Madrid be­lieves ma­jor sports events can help pro­pel Span­ish eco­nomic re­cov­ery

Sportcal - - CONTENTS - by Jonathan Rest

For cen­turies, economists and an­a­lysts have de­bated the best way to fix a fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Host­ing ma­jor sports events may not fea­ture in the text­books, but in Madrid that is a strat­egy be­ing cham­pi­oned to stim­u­late growth.

There is no hid­ing from Spain’s eco­nomic woes - Euro­pean Union aid has been re­quested, banks have been down­graded and the un­em­ploy­ment rate is high, al­beit the num­ber is slowly di­min­ish­ing.

A glance through the Span­ish fi­nan­cial news­pa­pers makes for grim read­ing but, if it was the de­cline in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try which con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to the coun­try’s eco­nomic down­fall, iron­i­cally it is planned in­fra­struc­ture that is now giv­ing sports of­fi­cials in the cap­i­tal con­fi­dence that the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee and sports fed­er­a­tions will ig­nore the doom-mon­gers.

The IOC ex­ec­u­tive board’s de­ci­sion to short­list Madrid for the 2020 Olympic Games, along with Is­tan­bul and Tokyo, was ques­tioned in many quar­ters, in part be­cause of the huge costs tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with stag­ing the event.

An IOC work­ing group re­port said of Madrid’s bid: “There are a num­ber of com­pe­ti­tion and non­com­pe­ti­tion venues to be built and given the cur­rent fi­nan­cial cli­mate in Spain, the de­liv­ery of these may prove chal­leng­ing, as may find­ing part­ners to sup­port the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee bud­get.”

It added that “care­ful at­ten­tion” needs to be paid to the coun­try’s eco­nomic out­look but noted that a well-de­vel­oped gen­eral in­fra­struc­ture and the high per­cent­age of venues al­ready in ex­is­tence “helps to mit­i­gate risk.”

Madrid has al­ready failed to land the 2012 and 2016 Olympics but bid of­fi­cials in­sist that, far from be­ing at risk from the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the new cam­paign is a “cat­a­lyst for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment” in Spain, and that it has full sup­port from all lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

With a view to suc­cess, Madrid mayor Ana Botella said: “The re­turns will be in­cal­cu­la­ble. Win­ning the games would pro­vide a great re­turn in terms of jobs and for the im­age of the city in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

One of the as­ser­tions in the Madrid dossier is that all of the city’s sub-venues are con­nected by the AVE high-speed train ser­vice. There are 36 sports venues named, 27 of which are al­ready built, and of which only four need fur­ther work. Of the nine pro­posed new venues, one is in the plan­ning stage, six will be per­ma­nent venues and two will be tem­po­rary.

The 65,000-ca­pac­ity Olympic Sta­dium, which will be­come the new home of top-tier La Liga soc­cer club and reign­ing Europa League cham­pi­ons Atletico Madrid, and the 16,500-ca­pac­ity Aquatic Cen­tre are well on the way to com­ple­tion.

The bid has not ruled out two of the planned new venues – for field hockey and vol­ley­ball – be­ing scrapped in favour of us­ing ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties should

eco­nomic fac­tors dic­tate cut­backs. How­ever, there is al­ready rel­a­tively lit­tle work re­quired to stage an Olympics, while the ex­ist­ing venues are all well-versed in the de­mands of stag­ing ma­jor sports events.

The 85,000-ca­pac­ity San­ti­ago Bern­abeu, the iconic home of top soc­cer club Real Madrid, may be the jewel in the city’s sport­ing crown, but, un­der the radar, the Caja Mag­ica and the Pala­cio de De­portes are also world-class, in-de­mand fa­cil­i­ties.

The Caja Mag­ica is home to tennis’ Mu­tua Madrid Open, a com­bined an­nual top-tier men’s ATP World Tour Masters 1000 and women’s WTA Premier tour­na­ment, which has fast be­come one of the mus­tat­tend events for the world’s top play­ers. The main court has a ca­pac­ity of 12,500.

The Madrid Open, held in May, con­trib­utes around € 100 mil­lion ($125 mil­lion) a year to the lo­cal econ­omy, ev­i­dence, noted Ger­ard Tsoba­nian, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the tour­na­ment, of the “value of sport.” He added: “The fi­nal is shown in 180 coun­ties and that gives a lot of vis­i­bil­ity to the city. It is cer­tainly some­thing pos­i­tive for Madrid.

“In 2002 when the tour­na­ment moved here [from Stuttgart in Ger­many], I talked with the vice mayor of Madrid and the idea was to pro­mote Madrid as an Olympic can­di­date for 2012, to show the world that this city is ready and ca­pa­ble of stag­ing an in­ter­na­tional event broad­cast all over the world.”

The IOC will de­cide on the host city for the 2020 Olympics in Septem­ber 2013, mean­ing that next year’s Madrid Open will take on in­creased sig­nif­i­cance, ac­cord­ing to Tsoba­nian. He said: “It will be im­por­tant for the city to show­case the tour­na­ment bet­ter. It will influence the me­dia to talk about the city bet­ter, and maybe in­di­rectly the IOC to have a pos­i­tive opin­ion about Madrid.

“The Olympics would be some­thing fan­tas­tic for the city. We saw what hap­pened to Barcelona [in 1992], it ma­tured and be­came some­thing. Madrid still has so much po­ten­tial, it is the cap­i­tal, we should not for­get. On a cul­tural and culi­nary level it is there, but I think peo­ple do not class it as an im­por­tant Euro­pean city like Paris or Lon­don and I think the Olympic Games will help to show­case it as a mod­ern, cos­mopoli­tan city. And of course on the eco­nomic side, it will cer­tainly help Spain.”

The Caja Mag­ica has staged Real Madrid bas­ket­ball games when the team com­petes in Euroleague Bas­ket­ball, the sport’s top Euro­pean clubs com­pe­ti­tion. How­ever, the team’s do­mes­tic games are played at the 14,500-seat Pala­cio de De­portes, a multi-pur­pose venue that is slated to stage taek­wondo and judo at the 2020 Olympics if Madrid is awarded the games.

The venue has re­cently hosted world cham­pi­onships in bad­minton and taek­wondo, and pre­vi­ously staged the Euro­pean Ath­let­ics In­door Cham­pi­onships in 2004. It will be the fo­cal point of

“The cap­i­tal has demon­strated its com­pe­tence count­less times, but this gives us the chance to re­mind the world once again of its cal­i­bre as a host for ma­jor sport­ing events”.

bas­ket­ball’s 2014 FIBA Men’s World Cup in Spain, which won the right to host the event ahead of China and Italy.

Group games in the 16-day tour­na­ment will be played in Bil­bao, Grand Ca­naria, Sevilla, and Granada, with the quar­ter-fi­nals and semi-fi­nals in Barcelona and Madrid, and the fi­nal in the cap­i­tal it­self.

Miguel de la Villa, manag­ing di­rec­tor of the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee for the tour­na­ment, said: “The [bas­ket­ball] World Cup is a big event, the next level down only from the Olympic Games or the Fifa World Cup. It is one of the big­gest sport­ing events in the world that you can be asked to stage.

“We have an or­gan­i­sa­tional bud­get of € 25 mil­lion to € 30 mil­lion, and we have al­ready got that cov­ered. The World Cup is an im­por­tant in­come-driver, whether it is through ticket sales, mer­chan­dis­ing or li­cens­ing. A World Cup isn’t just about the 16 days of com­pe­ti­tion; it is a three-to-four-year buildup process that gives you more time to ac­ti­vate pro­mo­tional pro­grammes.”

De la Villa claimed that de­spite the much­pub­li­cised fi­nan­cial cri­sis in Spain, FIBA, the in­ter­na­tional bas­ket­ball fed­er­a­tion, has no reser­va­tions over the coun­try’s prepa­ra­tions for the tour­na­ment. He said: “FIBA knows that we have enough venues, strong enough cor­po­rate sup­port and the ex­pe­ri­ence in or­gan­is­ing top bas­ket­ball events. They have no con­cerns.”

The Span­ish gov­ern­ment has cat­e­gorised the 2014 FIBA World Cup as a ‘Spe­cial In­ter­est Event’, of­fer­ing com­pa­nies that de­cide to spon­sor the tour­na­ment cer­tain tax breaks. The Madrid 2020 bid has been given the same reg­u­la­tory sta­tus, an im­por­tant fac­tor con­sid­er­ing that the IOC work­ing group re­port warned of the po­ten­tial dif­fi­cul­ties in at­tract­ing part­ners in the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate.

De la Villa said of the tax con­ces­sions: “This was a strong point for us, and will be for Madrid [2020]. It is now eas­ier for us to get money for the tour­na­ment and hit cer­tain tar­gets.”

De la Villa, the sports di­rec­tor of Madrid’s un­suc­cess­ful bid to stage the 2012 Olympic Games, be­lieves the city has made sub­stan­tial progress in the last decade, say­ing: “This [2020] Olympic project is a strong, re­al­is­tic project with a lot of venues al­ready in place. There is less in­vest­ment needed than many cities that have bid for, or even hosted, the Olympic Games be­fore.

“We started the 2012 project in 2002. Ten years on, a lot has changed in Madrid. We have a new big air­port ter­mi­nal, a new road sys­tem, and more top class venues. Top fed­er­a­tions like FIBA and the IHF [In­ter­na­tional Hand­ball Fed­er­a­tion] have trusted us with their top prop­er­ties be­cause they know they can rely on us to de­liver.”

Spain was awarded host­ing rights to the 2013 Men’s World Hand­ball Cham­pi­onships in Oc­to­ber 2010, af­ter Nor­way pulled out of the con­test. The event is sched­uled for Jan­uary 11 to 27, with the Pala­cio de De­portes and the 12,000-seat Madrid Arena, which staged the Madrid Open from 2002 to 2008 un­til it was switched to the Caja Mag­ica, both set to stage games.

Miguel Sanz, of the Madrid Vis­i­tors & Con­ven­tion Bureau, said the me­dia frenzy as­so­ci­ated with sport makes it a key part of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties. He ex­plained: “Tele­vi­sion au­di­ences, on­line view­ing, so­cial net­works and cov­er­age in tra­di­tional me­dia are so huge [in sport] that there sim­ply isn’t a bet­ter way to pro­mote our brand.

“What’s more, the pres­tige of suc­cess­fully or­gan­is­ing an event lasts far into the fu­ture. It’s easy to re­call the names of the cities that have hosted mem­o­rable Olympic Games or an ex­cit­ing [soc­cer] World Cup. These oc­ca­sions gen­er­ate un­prece­dented lev­els of pub­lic­ity as they reach such a wide range of au­di­ences and all sorts of peo­ple.”

Sanz con­cluded: “The cap­i­tal has demon­strated its com­pe­tence count­less times, but this gives us the chance to re­mind the world once again of its cal­i­bre as a host for ma­jor sport­ing events.”

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The Caja Mag­ica in Madrid

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