With the league growing in popularity and viewership, the past few years have seen several Premier League teams transition to new stadiums or make plans to build better facilities in the future. As English soccer continues to gain traction among fans from around the world, teams seek stadiums capable of fitting upwards of 60,000 fans on any given match day. Furthermore, teams want to play in an attractive ground that will lure high-profile players to their club and offer a suitable experience for wealthier fans and their families or business partners.
Clubs have started to push the new commercialization of the sport through the construction of super stadiums, seeking new home grounds to foster greater attendance and profits. Although each new stadium houses better facilities in a more attractive and modern design, these new super stadiums ultimately take away from the authenticity of the fan experience that has boosted the Premier League’s popularity throughout the past decade.
West Ham United provides a prime example of a club recently transitioning to new ground in an effort to further commercialize the sport. In 2016, the Hammers moved into the luxurious London Stadium, which was originally built for the 2012 Olympic games, after playing at the historic Upton Park for 112 years. Upton Park had a capacity of 35,000 while the new London Stadium can fit a staggering 60,000 fans. West Ham is even making plans to expand the stadium by a couple of thousand more seats over the next few years.
Tottenham Hotspurs followed in the footsteps of West Ham, leaving behind its home at the legendary White Hart Lane after playing there since 1899 and taking to a new stadium just under a year ago. Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is a magnificent structure and can seat upwards of 62,000 fans — making it the biggest club stadium in London among its six London-based teams. While White Hart Lane was a classic ground for the Hotspurs, its capacity of 36,000 people was not big enough for Tottenham’s growing fan base.
While these stadiums surely provide room for the sport’s growth, they detract from the sport’s origins and from fan experience. The sheer size of London Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium immensely decreases the traditional intimate feel of the game. Furthermore, the move represents a desire of the league to have stadiums that are appealing for a business person to host clients rather than tailoring to the league’s fans.
Having visited each stadium in the past month and spoken to local fans, it has become abundantly clear this change to big stadiums has negatively impacted the fan experience. New stadiums such as London Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium have incredibly high-ticket prices and market more toward a corporate clientele. This deters the diehard fans from attending the game and creates an atmosphere where cheering is not as encouraged as it once was. Beyond this, the massive size of each stadium spaces out the fans and creates a physical distance from the fans and the game itself.
West Ham and Tottenham are both examples of teams that have already made a decision to move to a new super stadium and have set the stage for other Premier League clubs planning to do the same in the next several years. Everton FC has proposed to spend a whopping 500 million pounds to build a new stadium with a capacity of up to 52,000 people in the next few years, a move that would see the club leave Goodison Park in 2023. Goodison Park has become a staple in England after playing host to Everton for over 130 years, and Everton’s departure from the stadium would further exacerbate the shift of English soccer from its beginnings.
Other clubs are renovating their current stadiums to increase capacity and create a more modern look. Chelsea FC has plans for reconstructing Stamford Bridge and adding upwards of 20,000 seats, although the construction remains on hold due to financial restraints. Manchester City is keen to expand the North Stand of its very own Etihad stadium to incorporate an additional 8,000 seats. Liverpool FC desires to increase its Anfield Road capacity by 7,000 seats. These three powerhouse clubs are evidently buying into the trend of commercialization, making it appear inevitable that some of the most iconic grounds will no longer host soccer’s most talented clubs.
Not all clubs, however, feel the need to cater to the new corporate standard for stadiums. Countless traditional grounds still exist in the Premier League. Stadiums such as Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park, Aston Villa’s Villa Park and Newcastle’s St. James’ Park are examples of 100 year old or even older grounds that teams still play on today. These types of stadiums have smaller capacities, incredibly intimate seating and exhilarating atmospheres for fans and players alike. The grittiness of the diehard fans in stadiums like these provides a much more authentic experience for a fan watching a match.
English soccer is undeniably shifting toward a more commercial and more corporate experience for matches, and it is evident the experience of attending a match has changed. The oldest grounds that still exist today, however, keep the authenticity alive. All I can do is urge soccer fans to get to these stadiums before they are demolished or renovated to fit the new standard, since it is in these original grounds the true spirit of English soccer still lives.