name), due to open in 2020. The new stadium will not feature a running track, and will have a smaller capacity than the Stadio Olimpico, at only 52,500 seats. This is a common way to deal with the poor quality state owned stadiums, as simply building and owning your own gives you a lot more power and choice, at the expense of cost (Stadio della Roma having an estimated cost of €300 million)

Why does the state own so many stadiums?

Salvatore Schillaci, Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner of Italia 90.

Some of the stadiums currently in use in Italy were all built for the same purpose, hosting the 1990 World Cup. These include Turin’s Stadio delle Alpi, Verona’s Bentegodi and Bari’s Stadio San Nicola. These stadiums did not age well, as seen with the Bentegodi. Also worth noting is the fate of Turin’s Stadio delle Alpi, which was demolished in 2009 due to the poor quality of the stadium and appalling view of the pitch, mostly due to the distance between the pitch and the stands. 

However, Italia 90 did bring money to these state owned stadiums, such as in the case of Milan’s San Siro. The San Siro is home to Inter & AC Milan, and was built almost 100 years ago, but due to the importance of the teams, lack of the running track and the multiple renovations over the years, it has remained one of the best stadiums in Italy. 

The Unique

Venezia FC’s home ground, the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo.

As with anything in life, there are some outliers. One of my favourites is the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo, in Venice. The stadium is typical of Venice, and requires a boat to access. Opened in 1913, the stadium has a capacity of 7,450, typical of a regular Serie B side, although there was a temporary expansion in 1998 to 13,400 (due to the team reaching Serie A). As with most stadiums mentioned, it is owned by Municipality of Venice.

The Allianz Stadium, home of Juventus.

Surely apt for the most successful club in the history of Italian football, Juventus splashed the cash for their stadium, commercially known as the Allianz Stadium. Finished in 2011 at a cost of €155 million, the 41,507 seater stadium is already one of the nicest in Italy. With both a good view of the pitch, and a nice size, it stands out as the most “english” styled stadium in the league.

Azzurri on the road

The Italian team, during Euro 2016.

Unlike a lot of national teams across the world, The Italian national team (or gli azzurri) do not have a stadium to call home. This means that they play all their home games in stadiums across Italy, and whilst this allows fans across the country a cheaper opportunity to see the games, it also means theres no “fortress” for them to call home.

For example, The English national team (also known as The Three Lions) have one of the most well known and highest quality stadiums in the world, Wembley. Originally notable for the place where they lifted their only World Cup back in 1966, its served as the home for the team for almost 100 years.

Heartbreak for gli azzurri as they fall short in Milan to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first World Cup they’d missed since 1958.

Whilst this may have been less of an issue in the past (with national teams rarely playing home games outside of tournament qualification), the new UEFA Nations League means there is a higher quantity of games to be played in the home country. Even then, an argument could be made for Italy’s failure to quality for the 2018 World Cup could be down to poor performances at home, which may be reflected on their lack of a stadium with a strong national team identity.

The Future?

Is the future for stadiums in Italy bright? Yes and no. Whilst some teams, such as Roma, Juventus and Atalanta have taken matters into their own hands, the cost and bureaucracy involved means that large, expensive operations such as new stadiums are not easy to come by. 

Something has to change though, as the years go by, Italian stadiums are quickly falling behind the rest in Europe, especially in comparison to the rest of those in the “Big 5 leagues” (English Premier League, French Ligue 1, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and German Bundesliga). 

With recent conversation about how successfully the Premier League is marketed, one of the main points is how good it looks visually on the television, with its vibrant colours and packed out stadiums (leading to higher quality of crowd reactions), compared to Serie A, with the muted colours, and often large sections of empty seats. If Serie A is to grow, it needs to work on its marketing abroad, and the best way to start that is improve the quality of the stadiums.

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