Swedish-Americans living in Minnesota have a lot in common with Swedes living in Kalmar, Sweden, especially when it comes to sports stadiums.
The Minnesota Metrodome—home of the NFL Minnesota Vikings—collapsed Dec. 12 following a massive snowstorm that blanketed the upper Midwest. It was the third time in the 29-year history of the stadium that part of the massive Teflon roof failed.
Half a world away, football—soccer—fans in Kalmar are watching as winter weather wreaks havoc with a state-of-the-art stadium under construction for Kalmar FF, the city’s Allsvenskan team.
Guldfagel Arena (Golden Bird) in Kalmar doesn’t have a roof, but it apparently isn’t too stable as one portion of the stands began sinking earlier in December, forcing construction company NCC Sverige to install massive building jacks to prevent the concrete structure from sinking into the landfill on which NCC is erecting the stadium.
The dome collapse in Minnesota and sinking stands in Sweden rekindled debates about the types of stadiums teams have and just who owns them. In the U.S., until recently, cities or quasi-public companies owned stadiums and leased them to teams. The trend now, however, is for teams to finance their own stadiums.
“These teams are private businesses. They don’t want to share any more revenue than they have to—either with the league or a co-tenant,” said David Carter, a sports business professor at USC and author of Money Games.
The same is true in Sweden. Malmo, IFK Goteborg and Elfsborg all recently built new stadiums which are owned by the clubs, not the communities. AIK and Djurgården in Stockholm are looking into the possibility of building a stadium to replace crumbling Stockholm Stadium and Rasunda in a deal much like the NFL New York Giants and Jets worked out in building the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands.
In Kalmar, NCC broke ground on Guldfagel in September in a section of the city called Bilen. Once a major retail and manufacturing area, Bilen grew up on land that was once marsh. The landfill, there, however, wasn’t quite as strong as the landfill in New Jersey where the Meadowlands sits.
Just as new stadiums were the key for cities such as Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in keeping Major League Baseball teams in their communities, Malmo, Goteborg and Elfsborg complained loudly that without new stadiums, they simply could not compete financially with teams in other European countries.
The difference in stadiums between the U.S. and Sweden is arenas in Sweden were—and still are—primarily single-purpose soccer stadiums. In the U.S., until the late 1980s, most stadiums were multi-use, playing hot to baseball, American football, soccer and large outdoor concerts. The trend in the U.S. is now toward single-use stadiums, with even the financially strapped Major League Soccer building soccer-specific arenas.
Kalmar, like smaller-market U.S. sports teams, argued it needed to replace its aging home field of Fredriksstans if it was to compete in Europe and attract top-flight talent. The new stadium, like those in the U.S., includes a number of lucrative luxury sky boxes.
The club worked out a deal with the city government and a private investment company to finance the stadium. The key to the project is the luxury boxes. Just as in the new U.S. stadiums, especially the new Yankee Stadium in New York, luxury boxes are now a primary reason for building a new stadium as opposed to the need for a better sports facility. Fredriksstans, for all of its history, is simply unable to generate the income 21st century teams want and need. The same is true in the U.S., where older, multipurpose stadiums once filled the need for sports.
“That was before corporate sponsorship and corporate America became so intimately involved in sports marketing,” said Carter. “With the advent of the luxury suite and club seating … these facilities were becoming economically obsolete.”
While the similarities are clear, one thing the Swedes in Kalmar did that Swedish-Americans in Minnesota probably wouldn’t do is start a major construction project just before the onset of winter. NCC assured Kalmar that Sweden’s notoriously snowy winters would not be an obstacle to completing the arena by March 15, 2011. Work began on Sept. 16 and progressed well—until November, when snow forced crews to stop.
Work resumed after Thanksgiving, which was when workers noticed something. The stands weren’t quite as tall as they were when first installed. In fact, the stands were sinking into the landfill, and sinking fast.
Headlines across Sweden dubbed the arena “The Titanic,” and the botched work became fodder for late-night comedians across the globe, even making it onto the new Conan O’Brien show.
“Sure, we’ve provided some funny headlines, but the project is in no danger,” said construction director Ronny Nilsson. “Everything is right on schedule.”
The problem with the stadium really depends on which report is accurate. Some reports claim workers didn’t dig down deep enough to hit bedrock for the foundation. Others say workers didn’t let the concrete proof long enough and the stands sank into the still-wet foundation.
Whatever the reason, it is almost certain the new stadium won’t be ready for its spring opening, although Nilsson said there is no danger, either with the sinking stands, the timetable for construction or financially for Kalmar.
“It is the NCC who will pay, so it is of course in their interest to fix this as soon as possible,” he said. “If for any reason it should be delayed, we have Fredriksstans left, but it would be a terrible shame for everyone involved: us, the audience and the sponsors.”
by Chipp Reid