Last week, the Fundação Getúlio Vargas Chamber of Arbitration – set up to rule on a series of issues where Palmeiras and Allianz Parque constructor WTorre disagree – ruled in favour of Palmeiras on the most important topic: how many of the stadium’s 44.000 chairs WTorre is allowed to commercialise. It has always been Palmeiras’ understanding that the number was 10.000, but a poorly drafted agreement left room for alternative interpretations, WTorre claiming they had the right to all the chairs, which would effectively kill Palmeiras’ highly successful supporter membership programme “Avanti”. Not only did the FGV side with Palmeiras regarding the chairs, but also ordered WTorre conclude the works on the Allianz Parque. That means ensure the stadium complies with FIFA standards, finish construction on the panoramic restaurant, the museum, the trophy room… A massive victory, both financially and morally, setting the game board for years to come.
With a ruling finally in place, Palmeiras can go back at tweaking the club’s supporter programme, look into how to optimise stadium capacity, optimise pricing. Moreover, Palmeiras should consider how to deal with the overly large portals giving access to the pitch; these portals facilitate getting heavy/bulky stage equipment onto the pitch (think rock shows), but have a considerable impact on stadium capacity.
“Optimise stadium capacity, optimise pricing”. What is “optimise”? Many would argue it is a simple equation, where optimise means securing maximum revenue for the club. Others say optimising is the point where two curves meet: highest revenue with highest possible attendance – an acknowledgement of the importance of supporters to a team’s success. A third line would argue that additional factors, like social inclusion, must come into the equation: it is fine the club making less money, if that means contributing to a greater good.
Are football clubs expected to take direct responsibility for improving social inclusion? In England, studies show they are indeed: when asked what they value about their club, English supporters do not stress their success on the field, nor the value of the club’s shares, or whether it was in profit or not, but their importance within their family, social and community life. Similar views were expressed almost uniformly by clubs’ chief executives, staff and local residents and businesses, everybody emphasising the social function of a football club. I would not think the result would be much different in Brazil.
Still, one should not forget that competition is in the heart of sports. And here is where the major barrier to football’s ability to be a force for good – in England, in Brazil, in any part of the world – becomes evident: the financial strains most clubs face, primarily due to the pressure of putting a competitive team out.
Must one chose between financial optimization/competiveness and social inclusion? Perhaps yes, in the realm of immediacy. However, we should look further.
I few weeks back I visited Vienna, and the Vienna Opera House. Opting for a ballet performance, I was not surprised to find tickets almost sold out, with the few remaining going at €160-180 apiece. Then a word, on a sign a bit further away, caught my attention. “Stehplatz”. Standing space. Something more and more common in sports arenas across Europe, and at one point also discussed as an option for the Allianz Parque. To my surprise, the Vienna Opera House seats more than 1.700 persons, but in addition has the capacity to cater for close to 600 standing spectators. Most of the stehplatz tickets are released only a couple of hours before the performance, on a first come first served basis. Ticket price? €4!
Here we have a prime establishment, which certainly could be making a lot more money by filling the space up with chairs, offering tickets at €4 apiece. Talk about social inclusion.
The Vienna Opera House might be losing money in the ticket box, but they are also getting good PR through the people now able to attend something they otherwise never would. From tourists, crashing in at the last minutes, being amazed by the performance, sharing pictures on social media, contributing to the fame and hype. Social inclusion, the “doing good”, is likely to bring financial revenue to the Opera House in the long term.
I can easily see this applied to the Allianz Parque. The creation of a popular section – and why not through the Stehplatz concept, getting rid of those gaping holes through easy-to-assemble, removable standing grids – where the less fortunate, and tourists, or anyone really, can either buy in advance or cue up on the day to have the true Familia Palmeiras experience.
After all, if we are family, we must care for one another. Strengthening Palmeiras and the “Palmeiras brand” in the process.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!