Can existing stadiums deliver the experience expected of world-class events?

North America is set to host several world-class events over the coming decade including 2026 FIFA World Cup, 2028 Olympics in LA, 2030 Commonwealth Games in Hamilton, and potentially the 2030 Winter Olympics in Vancouver or Salt Lake City.

Photo by Thomas Serera on Unsplash

Hosting a major sporting event, such as the Olympics or FIFA World Cup is notoriously controversial, whereby the hosting prestige can, and often is, outweighed by substantial cost overruns for the organizers; a 2011 study by the University of Oxford found that in real terms the average cost overrun for all Olympic Games is 156 per cent.

Compounding the hosting dilemma is the sustainability factor. Historically major events have spiked huge investment by the hosts and bring about the construction of new venues and infrastructure, and while in recent times efforts have been made to limit the environmental impact, construction always has some impact; after all, the most sustainable event is the one that doesn’t build anything.

With this in mind, the recent trend from bidding hosts is to propose programs which make the most of existing venues and infrastructure and limit the scope of new, permanent construction; playing nicely to the commitments being made by organizations such as the IOC which has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.

While this is clearly a positive step change for our planet, the shift towards venue re-use, rather than new build, is likely to have a significant impact on the construction industry which has historically thrived from major events programs; for example, construction projects related to London 2012 had an estimated £7.3bn positive impact to the U.K. economy.

That said, event organizers will no doubt be relieved to avoid the ‘games premiums’ which are often priced into contracts to provide delivery certainty against immovable deadlines.

Another challenge being faced by organizers who plan to re-use existing facilities is that older venues often aren’t adequately configured for modern-day event hosting. A primary factor in this conundrum is the rapid evolution of technology, e.g., a stadium built 20 years ago will not have been designed to accommodate the mega-screens which are commonplace today, never mind mobile ticketing or to have 5G enablement.

Organizers and stadium owners are now looking to the industry for the latest and greatest innovations to retrofit stadiums in line with the newest technologies which will not only modernize the facility but will enhance the fan experience – somewhat offsetting the disappointment of not having the ‘razzmatazz’ of being in a newly built stadium.

A prime example of this can be seen in a recent 10-year deal made between the NFL and Verizon to make 5G technology available in twenty-five NFL stadiums, delivering a revolutionized fan experience along with potential improvements to player training and venue operations.

So, as Toronto and Edmonton gear up to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Hamilton develops its plans to host the 2030 Commonwealth Games, and Vancouver prepares

a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics, the question is can the industry adapt to the change in stance by major event organizers as retrofit programs are preferred over traditional event related construction?

One thing is for sure, with a trimmed down construction program, event organizers will have less risk related to their delivery schedule and should be more likely to deliver within budget.


Cameron McGlennon is Associate Director at Turner & Townsend.

This article is part of the 2022 Canadian Construction Market Intelligence Report by Turner & Townsend, which was released in February.

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