The City Ground has been home since 1898. But, with the advent of the modern era and the forthcoming Financial Fair Play regulations, do Nottingham Forest need a new stadium? Or should they stay put?
Talk of a new stadium quelled after England’s 2020 World Cup bid failed and the late Nigel Doughty said Forest would remain at the City Ground — with a plan for a new Main Stand if promotion ever reared its head.
But with new owners the question has again been posed. There’s been no official comment from the Al Hasawis, beyond looking at potentially refurbishing the City Ground, but it has to be a consideration if promotion is seriously being targeted and revenues are to increase.
Given the commitment to bring Nottingham Forest back to their long-lost status, an up-to-date stadium must surely be at the forefront of the new owners’ minds. And the clear financial benefits are essential in modern football, particularly given the introduction of Financial Fair Play (FFP).
Obviously the majority of fans have an attachment to the City Ground: its location is among the best in the country; the stadium is a little dilapidated but a refresh, such as the one at Loftus Road, would do wonders; and, more to the point, it’s home.
There are clearly issues with modernising, hence the design of the Bridgford End. And while the proposed new Main Stand was shelved in favour of a new stadium for the World Cup, FIFA’s needs required a larger capacity and facilities that a refurbished City Ground could not offer.
So a new Main Stand would increase capacity from 29,700 to approximately 37,000 and a little TLC would see the rest of the ground fit for the 21st century – but would it only be a short-term fix?
What kind of capacity do Forest need? Assuming Premier League crowds, anything around 35,000 should suffice — 40,000 at a push — so the City Ground could facilitate our needs. As it is we lose over 1,000 seats because of the away supporters configuration — a situation preferred for policing.
But would redeveloping the Main Stand generate sufficient revenues from increased capacity and ticket sales? The share of TV revenues counts for more than match day at most clubs but there’s a reason Chelsea and Spurs are seeking to emulate Man Utd and Arsenal’s match receipts.
Forest’s annual gate receipts are around £7 million — comparable to both Reading and West Brom while in the Championship but significantly lower than Leeds’ £12 million, albeit inflated by Ken Bates’ high prices, and Southampton’s £10.1 million during their 2010 League One season (Source: The Swiss Ramble).
Clubs often increase attendance after moving to a new ground — we easily average over 20,000 in the Championship and you’d expect that to increase significantly if Premier League football ever returns.
Once FFP sanctions come into play in the Championship, as well as the Premier League, generating new revenue streams will be increasingly important. Corporate and hospitality facilities — as well as conferences, concerts, etc. — mean several other similar-sized clubs (Derby in particular) create income more than double our current potential.
Selling naming rights for either the City Ground or a new stadium would bring welcome revenues – and the City Ground will always remain the City Ground no matter what it’s officially called.
But could the City Ground be entirely redeveloped? Are the logistics actually feasible? And what would the cost be? Quite possibly more than a new stadium.
A Seat Pitch source, close to the City Council, understands informal discussions have already begun. The council are keen for the club to build a stadium on the Eastcroft site which would stimulate Broadmarsh and the Eastside development area — a five-star hotel and conference centre could complete the proposed regeneration. Phase Three of the tram could follow alongside the £60 million transformation of the railway station.
The council, however, cannot fund such a development — requiring the investment from private sources — but value the social and economic benefits to both Nottingham and the community, as well as the prestige for the city.
These discussions are ongoing alongside the potential redevelopment of the City Ground and any possible expansion of the Academy.
The source adds: “The Schalke model is liked because of the income that can be raised from the new build. Big ‘football cathedrals’ that stand empty most of the time do not make sense any more; when it was a sea of open terraces they didn’t cost much to maintain. Modern facilities do, and so any new build or refurb has to be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis. Schalke make money from their stadium, and there’s only one professional team playing there.
“A new build stadium, a scaled down version of the Schalke’s Veltins-Arena, is possible at little more than 35% above the cost of a redeveloped City Ground — providing a 50,000 capacity compared to barely 40,000 at the City Ground.
“Factor in that the new build will pay for itself within 10 years and it is clear what the ideal is. Someone still has to find in the order of £200 million or more to either redevelop or create the new build. But the option of doing nothing simply does not exist and the owners know that.”
Regardless of location, there are grounds around the country that don’t often reflect well on the bog-standard flatpack stadium — a lack of atmosphere being the key criticism.
Of course, Wembley (almost £800 million) and the Emirates (£390 million) are some of the best examples of new stadiums in the UK. But realistically we won’t be spending anywhere near that kind of budget. That said, the Millennium Stadium only cost £121 million although that was back in 1999.
When it comes to Championship clubs, the comparisons are interesting. Leicester City’s King Power Stadium cost £37 million 10 years ago, while Coventry City’s crippling Ricoh Arena cost £113 million seven years ago, with naming rights worth £10 million on an initial 10-year deal. Derby County’s Pride Park cost around £28 million 15 years ago and plans announced last year for The Plaza @ Pride Park have been specifically developed with FFP in mind.
Brighton’s Falmer Stadium was over a decade in the making and at a cost of £93 million was recently rated the best new stadium in the world, at the Stadium Business Awards in Turin. The 27,350-capacity stadium is better known as the Amex thanks to a multi-year naming rights agreement rumoured to be worth £4.5 million over 10 years. Interestingly, 12,000 pies and 14,000 pints were purchased at the Sheffield Wednesday game in September, proving catering revenues are already being maximised.
Juventus’ new 41,000-capacity stadium cost €105 million (£85m) — offering 3,600 ‘premium’ seats — was partially funded through a commercial partnership with Sportfive, covering the exploitation of stadium naming rights and corporate facilities at the new facility, worth a minimum of €75 million (£61.4m) over a 12-year period.
Wolfsburg’s 30,000 capacity VW Arena cost around €50 million (£40m) while Schalke’s widely praised Veltins-Arena cost almost €200 million (£160m) for a 61,000-capacity stadium with a retractable roof and a retractable pitch. And it’s this multi-use potential, with its revenue-generating facilities, which is one of the key attractions.
So the reality is that a new stadium we can be proud of — with the necessary facilities — is likely to cost anything up to £200 milllion. The costs wouldn’t affect FFP but the money will still need to be found in the first place — naming rights could potentially cover 10% of the costs while corporate and other facilities will help generate further income. Of course, the point of a new stadium is to help fund the club rather than pay off debts… a return to the Premier League is clearly the point when everything begins to add up.
A rough estimate for the cost of the proposed Gamston stadium was £100 million — but that was with the World Cup in mind, and a capacity of 45,000 reducing to 38,000.
What do you think? Is the City Ground still fit for purpose? Is a new ground inevitable? Do we need to move on? And how should the future look?