sports blog by andy shenk

Stadium Boom Begins in Russia

In Russian Football on January 21, 2013 at 2:05 PM

This is an article I contributed to The False Nine football blog. To read the entire piece click here or at the bottom of this excerpt.

Russia is on the cusp of a football stadium boom. The new venues are sorely needed: 12 of the country’s 16 Premier League teams play in Soviet-era arenas with minimal comfort, poor lighting, and inadequate drainage on the pitch.

Several of the stadium projects have been in the works for years: Spartak, CSKA, Dynamo, Rubin, Zenit and Sochi (the 2014 Olympic Stadium will be transformed into a football arena after the competition ends) announced construction plans years ago. A second wave came with private investment in several provincial clubs, Anzhi and Krasnodar foremost, although Alania have also announced recently announced plans for a new stadium. The 2018 World Cup is responsible for the biggest group of planned stadiums, eight in total, which will join the Rubin, Spartak, Zenit and Sochi arenas on the world’s largest stage.

Stadium construction signals an aggressive effort to increase the popularity of Russian football among the public. With a season that now stretches from early March to December, casual fans have been hesitant to come out much of the year. On top of the frigid temperatures, poorly maintained fields turn soupy each spring and fall, significantly affecting the quality of play.

The third inhibitor for many are Russia’s notorious fan clubs and the violence (or threat of violence) that can attend matches. Sergey Ivanov, head of President Vladimir Putin’s administration, recently disparaged the stadium atmosphere, “Swearing, charges, smoke in the air…A normal person in Russia should be revulsed at the idea of going to a football match.” Sitting in the VIP section, he likely avoids the multiple body frisks regular fans endure simply to enter many stadiums.

Landscrona, Fratria, UnitedSouth, CSKA Ultras and other fan groupings are furious, but legislation slowly working its way through the Russian Duma and Russian Football Union proposes increased fines for misbehavior, more efficient security and IDs when purchasing tickets. Proponents of the changes hope to make matches safer and more appealing to the general public, even if they must alienate many of Russia’s fan clubs. Modern stadiums equipped with the latest technology and security features will play perfectly into the hands of officials who need to raise Russia’s image in advance of the World Cup.

Beyond appearances, Russian football must attract more fans if clubs ever hope to become profitable. Through the first 19 weeks of the 2012-13 Russian Premier League season, attendance averaged 11,197 with stadiums filled to 43% capacity, comparable to attendance in the top Belgian and Portuguese leagues. Russia, of course, has the world’s ninth largest population, while Belgium and Portugal are 75th and 79th, respectively.

Continue reading at The False Nine.

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