Football Stadiums: How Poland is Capitalising on the Sports Industry (and Italy isn't)
Going to watch a game from the press box is always exciting for someone who has worked as a sports journalist for several years.
The press box has in fact been my natural habitat for many years. From Angelo Massimino stadium in Catania, during the Serie A, to the Champions League games of Tottenham and Arsenal at Wembley and the Emirates, passing through the Inter and AC Milan games at San Siro.
Finding myself in Poland for a summer holiday and finding out that there was the opportunity to watch the Europa Conference League playoffs between Lech Poznan, the Polish champion, and Dudelange, the Luxembourg champion, made me think it was a good opportunity to:
- Watch a match at the INEA stadium for the first time
- Watch a match of the only UEFA club competition that was missing from me: the Europa Conference League
- Enjoy this experience from a different perspective – not looking much at the football side of things, but as an SEO consultant and digital strategist I wanted to look at it more from a marketing standpoint with a view to compare it with the current status quo in Italy.
So after having requested and received the green light from Lech through the ‘Accreditation‘ portal, I went to pick up my press pass at stadium, which vaguely resembled the Allianz Arena, the home of Bayern Munich.
The match ended 2-0 for Lech with goals from Kristoffer Velde and Mikael Ishak (the Ekstraklasa version of Karim Benzema); for Dudelange an evening to forget – the only name that is worth a mention is Samir Hadji, but rather than for his qualities, for being the son of Mustapha Hadji, a playmaker from Morocco, whose goal against Norway at the 1998 World Cup is still remembered by many football fans.
But that’s not what we’re going to talk about in this blog.
Table of Contents
Inside the INEA Stadion in Poznan
INEA Stadium in Poznan is one of the most beautiful stadiums in Europe because of its modern design and amenities. The stadium was completely renovated ahead of the 2012 European Championships, and it now features modern seating, improved lighting, improved audio systems, modern screens, and other amenities.
These improvements have allowed the stadium to provide a better experience for fans and to attract more people to the games, which has resulted in increased revenue for the club.
Additionally, the modern design and amenities have also made INEA Stadium one of the most Instagrammable stadiums in Europe, which has further increased its popularity.
EURO 2012: the turning point for stadiums in Poland
The 2012 European Championships in Poland was a turning point for the country in terms of modernizing and improving their football stadiums.
Since then, Polish clubs have been investing in the improvement of their stadiums in order to increase their revenue and attract more fans to their games.
Lech Poznan’s INEA stadium is a prime example of this, as it has been completely renovated and modernized since 2012.
Nowhere is this more evident than at INEA Stadium which boasts an impressive array of features including 25 corporate boxes offering VIP experiences; 10 video walls; 8 restaurants/bars catering for different tastes; 2 giant screens showing live action replays throughout matches plus much more besides. All these elements combine together into what can only be described as a modern fan experience – making attending games in Poland not only enjoyable but profitable too.
These improvements have enabled Lech Poznan to offer a better experience to their fans, as well as to monetise their home games more effectively. Furthermore, improved amenities such as these have enabled Polish clubs to attract more fans to their games, leading to an increase in the overall popularity of Polish football.
Polish stadiums have benefited enormously from new facilities, something many clubs around Italy could learn from. In Poland, football clubs have in fact been able to manage the stadium as a business by themselves.
During the last decade, Polish clubs were able to invest about 1.4 billion euros in infrastructure and new stadiums. Instead in Italy, stadiums are run by municipalities, making it difficult for clubs to market them properly.
Investing in stadiums and infrastructure means that Polish clubs can monetize their stadiums properly. For example. Lech Poznan makes money from the restaurant inside the stadium thanks to a partnership with Radisson hotel group.
Lech Poznan also sells its own beer inside the stadium, that has its own brand name (goLech). Also, Lech Poznan has partnered with Mobica, a furniture producer that has branded one of the lanes within INEA Stadion.
Lech Poznan has been able to raise 6 million euros per year thanks to these partnerships alone. In Italy, similar amounts would be extremely difficult to make as companies don’t want to deal with municipalities, bureaucracy – and often – incompetents.
Not only Lech: the other teams in Poland
Matchday revenue is of huge importance for Polish clubs as they don’t receive a great deal of money from TV rights deals compared to others.
Constant asset renovation, smart management, cooperation with well-established brands and efficient use of space and time are keys to this success.
The last few years have seen a number of stadiums being modernized and upgraded, with Warsaw’s National Stadium being the most recent addition.
In Poland’s case, this process has been driven by a desire to improve the quality of the experience for fans and players alike, but also by an understanding that there is money to be made from these upgrades.
A well-maintained venue can be profitable for both clubs and local councils. For example, Legia Warsaw generates around €3 million ($3.3 million) per year from its stadium, while Wisla Krakow pulls in €2 million ($2.2 million), according to Polish website money.pl.
It’s hard to imagine that before EURO 2012 stadiums in Poland were old, worn-out and not suitable for modern football. The Polish Football Association decided to invest in modern stadiums and make the country’s national team competitive – e.g. Legia Warsaw in 2016 was the first Polish club to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League since 1995, whilst the national team has not missed any major tournaments since 2012.
Why doesn't the idea of club-owned stadiums work in Italy?
The modernisation of Polish football stadiums since EURO 2012 has been extremely beneficial for the Polish game. Improved stadiums have enabled clubs to attract more fans, to monetize home games more effectively, and to host international tournaments and matches.
Furthermore, the improved facilities and infrastructure have enabled Polish teams to compete more effectively at international level, which has been beneficial for both the clubs and the national team.
This got me thinking—how have stadiums become such a vital part of marketing for sports teams in Poland, while other countries, such as Italy, have been slow to embrace the concept? Despite Italy having a long history of success in football, having won four World Cups and two European Championships, and currently being ranked 7th by FIFA, while Poland is ranked just 26th. How is it possible that Italy is so far behind them in understanding that having stadiums not owned by the club is a missed opportunity?