Creating the next generation of sports venues
The success of the 2012 Olympics left a legacy that has seen UK investment in the sport sector boom over the past 10 years since the London games. It created a new vision for venues, with communities across the country taking renewed pride in their local area, fostering community cohesion, promoting economic growth and improving public health with increased uptake of sport.
Though demands on sports stadiums and venues have evolved in the last decade, an appreciation of their ability to be a catalyst for wider change has endured, with the lessons learned being translated into the successful Birmingham Commonwealth Games this summer.
From the perspective of the built environment, sports and leisure projects capture communities’ imagination because they create spaces that foster shared experience and participation. That offers a huge opportunity to engage the public with the construction sector as a whole and to attract future talent.
Creating a new cohort of designers, engineers and wider teams that make these schemes a reality is essential. With a high-profile yet challenging pipeline coming forward, the sector is under pressure not only to ensure on-time and on-budget delivery, but to create sustainable, low carbon venues which have a lasting impact on the fans, audiences and communities they reach.
Delivering high profile programmes
Given the high profile of the major events that many of these programmes are built around, such as Wimbledon, the Champions League, or the Commonwealth Games, there is very little margin for error.
The scale of major programmes in the sports and leisure sector is vast, with many lasting several years. As such, delivering through periods of market volatility are inevitable. We only need to consider the last couple of years to see the challenges these timescales present – Brexit, the pandemic, war in Ukraine and soaring inflation have all contributed to a significantly altered industry landscape.
Compounding this issue is the question of capacity. A high number of ambitious major programmes are in planning, all of which will be working to similar timeframes. However, due to industry-wide skills shortage, there is a limited pool of contractors and suppliers with the necessary expertise and resource to manage the complexity of sports stadiums and venues which are often located in built-up, urban areas and are often multi-phased and major in scale.
To deliver these complex projects successfully, clients need to engage suppliers much earlier in the process to ensure the right skills are in place to deliver each phase. By building a deep understanding of the supply chain and working collaboratively, clients can proactively mitigate risks and avoid project delays.
Navigating live environments
Many refurbishment and expansion projects now require multiple immovable deadlines when a site has to be fully operational. Clients want the ability to continue using a venue throughout the build to minimise disruption to revenue on one hand, and protect reputation on the other.
For example, the refurbishment of the No.1 Court at The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) had to be handed over three times during the project to allow hosting of The Championships, Wimbledon. Working on a live sports venue added new layers of complexity. This required a collaborative delivery model and advance procurement to ensure a fan experience that would maintain Wimbledon’s world-class reputation.
Operating in silos is unhelpful on any project, but even more so when working in a live environment. Clear communication is needed at every level of the supply chain to build an appreciation of the client’s revenue streams, reputation and fans or audiences, which will encourage greater engagement from individuals and suppliers. In turn, that engagement will drive more creative and collaborative approaches to delivering outcomes effectively.
This deep understanding of the client, fans and audiences is also crucial in forecasting how needs may evolve, such as improved access or corporate hospitality, increased spectator numbers, or more under-cover areas. Given the scale of these projects, demands and costs will inevitably change between planning and completion, so clients need to consider the long-term vision, designing and creating spaces which are better fit to adapt.
Creating sustainable destinations
As clients increasingly commit to net zero ambitions, the ability to adapt and re-imagine existing venues and facilities offers not just a financial incentive, but also an environmental one.
Retrofitting and renovations are becoming ever more viable and desirable, particularly where sporting or cultural venues benefit from a heritage with fans and audiences that would be lost through demolition. In a recent example of this, we supported Liverpool FC on the Anfield Road Stand Expansion, which retained the lower tier seats throughout construction.
Technology, for example, has a central role to play in making these buildings and venues more sustainable and efficient. Typically, large venues have a binary energy system that is either entirely on or off, which is costly if we consider a conference being hosted in a small corner of a much larger stadium. Retrofitting digital systems that offer greater control over the building’s operations allows significant reductions in operating costs and operational carbon.
For new build venues, clients can also measure and manage the carbon footprint of a project seamlessly alongside cost, throughout the construction cycle, with our own Embodied Carbon Calculator.
De-risking sports venue programmes
The risks involved with these programmes – especially around timing and reputation, and the risk of disappointing passionate fans and audiences – certainly make sports and leisure a highly pressured sector.
However few areas of construction benefit from such potential to win hearts and minds. Success depends on clients and supply chains remembering the people these places will serve – the spectators who return every season, match or concert, and what they want and need from these venues. This unwavering focus will be critical to engage communities, attract new talent to bridge the skills gap, and continue to create places that leave a real and enduring legacy.