Australia: Attracting a crowd: stadium development lessons from overseas

Stadia are a once-in-a-lifetime endeavour, involving complex approvals, funding, decision-making and stakeholder consultations. However, several recent overseas developments have demonstrated that stadia can be an economically sustainable proposition in the long term.

Currently, a number of Australian governments are considering the potential for stadia to drive economic regeneration in regional areas. In this article, we extract some key lessons from overseas stadium developments for governments and private sector developers.

In the United Kingdom, stadiumled regeneration – where a stadium development is used to catalyse regeneration in a local area – has emerged as a prominent model of regeneration over the last 15 years.1

Similarly, an American study2 has suggested that in order to maximize measurable economic return on public investment, "...using a stadium for downtown redevelopment is likely the only way to see the public dollars invested in the stadium receive any real returns."

Peter Koehler's research on US stadia suggests that "the foremost necessity a stadium must have to succeed in creating any sort of economic development is being located in its city's downtown or the periphery of its downtown. Other factors regarding location that may also play a role in the potential success of a stadium are how well the area scores on economic and demographic indicators, how walkable the surrounding area is, and how close to the stadium public transportation is."


The issues involved with stadium development are complex and require the coordination of numerous factors, including growth patterns, population size, population density and proximity to transportation.

Some of the criticisms levelled against the construction of new stadia are that they:

  • " typically aren't a good tool for promoting economic development because they are used so infrequently (people simply go to the stadium, watch an event and then leave, unless the surrounding area has something further to offer);
  • " generate traffic surges around event schedules;
  • " cost too much money; and
  • " may not leave a positive and lasting legacy.

What then, is the solution to these problems? And how can governments and private sector developers tackle these key issues in new stadium developments in Australia?


A number of stadium developments in the United States, South Africa, Asia and the Middle East have been hailed as successful examples of achieving economic sustainability and acting as a catalyst for regeneration in areas of urban decay.

We explore some of the factors underpinning the success of these projects below:


It is now common for stadia to double as entertainment venues. However, some stadium developments have gone further and found ways to use the stadium to benefit the community and public at large.

This was the primary objective for designers of Singapore's 'Sports Hub' development:

"The idea of the hub is to... inject facilities that Singaporeans want to go to, and add a bit of commercial quantum so that it becomes a place where Singaporeans cannot afford not to go".3

Designed to be a stadium that could metamorphose during off-season periods and be used for the benefit of the public in a more holistic sense, the Sports Hub is a sports and entertainment complex which contains a National Stadium, indoor Aquatic Centre, indoor stadium, and a multi-purpose arena. In addition to events, all facilities can be used for community programs offered yearround, and around the Hub, there is retail space. The Hub is also well connected to the city's Mass Rapid Transit network.

In South Korea, the Incheon Stadium was constructed so that temporary seats could be removed, reducing the building's long-term operational and maintenance costs and allowing the space to be used for a community park (and a retail component) for the public to enjoy at times when an event is not being held.


When considering a stadium development, location is an extremely important factor for two principal reasons.

Firstly, accessibility is key. An event's attendance is most affected by access to transportation, parking and proximity to potential patrons. Downtown areas have proven to work well due to ease of access to public transportation. 'Walkability' minimises traffic congestion as well as being good for the environment.

There is also sometimes an unfortunate trend in the selection of stadium sites to opt for cheaper land further from the CBD to reduce costs. This upfront saving often ends up impacting returns in the long run, reducing the stadium's interactivity, marketability and potential economic benefits.

Secondly, the location of a stadium will affect its ability to act as a catalyst for, or form an integral part of, an entertainment or development hub area that attracts other investors.


In the US, stadia have been used as a catalyst to create a buzzing, vibrant entertainment precinct. In other instances, an area was developed and a stadium was later added to increase the public's interaction with it.

The Camden Yards stadium in Baltimore has been hailed as "a model for how to integrate stadium architecture and development into the city."4

Baltimore focused on developing the selected area first and then placing the stadium into an ongoing development plan. This allowed the stadium to have an easier transition into the existing economy.

The site was close to the CBD (in downtown Baltimore) and the development was used as a catalyst for revitalising the area, promoting infill development, revitalising buildings and keeping resources close to the city.

Planners created safe pedestrian walkways and the increased foot traffic not only gave a boost to the area's economy but also provided incentive for the city to streamline an effective public transport system in the area (visitors and patrons are now able to access the stadium via bus or light rail).

However, proximity to the CBD does not guarantee a stadium's appeal. Appropriate planning designations and schemes which allow for the development of residential and office space (attracting retailers, restaurants and other businesses) are key to achieving infill development in and around a stadium precinct.


Integrated stadia such as those that include hotels, galleries, marinas and sea reserves have proven to be extraordinary tourist attractions and architectural meccas in the Middle East. One example of this is the stadia being developed by oil-rich Qatar as part of its extensive plans to build up tourism infrastructure before the 2022 FIFA World Cup Originally estimated at $USD3 billion, Qatar's stadia will be zero-carbon emitting and climate controlled.

Another is Beijing's Bird's Nest/ Olympic Stadium designed by Herzog & Demouron the Watercube by PTW Architects. "Every day tens of thousands of tourists from all over China arrive to see (them), the twin monuments to the country's moment in the spotlight."5


Long after its original reason for being has past, a city's stadium can create an intensified sense of community that is difficult to articulate (and quantify) in an original project feasibility study.

Stadia are symbolic architecture that can give cities an iconic totem.

In South Africa, the Cape Town stadium has been described as:

" a symbol, reflecting the history, present and hopeful future of a city, a nation. Each event, a new chapter being written in its life's story.
"Able to bring together over 64,000 people for a shared moment in time, Cape Town Stadium was, and continues to be, a vehicle for uniting so many other critical elements to the economic and social development of a city." 6

As Wembley's twin towers were to London, 'the Birdsnest' to Beijing and Soccer City is to Johannesburg, a stadium can define a city's identity.


It is true to say that the built environment consumes a lot of energy and emits a lot of greenhouse gases. However, as a platform for environmental awareness, recent stadium projects have stepped up to the plate in addressing this issue.

National Stadium in Zuoying District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan supports almost 9,000 solar panels which power the entire stadium as well as helping to create additional revenue through on-selling the surplus energy and can potentially generate enough electricity every year to power up to 80% of the surrounding neighbourhood.

In Melbourne, Australia, AAMI Park's efficient geodesic steel skeleton used 50% less steel for the roof than a typical stadium. In addition, its rainwater collection system amasses as much as 1.9 million litres of water per annum and also provides four other venues in the precinct with water.

Levi's Stadium in San Fransisco, USA is a LEED Gold certified building with 85% of its water coming from recycled sources. It has a 15-20% reduced overall consumption from lighting due to LED use. It also sources its stadium food locally – 78% of suppliers are located within 150 miles of the stadium, and 85% within the state of California.7


1 London Assembly: Regeneration Committee, "The Regeneration Game Stadium-led regeneration", Greater London Authority, March 2015
2 Peter Koehler, "Why Do Some Stadium Redevelopment Projects Succeed Where Others Fail? An Analysis Using Macro-Level Trends in Stadium Building", Colgate University, Summer 2012
3 DP Architects Director Teoh Hai Pin
4 Jeremy Siegfried & Sasha Truong, 'Sustainable Sports Stadiums: Integrating Development into the City' (2009) CRP 3840 Green Cities Final Project [10].
5 Malcolm Moore, "Tourists flock to Beijing's Olympic stadium even as dust gathers", Daily Telegraph, 7 Aug 2009
6Anita Mendiratta, "Stadiums: Tourism Game On" CNN's TASK Group - COMPASS – Insights into Tourism Branding, February 2014
7Malik Davies, "Top 7 Sustainable Sports Stadiums in the World", < HTTPS://HUMANS4SUSTAINABLEFUTURE.WORDPRESS.COM/2015/11/13/TOP-7-SUSTAINABLE-SPORTSSTADIUMS-IN-THE-WORLD/ >

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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