Stadia investment targeted as Italian football counts cost of COVID-19

Investment in stadia has been identified as one of two key priorities for Italian football, following the publication of ReportCalcio by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).

The 11th edition of the report, developed jointly by the FIGC, Research and Legislation Agency (AREL) and professional services group PwC, analyses the health of the domestic game and takes in the impact of COVID-19.

The 2021-22 Serie A campaign commenced last weekend, with Italian domestic football being mainly held behind closed doors since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020. In the lead up to kick-off Italian football authorities welcomed a change in rules from the Government that allowed the country’s stadia to effectively operate at 50% capacity when the new season commenced, granting clubs a much needed revenue boost.

The latest ReportCalcio specifically addresses the 2019-20 season, where COVID-19 is said to have seen Italian football take a revenue hit of €434m (£372.3m/$510.4m) – from €3.897bn to €3.463bn. Reduced ticketing revenue was said to have accounted for €75m of this fall.

The authors of the report have also projected the impact of the 2020-21 season stating that COVID-19 is expected to have cost Italian football around €1bn in revenue across the two campaigns.

FIGC president Gabriele Gravina said: “The world of football represents value for the Italian system, at a sporting, economic and social level. It is a strategic asset that bases its impact on important numbers and almost total roots in the national territory. 

“ReportCalcio captures this multidimensionality well and also analyses the critical issues of the movement as a whole, exacerbated by the crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The FIGC has launched a self-reform process aimed at making Italian football more capitalised and less indebted, but by virtue of the role it plays in our country it would be crucial for the Government to recognise this importance. Alone, we cannot get out of this crisis, supporting football means helping Italy in this difficult restart.”

Italy’s ageing football infrastructure is a topic of constant debate in the country. The report states that the launch of an investment program for the construction of a new generation of football facilities in Italy appears increasingly essential.

In the last decade, the report states a total of 153 new stadiums have been built in Europe, with an investment equal to €19.8bn. The main nations in terms of new stadiums are: Turkey (28), Poland (23), Russia (16) and England (12). Italy is said to account for just 1% of the total investment in stadia projects from 2010 to 2020 in Europe.

The average age of facilities rises from 61 years in Serie A to 63 in Serie C. The percentage of seats covered in Serie B and Serie C is around 52% and 48%, before moving up 79% in Serie A. Only 12% of the stadiums in Serie A are said to harness renewable energy sources, while just 9% of Italian professional football stadia are not publicly owned.

ReportCalcio says the untapped economic potential is particularly significant. In the last pre-COVID football season (2018-19), Serie A generated €300.9m in ticketing revenues, compared to €776m in the English Premier League and around €520m in Spain’s LaLiga and the German Bundesliga. 

In the last five pre-COVID years, the report says lost revenues in professional football amounted to €1.3bn through almost 82 million unsold tickets, due to the low capacity of the stadiums, which in Serie A did not exceed 63% (49% in Serie B and 30% in Serie C).

The report adds the renovation of stadiums in Italy could involve investments of up to €4.5bn over the next 10 years, with the creation of 25,000 new jobs and tax revenues of €3.1bn.

Carlo Cottarelli, an Italian economist and former director of the International Monetary Fund, said: “With a negative impact of 16%, sport is one of the productive sectors that has been most affected by the crisis generated by COVID-19 while for the rest of the Italian economy the average loss is estimated at around 9%. 

“The analysis carried out by the FIGC clearly highlights how the liquidity crisis has been added to the losses accumulated before the pandemic, which puts at risk the ability of professional football to pay interest on the debt.

“In the reform process initiated by the Federation, I identify two priorities: investments in infrastructure, to guarantee new sources of revenues, and the introduction of widespread shareholding, to allow the injection of capital not subordinated to interest.”

Image: Jose Luis Hidalgo R./CC BY 2.0/Edited for size