Hungary continues to spend billions on empty soccer stadiums

July 19, 2016

Puskás Ferenc ÍLabdarúgó Akadémia, Felcsút, Pancho Aréna
Pancho Aréna stands in the hometown of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Source: ArchDaily

The construction of modern soccer stadiums across Hungary has not appreciably boosted attendance at first division games, according to data published by Hungarian sports website Nso.hu. First division matches during the 2015-2016 season were attended by only some 2700 spectators on average.  The biggest attendance was at the game between last season’s champion, Ferencváros, and its rival, Haladás, seen by 5642 people in Groupama Arena, a 23,698-capacity stadium built at a reported cost of USD 53.3 million in 2014.

Fewer people, more stadiums

The numbers are definitely much lower than expected, considering the amount of money pouring into Hungarian soccer. In 2014, the government had planned to spend HUF 22 billion (USD 80 million) renovating existing and building new stadiums over a three-year period within the framework of the National Stadium Development Program.  A government decision at the end of 2014 increased that amount to HUF 26.3 billion (USD 95.6 million).

debrecen
The stadium in Debrecen is virtually empty

At the end of May, Hungarian news website 444.hu attempted to list all the stadiums being built in the country, a difficult task when soccer is the favorite sport of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and he has demonstrated a willingness to spend copious amounts of public funds on it (including hundreds of billions diverted from the country’s coffers in the form of 100 percent tax deductible corporate contributions to certain sports anointed by the government).

Six stadiums have already been completed, including one in Debrecen with a capacity of 20,340 built for HUF 13.5 billion (USD 48.6 million) but which typically houses some 3,000 spectators.   The Pancho Aréna built in Orbán’s home village of Felcsút next to the prime minister’s home remains the most controversial.

USD 325 per inhabitant

Apart from those already finished, there are 22 (!) more stadiums under construction, including one in the hometown of Minister of National Development Miklós Seszták. Kisvárda (population 16,000), will receive HUF 1.49 billion (USD 5.2 million), or USD 325 per inhabitant, from the government to construct a soccer stadium seating 2,500 (which may be expanded to seat 5,500). Kisvárda’s soccer club is currently ranked 6th in the Hungarian soccer league’s second division.

Another town that will get a brand-new soccer stadium is Kozármisleny, a town of 5,800 people in southern Hungary. Kozármisleny’s team usually plays for an audience of 150, but the government still believes they should spend HUF 440 million (USD 1.5 million) on the building.

Driving the frenzied construction of soccer stadiums across the country is the prime minister’s desire that Hungary host the European soccer championship and even the Olympic Games.

(Then the government could spend real money the country does not have and cannot afford!-ed.)