Cox steers from ovals to rectangular stadiums


Cox Architecture

Cox Architecture joined Coliseum Summit (global sports venues business summits) several times over the last years and talked for example about the new Perth Stadium. Now a new stadium topic arises.

Australian sport conjures images of cricket on oval fields during the hot summer months and something altogether more bruising when the weather cools. Whilst the AFL (Australian Football League) is able to make perfect use of these vast spaces during the winter, rugby requires a somewhat smaller footprint.

Russell Lee, Director of Cox Architecture, gives Coliseum his views on the ever greater demand for venues of the four-sided variety, brought about by the growing popularity of soccer ‘down under’.

Socceroos create a bounce

“Participation in soccer has been high ever since the 1960s. Appearances at the past three FIFA World Cups have stimulated the national soccer championship, the A-League, with increased interest in this club competition. Hosting a successful Asian Cup in 2015 [which the national team, known as the Socceroos, won for the first time having move to the Asian confederation in 2006] also helped enhance the profile of the game.

“For the Asian Cup we originally targeted 350,000 spectators, and the FFA [Football Federation Australia] engaged a community engagement consultant in order to encourage all ethnic groups to support their national teams and attend the matches. They used 150 volunteer ambassadors as part of the network to raise awareness of the sport and sell tickets. With the program we managed to attract 650,000 fans; an average 20,000 per match.

“Australia is a very busy market place for sport. We have no regular access to the best soccer leagues around the world other than light night TV, and this has opened the door for increased interest in our domestic competition. In addition migrants are making up more than half the population growth across our large cities such as Sydney and they are bringing their passion for the round ball sport.”

A perfect balance (almost)

“Football or soccer is in a very unusual situation regarding the marketplace. We have many stadiums with rectangular pitches for soccer, rugby league and union. But a decision was taken in setting up A League, the new national competition for Soccer to be played in the summer, leaving rugby league and union as winter sports.

The other major field sport in summer is cricket that is played on ovals, there is no competition between these two sports.

“During the winter, AFL takes over the oval pitches, whilst rugby union and league occupy the rectangular pitches.

One of the challenges we face with Rugby League and in particular Rugby Union is that the turf takes a lot of punishment, meaning that it cannot easily be used for other sports after that. Scrummaging tends to “plough” up the surface of the pitch. Hence grass types, length and reinforcement.

“Due to different requirements it is very difficult to have multipurpose venues that combine soccer with say AFL or cricket. In the past you could get away with it, but not today with all the technical requirements and technology becoming more and more specific. For example lighting requirements for cricket are very different for soccer due to the angles and plan locations involved. Rugby venues are usually a good fit with soccer, except for that issue with the turf.

“Australian sport is very well balanced throughout the whole year, and Cox has already worked on a number of oval sports projects for AFL and Cricket in our major cities. But now Australia is aiming to have at least one major rectangular stadium in addition to major oval venue for each of its state capital cities.”

Change of direction

“Cox had a lot of success over the last 10 years in developing the MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground], Sydney Cricket Ground and Adelaide Oval, and is in the process of building a new stadium for Perth. Those projects are coming to an end and focus is switching to rectangular venues. Demand in Australia is shifting towards soccer, which is leading us to redevelop Allianz Stadium in Sydney, along with venues in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide.

“Canberra also has an old venue that was originally built for the 1977 Pan Pacific Games. This was changed in the 1990s into a rectangular venue, but further redevelopment is now planned.

“As a company, we are refocusing on soccer stadiums. Apart from Australia some great opportunities are arising elsewhere in the world, such as Hong Kong’s sevens [rugby] stadium. We recently bid for the redevelopment of Barcelona’s Camp Nou, prepared concepts for venues in Saudi Arabia and a concept design for Bangalore in India.

“One of the other major issues that is arising is a very strong interest in increasing participation in sport in locations where open spaces are hard to find. This often means we are stuck with the need to redevelop rather than building from scratch. One such example is Toa Payoh Stadium in Singapore, which is currently a multi-purpose facility used for both soccer and athletics. However, there is now a desire to develop it into a dedicated soccer venue. We have looked to make it sufficiently flexible so that it can be used by two or three home steams.”

New challenges

“Rectangular stadiums provide quite a different challenge to oval venues. Because cricket is played over a long period of time, fans move around a regularly, whereas Soccer is more intense: fans come in and out on mass and you have limited time, especially for easy access of facilities within the venue. They also provide a geometric challenge in providing a fluid feel and maintaining the atmosphere as you wrap the roof and seats around the rectangular field.

“We also constantly ponder how we can better utilize the areas external to the stadium footprint, such as plazas. These areas are really activity zones and live zones that have an entertainment and community function. To engage fans, you need strong visual connections and they need to know how to move around. The passive climate in Australia provides stadium owners and sponsors an opportunity to engage with spectators both inside and out, throughout the year.

“We are constantly looking at non-event days, such as: How does the public transport work? Why would people gather there on non-event days? In Australia, members have access to stadiums generally 7 days a week, so this is always a consideration. Links with retail are growing such that for our stadium in Bangalore we have planned for it to have a hotel attached, with function spaces, conference rooms and kitchens shared between the hotel and the venue.

“What we are anticipating to happen is that people’s expectations will continue to grow. Everyone has a Smartphone and the expectation is to be online all the time. We are putting many other digital features into stadiums to feed these desires: IPTV Systems so that we can exchange messages with fans; larger scoreboards; and improvements in sound quality. The entertainment aspect has to be increased as fans are becoming more sophisticated.

“But is still the fundamentals that underpin a spectators experience. They still want to know: How good are my seats? What are the toilet facilities like? What can I get to eat and drink? How is the access? We need to refine these elements all the time. These are the things which will stick in their memories. In Australia we have a large number of women spectators visiting stadiums; they go to matches in groups and they want to dress up. And they don’t want to be intimidated, so in some cases stadiums and grandstands are now setting up female only areas.

“Ultimately, our aim is to get to know our fans before we start building each stadium, so that we give them the experience they are seeking, whilst also trying to create landmark stadiums for our clients.”

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