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The Old Highbury Stadium

Arsenal Stadium, widely referred to as Highbury, has been Arsenal's home since the club's move to North London in 1913. The original stadium was built by the renowned football architect Archibald Leitch, and had a design common to many football grounds in the UK at the time, with a single covered stand and three open-air banks of terracing. In the 1930s, the entire stadium was given a massive overhaul, with new Art Deco East and West stands constructed, and roofs added to the North Bank and Clock End terraces. At its peak, Highbury could hold over 60,000 spectators, and had a capacity of 57,000 until the early 1990s. The Taylor Report and Premier League regulations forced Arsenal to convert Highbury into an all-seater in 1992, reducing its capacity to the current total of 38,500; this capacity has to be reduced further during Champions League matches to accommodate additional advertising hoardings. Expansion has been restricted because the East Stand is now a Grade II listed building.

These limitations in Highbury's capacity have prevented the club from maximising the revenue that their domestic form could have brought in recent seasons. Although the club remains highly profitable, Arsenal are currently in the process of building Emirates Stadium, a new 60,000-seater stadium at Ashburton Grove, about 500 metres south-west of Highbury. While this project was delayed by red tape (including final approval of the necessary compulsory purchase orders by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott) and rising costs, construction is now nearly complete and the stadium is expected to be ready for the start of the 2006–07 season. The stadium is named after its sponsors, the airline company Emirates, with whom the club signed the largest sponsorship deal in English football history, worth approximately £100 million over the term of the deal. As a part of the deal the stadium will be known as Emirates Stadium for at least the first 15 years, and the airline will be the club's shirt sponsor from 2006 until the end of the 2013–14 season.

The New Emirates Stadium

The Emirates Stadium is a football stadium, being built for Arsenal Football Club in Ashburton Grove, Islington, north London, England. It was informally known as Ashburton Grove before a naming rights deal with the airline Emirates was announced, and that name is still used by some people. The stadium is scheduled to open in the summer of 2006, and will have an all-seated capacity of 60,000, making it the second biggest stadium in the Premiership after Old Trafford. The overall cost of the project is £390 million, but not all of this is for the actual construction of the stadium.

Name

Arsenal announced on October 5, 2004 that the Emirates Stadium will be known as such for at least the first 15 years due to a £100m sponsorship deal with the Emirates airline company. This sum also includes payments for an eight year shirt sponsorship by Emirates, starting in the 2006-2007 season.

Development

Arsenal spent a number of years looking to develop a larger stadium as their existing ground at Highbury has a capacity of 38,500, which is lower than the grounds of almost all other European football clubs of comparable stature, and little room for expansion as one stand is built right up to a public road and the other three back onto housing. They had a season ticket waiting list which had been closed for some time with over 20,000 members, and were missing out on a great deal of potential revenue. However finding a site for a new stadium in London was extremely difficult. The club was willing to consider a location close to the M25 motorway if necessary, but had a strong preference for a location in the London Borough of Islington close to Highbury.

Eventually the club selected an industrial estate at Ashburton Grove, which was just a few hundred metres from Highbury as the crow flies. The plan was announced in November 1999. The target opening date for the new stadium was summer 2004, though this would later slip back to summer 2006 due to planning and financial difficulties. In order to develop this site it was necessary to buy out the existing occupants. This was very expensive and some of them took legal action to attempt to block the stadium, which was ultimately unsuccessful. There was further opposition from some residents groups, although there was also a lot of local support for the scheme. Arsenal had difficulty obtaining finance for the project, and work ceased just after it had begun, before starting again when a loan package was obtained from a consortium of banks.

The most significant occupant on the Ashburton Grove site was Islington Council's recycling plant. In order to relocate this Arsenal purchased 10 acres (40,000 m²) of former railway lands at Lough Road off Caledonian Road. A modern recycling plant was built here, which opened in 2004. Other occupants at Ashburton Grove included the Royal Mail Holloway Delivery Office, which was relocated to Highbury Delivery Office, at Hamilton Park, and many private companies.

Arsenal director Danny Fiszman admitted that if they could have foreseen the difficulties they have faced, they would not have pursued the development of Emirates Stadium. "Looking back we were probably crazy," he said.

The remainder of the Lough Road site is being used for new housing, as are the surplus areas around the stadium at Ashburton Grove. Highbury will also be converted into apartments after the club moves to the Emirates Stadium. In total more than 2,000 homes will be built at the three sites, and the club is counting on the profits from these developments to make a major contribution towards the costs of the stadium. Other sources of finance include a £30 million payment from Granada Television for a 5% stake in the club received in the 2004/05 season (far more than the market value of the shares at that time, but Granada had made a commitment to subscribe for them at the height of the football investment bubble, when it had bought its first tranche of shares in the club) ; a £15 million contribution towards the capital costs of the stadium's catering facilites from catering firm Delaware North, which has a 20 year exclusive contract to run the stadium's catering operation , and up-front payments from sponsorship deals with Nike and Emirates.

Some fans have been concerned that the stadium project has reduced Arsenal's transfer budget, but the club has insisted that this is not the case because the finance for the stadium is separate from the football side of the business, and it would not have borrowed to buy players in the absence of a stadium project as it has a long-standing commitment to run itself at break-even or better. It argued that only by moving to a new stadium could the club join the elite of European football clubs on a permanent basis, and the success of the Arsène Wenger era amounted to sustained overachievement given that the club did not have the same level of financial resources as the top few clubs. Wenger himself commented in 2005, "The project was vital.... It was that or die over the longer term at the top level. It is as simple as that."

Seating

The stadium will be a three tiered bowl with roofing over the stands but not over the pitch. The upper and lower tiers will be "standard seating", while the middle tier known as the "club tier" will be premium priced corporate seating. There will be 6,700 seats at this level, which are being sold on multi year licences. The cost of club tier seats for 2006-07 ranges from £2,500 to £4,750 per season including VAT. This covers admission to 19 league games and any home games Arsenal play in the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup. Club Tier season ticket holders will be required to pay for Carling Cup tickets separately. The £3,500 "midfield" seats sold out with more than a year before the opening date and the club claims that sales at other prices are going well. Immediately above the club tier there will be a ring of one hundred and fifty 10,12 and 15 seats boxes. Box prices start at £65,000 per annum plus VAT, and in this case admission to Champions League and FA Cup games is not included. By taking advantage of the high demand to see them play and relative wealth of their London fan base, Arsenal expect to make more money per season from their premium seating and corporate boxes than many of the smaller Premiership clubs make in gate receipts from their whole ground.

The stadium topped out in August 2005, and is reported to be on schedule and on budget. The club has announced that all of the hospitality boxes have been taken.

Refinancing

In August 2005 Arsenal announced plans to replace most of the bank debt taken on to finance the stadium with £200 million of bonds and a £60 million loan note. The club's chief executive commented that the new stadium is expected to increase Arsenal's turnover from around £115 million to around £170 million. This will close or possibly even eliminate the turnover gap with Manchester United.

 

 

 

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