Dutch Eredivisie football club Sparta Rotterdam has begun the process of replacing 7,500 seats at its Sparta Stadion home ground as part of wider plans to renovate the venue.

The stadium, which is nicknamed Het Kasteel (The Castle) has a capacity of around 11,000. Having opened in 1916, it is one of the oldest stadiums in the Netherlands.

Sparta, which is currently 10th in the Eredivisie after 11 matches of the 2020-21 season, is carrying out upgrades at the stadium to improve the fan experience. In recent months, the delivery of more than 7,500 new folding seats has been agreed with Eindhoven-based industrial and manufacturing company VDL Groep.

Sparta said the “considerable investment” in the replacement of the stadium seats has been set as a priority and is independent of wider stadium upgrades.

“Sparta Rotterdam wants to upgrade the stadium and we are working in three steps,” the club’s general director Manfred Laros tells TheStadiumBusiness.com. “We will expand the main building, so we can have more hospitality rooms, skyboxes and more business seats.

“The second step will be the removal of artificial turf and a return to grass. This project will start after our youth academy complex is renovated (target end of next year). When the academy is finished our first team can leave the stadium as a training ground and join the other teams at the academy. Then we have the time to return to normal grass in the stadium.”

Laros said the third step of the upgrades would include new toilets, food and beverage outlets and seating. Work on the “necessary” seating upgrades is already underway.

“In the end there maybe is a fourth step and that is expansion of the stadium, but that will come after steps one, two and three are (almost) finished,” says Laros.

The youth academy project is slated for completion by the end of 2021, with the grass pitch set to be fitted in either 2021 or 2022. The expansion of the main building (main picture) and supporter upgrades will be finished in 2022 or 2023.

The installation of the new seats will be completed by the summer of 2021 and Sparta has been able to continue with its plans despite the problems posed by COVID-19.

“We have the support of the city of Rotterdam for our youth academy and if that is finished we can continue to work on the next steps,” says Laros.

In terms of revenue increases from the stadium work, Laros said this would come after the main building of the venue is expanded. “Then we will have more hospitality for our commercial partners. In a normal situation The Castle is always sold out at league matches for hospitality.”

The first round of this season’s Eredivisie fixtures did go ahead with a limited number of spectators at stadiums, but a rise in COVID-19 cases has caused matches to go back behind closed doors.

“We were working together with health officials from the city and had the opening match against Ajax with 33% of our normal capacity filled with fans,” says Laros. “All safety measures were taken to facilitate the return of fans in the stadium. It went perfect in that match.

“Unfortunately, the Dutch government decided to stop all fans in stadiums after that match because of increasing cases of COVID-19 in the country. If numbers drop we can go back to our protocols with limited fans in the stadium and in the end (hopefully very soon) we will be back to normal.”

Images: Sparta Rotterdam