Stade de France consortium bite the dust in legal battle


Stade de France Image: Stade de France

The highest tribunal in France has refused to grant the consortium running Stade de France – the national stadium of France, located just north of Paris in the commune of Saint-Denis – claiming damages of almost €7.5 million due to the hosting of Euro 2016. With this, the Council of State has put an end to a showdown of more than four years between the Stade de France Consortium and the State. The Council of State has termed the case as one of “no serious means”.

In France, the Council of State is a body of the French national Government that acts both as legal advisors of the executive branch and as the Supreme Court for administrative justice.

The consortium fought a protracted battle in court – for over four years – but everything has come to nought.

The UEFA European Football Championship, the quadrennial international men’s football championship of Europe – is organized by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

Even before Euro 2016 was hosted by France, in 2015, the consortium running the stadium demanded more funds to make up for lack of additional events during the competition. After all, UEFA takes over control of all stadia, disabling their use during and directly after the summer tournament.

Stade de France’s operator’s contention is that the Top 14 final (rugby union league) and concerts of French Canadian pop singer Céline Dion, AC/DC, Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen have all skipped their venue due to UEFA’s hold on it. The Government refused to yield to the €7.45 million price tag demanded and the case reached the court’s door.

But the judges considered that the concession contract, which binds the State to the company, specifies that the stadium must host priority exceptional sporting events, such as Euro 2016. The magistrates, therefore, rejected the consortium’s request, who immediately appealed the decision. But here again, the court took cognisance of the fact that the additional activities authorized in the Grand Stade should “not obstruct its primary and essential vocation”.

The situation may seem odd especially because Euro 2016 was a showpiece event and of strategic importance for all of France, especially Paris. It is for this reason that the court rejected the claims in the first instance, citing that hosting of events of crucial importance must take priority at Stade de France, as stipulated in the contract.

The consortium then made earnest request time and again until the case landed at the door of the Council of State (Conseil d’État) in February. Here, in the final instance, the claims were nixed once more.

Argument for extra millions is one more case which is inviting strong criticism as regards the current operating model of Stade de France. It’s also case in point on why France is rethinking the public-private partnerships used widely to deliver and operate stadia nationwide.

Stade de France’s consortium comprises Vinci (67 percent) and Bouygues (33 percent), the companies in charge of its construction. But, while the price tag of the stadium itself was €364 million, to date taxpayers have paid some €780 million, including subsidies guaranteed by the operating contract. And yet, Stade de France has at times proven to be not a very friendly ground for national teams, forcing games to be played in other venues when concerts or other events were held.

The current contract runs out in 2025 and is not likely to be extended, especially after the 2018 recommendation to stop subsidizing the private operator. A new formula of running the stadium would likely see both the football and rugby associations play key roles.

In 2024, the stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. Ahead of this upcoming sporting spectacle, Stade de France will undergo a €50 million reconfiguration. Following change in operating model, further expenses are planned to upgrade the stadium and extend its lifespan.

Apart from football matches, the venue hosts an average of 20 to 30 events per year, including a number of concerts.

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