Stadium can lead right to success

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GOYANG, South Korea — The importance of having a multifunctional stadium here was the overriding theme at a major soccer seminar during the Peace Cup this week.

The seminar, which focused on developing soccer in Korea by researching the management strategies of European teams, featured presentations from several major clubs, including Reading FC and the Bolton Wanderers.

Reading and Bolton, two relatively modest English teams, found amazing success on the field after both clubs built multifaceted stadiums.

After languishing for more than 100 years in the obscurity of Elm Park — a 15,000-seat stadium in the middle of a residential area — the club, in 1998, moved to 24,000-seat Madejski Stadium. Built on a trash heap outside of town, Madejski boasts an adjoining conference center and a hotel and is used every day of the year for everything from conferences and concerts to rugby games and weddings.

“The stadium was the beginning point of our success,” club official Andy West said. “Once we had the stadium, then we needed the team.”

That soon followed, and by 2006 the club reached the English Premier League (EPL) for the first time in its history. The stadium now sells out every game, and the club has a 12-year-plan to expand to 38,000 seats, all depending on whether Reading can remain in the EPL and avoid relegation. Surviving in the EPL means the difference between $60 million and $10 million in automatic TV revenue.

The Bolton Wanderers’ story is similar.

Once a storied club in the 1920s and 1950s that drew crowds of 70,000, the club sunk to the fourth level of English soccer 20 years ago and was pulling in crowds of just 3,000. After building the stunning 28,000-capacity Reebok Stadium in 1997, the team’s fortunes changed dramatically.

“The stadium gave Bolton an identity,” coach Sammy Lee said.

After building the stunning 28,000-seat Reebok Stadium in 1997, the team’s fortunes have changed dramatically. For the last four seasons, Bolton has finished among the top eight clubs in the EPL.

“It’s no coincidence that the building of our stadium coincided with our success on the field,” club secretary Simon Marland said.

Bolton’s revenue increased from $8 million in 1996 to $108 million last year.

Bolton incorporated a hotel into its new venue as well and was the first club in Britain to sell its stadium naming rights.

“The jewel in the crown of our strategy is out new stadium,” Marland said.

Notes — Yesterday, Bolton earned a spot in Saturday’s Peace Cup final by beating Spain’s Racing Santander 2-1 on two goals from French star Nicholas Anelka. Bolton, the Group A winner, won’t learn who it faces in the final from Group B until tomorrow, when Lyon plays River Plate and Reading meets Shimizu S-Pulse.

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