The Rio Report

Brazilian football getting sick of playing musical stadiums

The Rio Report

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Brazil's Morumbi Stadium (left) and Arena Pernambuco (Right)

Quiz question: how many stadiums would usually be used over the course of a season in a league that contains 20 teams?

Don’t overthink it. The answer is 20. There will be occasional variance, of course, to account for stadium sharing (AC Milan and Inter Milan, for instance) and for unforeseen circumstances (see Cagliari’s recent ground-hopping exploits), but as a general rule every team has one home and one home alone.

But not in Brazil. Nearing the halfway stage of the Campeonato Brasileiro season, no fewer than 32 stadiums have been used.

They come in all shapes and sizes. There are small, relatively modest ones (Batistão, Moacyrzão) and huge, sparkly new ones (Arena Pernambuco). There are cavernous coliseums (Morumbi), cramped bear pits (Independência, São Januário) and, well, the Estádio do Valé, which only has one stand. Above all, however, there are simply loads of them being used.

Much of this can be attributed to renovation and construction work taking place in the lead-up to the World Cup. With many of the country’s most loved arenas being spruced up ahead of the 2014 showpiece, plenty of clubs have had to adapt to a nomadic existence.

Take Flamengo, the best supported team in Brazil. With the Maracanã out of action until the Confederations Cup, they played their first “home” game of the year in Juiz De Fora – a city that’s not even in the state of Rio de Janeiro, let alone anywhere near Fla’s Gávea base – before temporarily hanging their hat at the Orlando Scarpelli stadium, fully 750 kilometres down the coast in Florianópolis.

It didn’t end there either. Flamengo next hosted Coritiba at the brand new Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha… in Brasília.

That stadium, built at colossal expense (around £275million – more than 30 per cent over budget) was widely expected to be one of the most conspicuous white elephants of the World Cup project, not least because the Distrito Federal boasts a grand total of zero clubs in the top two divisions of the Brazilian game.

The long-term viability of the arena is still doubtful but it has come as a pleasant surprise that the eight Série A matches staged there (seven of which featured Flamengo) have brought in, on average, 39,000 paying fans – significantly more than the league’s average attendance of 14,200.

But it’s not all sunshine and smiles. When Botafogo and Fluminense agreed to play their local Rio derby at the Arena Pernambuco, eyebrows were raised; it’s one thing to give faraway fans something to cheer but quite another to deny your hometown support in a clássico. To make matters worse, fans in Recife issued a collective shrug, meaning the game – presumably seen as a potential money-spinner for the clubs involved – attracted just 9,700 people.

Botafogo at least have an excuse for trying something different. The Engenhão, at which they were long-term tenants, was decommissioned earlier in the year due to structural flaws, just six years after the Pan-American games for which it was built. As a result of that farce, they have felt more homeless than most, as star midfielder Clarance Seedorf admitted last month.

“This is huge problem for Brazilian football,” said the Dutchman. “Sadly these things are out of our hands, but the people responsible could at least think about the good of the game here.”

Those thoughts would likely be echoed by fans who have seen ticket prices jump up, particularly at World Cup venues. When Vasco played Flamengo in Brasília (another relocated derby) the cheapest ticket came in at R$100, or £27 – a cost that would scarcely have been conceivable as recently as five years ago.

Club directors, of course, can attempt to justify those prices on the basis that the crowds are coming in. Average league-wide attendances are slightly up from last year, they can claim – even if they do still trail those of what many Brazilians would consider to be lesser leagues, like Major League Soccer.

But at some stage the novelty value attached to the current game of musical chairs will begin to dwindle. When that occurs, teams will need to find longer-term solutions that suit their core fans – and their purses. Home is where the heart is, after all.

Jack Lang

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