Further delays to Real Madrid stadium renovation
Image credit: Nuevo Estadio Bernabeu
With the opening of the renovated Bernabeu pushed back again, will Real Madrid’s new stadium ever be ready?
Real Madrid CF is arguably the most famous football club in the world. Los Blancos, as the team is colloquially known, has won more Spanish league titles and European Cups/Champions Leagues than any other football club, and has more fans than any other club, worldwide.
However, anyone who has been watching Real on TV recently might have noticed that the iconic Santiago Bernabeu stadium has been well below its 80,000 capacity, with only 50,000 spaces available for fans during the 2021-22 season.
That’s because the Bernabeu renovation project, which began in 2019, is still nowhere near completion.
Planned upgrades include a retractable roof and pitch, a new outer shell, and the engineering of more space inside the stadium.
The original date for the project’s completion was put back to January 2023 due to Covid, with club officials hoping it would be ready for the 75th anniversary of the opening of the original stadium.
Recent announcements suggest that Real’s hierarchy is now looking at the start of the 2023/24 season, next August, as the earliest possible completion date for their new high-tech stadium. More conservative estimates put the most likely inauguration date as the end of next year.
Last July, Spanish sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo reported that Real was considering taking out an additional loan of €150-200m to complete the project. The original loan was €575m, increased by €225m in 2021. The third loan would take the total cost to over €1bn.
However, the Real hierarchy expects that the new stadium will boost revenues by €400m a year.
The plan is for the stadium’s outer surface to be covered in strips of steel and lines that allow images to be illuminated and projected. The metallic panels will be treated to avoid light reflection and will change colour depending on the angle from which the stadium is being viewed. The new retractable roof will extend over the entire playing surface, its inner perimeter covered by a giant panoramic screen, giving the whole stadium a futuristic look.
Original plans to increase stadium capacity have been scrapped, due to increased costs. When works are complete, new stands on the east side of the stadium will contain 3,000 seats, but these seats will have been moved from other areas of the ground to facilitate more spacious spectator access routes, essential for stadiums in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Real bosses also plan to build a logistics tunnel around the outside of the stadium to improve supply chains to bars, restaurants, VIP areas, toilets, services and first aid points. The tunnel will be connected to a new car park, where suppliers and contractors can offload goods for distribution around the stadium. Two new towers will contain additional access routes and gates, new ramps, escalators, and lifts.
If Real Madrid win every competition, they are unlikely to play more than 60 games this year, and less than half of these will be at home. The rest of the time, the Bernabeu stands empty when it could, club officials believe, make money by hosting basketball, NFL, tennis, concerts and other events.
The Tottenham Hotspur stadium in London, which opened in April 2019, uses a retractable pitch for this purpose. This is a surface that can be quickly moved underground and stored when the stadium is being used for other purposes, and then put back in time for the next football match.
Real’s planned retractable pitch is slightly different. The idea is that their hybrid-grass surface will stay in storage for most of the year, taken out only when there is a football match, or another event which needs it.
The Bernabeu is in a built-up area of Madrid, so the grass pitch can’t be kept outside the stadium. Instead, it will be stored 24m under the surface pitch area in six sections, each contained in its own steel tray.
Each section will have heating, irrigation, drainage, fertigation and disinfectant installations as well as LED lighting, control cameras and ultraviolet light therapy to ensure the pitch is always in good condition. The sections move up and down on transport cars powered by a hydraulic lifting system based on telescopic hydraulic cylinders guided by skids.
In a recent appearance on Spanish TV, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez blamed construction delays on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war for increasing prices and affecting the supply of materials – particularly steel.
Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU prohibited, directly or indirectly, the import and purchase of certain Russian steel products. In 2021, Russia had exported 15.9 million tonnes of semi-finished steel and 16.8 million tonnes of finished steel worldwide.
Last March, reports emerged that steel prices were surging across Europe, as companies slowed or stopped production due to increased energy costs.
This is not solely down to the Russia-Ukraine war. Back in July 2021, Seopan, Spain’s construction and infrastructure company association, announced that long steel prices were up 78 per cent since the beginning of the year and that some contracting companies faced price increases of more than 100 per cent. In November 2021, a study by the Spanish National Construction Confederation found that the price increases have raised the total cost of building work in Spain by 22.2 per cent.
“External factors like these are beyond a constructor’s control,” says Rob Amphlett, UK sports lead at Buro Happold, who designed the retractable pitch for Tottenham. “The only thing you can do [as constructors contracted into an existing project] is to make more of what is already in the stadium, rather than rely on new materials; for instance reuse more of the steel you already have, rather than buy new.”
That’s easier to do when the stadium isn’t being used during construction.
Amphlett explains that the complexity of the Madrid project means that Real are likely to be harder hit by external factors. “It is about as ambitious as you can get – new pitch, roof, façade, reusing a lot of what’s already there (as opposed to building from scratch), and doing all this while the stadium is being used,” he says.
Tottenham played at Wembley while the majority of their stadium was being built, but contractors were still around when the team returned from their 18-month hiatus.
“The important thing in this situation is to sync club and construction operations, so everyone knows where everyone is and what everyone needs – where crowds and logistics are coming in and out,” Amphlett says. “Issues like these need to be considered at the outset, at the design phase.”
At Real it continues to be a delicate balancing act. Club officials must continue to work out how best to maximise current revenue, keep costs and timescales down, and minimise disruption to Carlo Ancelotti’s team, who, renovations or no renovations, will once again be expected to win La Liga, the Copa Del Ray and the Champions League this season.
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