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Amsterdam ArenA – The World Arena – Excellent Article about Amsterdam ArenA and Global Activities


The opening of the Amsterdam ArenA in 1996 marked the addition of another popular attraction for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area – and not just for football fans. Delegations from across the world came to south-east Amsterdam to see for themselves how the world’s first spaceship-shaped multifunctional football stadium with retractable roof was designed, constructed and financed. But above all, they came to learn more about its use and operational management. The inspiration those delegates gained from this experience has already proven fruitful around the world. Amsterdam ArenA is now the ‘mother ship’ of many other multipurpose stadiums that have since been built according to the same design and organisation – in Europe and Russia, as well as in China, Brazil and Morocco. And perhaps in Qatar in the not-too-distant future. Amsterdam ArenA’s success comes from the fact that it was conceived as more than just a sports stadium. Besides AFC Ajax matches – the home football team – some 50 other ‘non-football’ events are held in the stadium each year, from pop concerts to product presentations and business gatherings. All this is made possible by the ArenA’s retractable roof, the fact that it is one of the largest venues in Europe and because creating a sports stadium with an unparalleled level of hospitality was an objective right from the design stage. To ensure order and calm among the 2 million or so people who visit the stadium each year, crowd control was a main priority. And to enhance the visitors’ sense of safety, comfort and security, the ArenA management developed its own payment system and set up a training course to turn the 2,000 staff employed during peak events into first-class hosts and hostesses. The ArenA also has top-quality catering facilities and optimal acoustics. Not that the stadium’s main purpose was compromised: the ArenA was used as a testing ground for endless experiments with grass varieties and growing techniques, culminating in the selection of a strain that would flourish in the microclimate, under an often-closed roof. The same attention was paid to improving the sustainability of the ArenA. The experience gained from trial and error has been used to significantly improve the stadium’s environmental foot print: less energy is used (the stadium aims to be carbon neutral by 2015) and waste is recycled wherever possible. Suppliers, for example, are only allowed to use biodegradable packaging materials.

Amsterdam ArenAEven the financing is innovative. Amsterdam ArenA is one of the first successful examples of a public-private partnership in Europe: the government (the Municipality of Amsterdam) and the business community (the listed Ajax football club and the depositary receipt holders) took the initiative for the development and construction, and the shareholders are still working together in harmony. The public-private concept also proved beneficial for the development of the area around the stadium. Two world-class music venues were built in record time, just a stone’s throw from the ArenA: the Heineken Music Hall and the Ziggo Dome. Other neighbours include a multi-screen cinema and furniture mall. Special spin-off  ‘The ArenA is a nucleus for innovations in many different areas,’ says Henk Markerink with visible satisfaction, at his office in the stadium’s outer ring. Once stadium director, Markerink is now CEO, and his responsibilities include managing a very special spin-off: the Amsterdam ArenA Advisory (AAA). ‘There was so much foreign interest in the concept and our operations from the start that we decided to set up a separate business,’ he says. ‘The people who work for the Amsterdam ArenA Advisory bring together a wealth of knowledge and expertise on the construction and use of

this unique multifunctional sports stadium. Together with our partner network, we help parties build or renovate their stadiums in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible, and we advise them how to generate additional revenue and success from the stadium’s use following a large sports event.’

The Amsterdam ArenA Advisory successfully exports the knowledge and experience from the Amsterdam ArenA model across the world. Projects that the Advisory has been involved in recently include the development and construction of the Schalke Arena in the German city of Gelsenkirchen  and the realisation of four stadiums for the UEFA Euro 2012 Football Championship in Poland and Ukraine.

AAA was also asked by the authorities in Beijing to provide recommendations on how to attract event organisers to the city’s iconic Bird’s Nest, in the aftermath of the 2008 Olympic Games. ‘When a large sports event is organised, the majority of energy and manpower goes into realising the event on time and creating the most spectacular result possible. But once the event has been held, the stadium in its existing form often proves too big or too specific for the city’s other games and requirements. This results in what we call “white elephants”: beautiful and modern but empty stadiums. That’s why you have to think about the stadium’s subsequent use beforehand. This has to be taken into account during the design stage and in the context of financing, so that it’s easier to make any modifications that might be necessary. We at the ArenA have plenty of experience in that respect, too.’ Cy cle of global eve nts The demand for new consultancy services continues to grow, according to Markerink. The 15 permanent employees of the Amsterdam ArenA Advisory and their partner companies have their hands full following the cycles of sports events around the world. The Olympic Games take place once every four years, as does the FIFA World Cup, and in the interim there are plenty of continental championships, such as the Africa Cup tournament and the European and Latin American football championships. Host countries build new stadiums or renovate and reorganize existing structures for all these events. ‘Most of our focus is on Brazil at the moment, where the FIFA World Cup is to be held, followed by the Olympic Games,’ says Markerink. ‘Advanced plans have been draw up to help the Russians with their World Cup in 2018 and we’re holding exploratory talks with Qatar, who will be hosting it in 2022. The last eventin particular is bound to present challenges for stadium constructors, as the setting this time round will be a mid-summer desert climate. ‘You often also see a knock-on effect once a multifunctional stadium like the ArenA has been built in a country. The benefits enjoyed by the home team of such a stadium are so prolific that competing clubs and their stadium operators want to take the same step.’ The Amsterdam ArenA Advisory has now set up its own office in Brazil, ArenA do Brasil, which is managed by a former seller of Dutch Fokker aircraft in the country. The office is closely involved in many stadium projects in the context of the fast-approaching FIFA World Cup, which will be held in June and July 2014. With the national honour of this football-crazy country at stake, it is imperative the event is a success,

and Henk Markerink is very conscious of the huge honour bestowed on his organisation in playing a role in making that happen. With advice from the Amsterdammers, the Grémio Arena in Porto Alegre was completed in December last year. It is the first ever multifunctional stadium in South America. ‘We provided input for the conceptual design and now we’re helping the management in the start-up stage. Teams of our people have been temporarily seconded to Porto Alegre for this and we have set up a course for future stewards. It’s wonderfully challenging work, both for our seconded stewards – who are being given the opportunity to convey their experiences with this work to people in another country and from a completely different culture – and for the candidates in Brazil, many of whom come from the favelas. An added material advantage of this project is that it offers these people the chance of a different life. ‘Our business partners have been very active in Brazil in our wake. In Control – a company that helped us develop our crowd-control concept and has since grown rapidly – has activities in Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. And a company that specialises in acoustics is also often called in to Brazil now. It’s very appealing for companies like these to be in the shop window of one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.’ But that’s not the only flywheel effect of the Brazilian encounter with the Amsterdam ArenA Advisory. Since a base has been set up in Brazil, there has been intensive contact between, for example, Sao Paulo and the Municipality of Amsterdam, as a shareholder of the ArenA. This has already resulted in the sharing of knowledge (and civil servants) on how the local sports infrastructure can be set up and in different exchange projects in the areas of education and municipal waste processing. ‘And so you see, the spin-off of a unique stadium like the ArenA can be very surprising,’ laughs Henk Markerink.

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