An aerial view of the Emirates Stadium and surrounding area including Arsenal’s former stadium Highbury, which has since been redeveloped into Highbury Square
The stadium is a four-tiered bowl with roofing over the stands but not over the pitch. The design team included architects HOK Sport (now known as Populous), construction consultants AYH, and engineering firm Buro Happold. The stadium was constructed by Sir Robert McAlpine on the site of Ashburton Grove industrial estate, several hundred yards from Arsenal’s former home at Highbury.
The upper (26,646) and lower (24,425) tiers of the stadium feature standard seating. For the 2006-07 season, ticket prices for an adult ranged between £32 and £66 for most matches, but were as low as £13 for juniors and Cannon Club members, in the family enclosure only (designated “Category B”), with the price rising for “Category A” matches against certain top sides to between £46 and £94, with around £20 for juniors in the family enclosure. Season ticket prices for 2006-07 ranged between £885 and £1,825.
The main middle tier, known as the “Club Level”, is premium priced and also includes the director’s box. There are 7,139 seats at this level, which are sold on licences lasting from one to four years. The cost of club tier seats for 2006–07 ranges from £2,500 to £4,750 per season and covers admission to all home league games and any home games Arsenal play in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup. These were sold out by May 2006.
Immediately above the club tier there is a small tier consisting of 150 boxes of 10, 12 and 15 seats. The total number of spectators at this level is 2,222. Box prices start at £65,000 per annum plus VAT, and covers admission to all home league games and any home games Arsenal play in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup. The most exclusive area in the stadium is known as the “Diamond Club” which is invitation only and costs £25,000 up front plus £25,000 a year. Tickets here include use of a private lounge, a complimentary restaurant and bar, valet parking and concierge service. Members will also have the option of travelling to European away games on the players’ aeroplane.
The high demand for tickets, as well as the relative wealth of their London fans, means revenue from premium seating and corporate boxes is nearly as high as the revenue from the entire stadium at Highbury.
The pitch is 113 × 76 metres in size, making it the joint-largest pitch in the Premier League, while the total grassed area is 113 × 76 metres. It runs north-south like at Highbury, with the players’ tunnel and the dugouts on the west side of the pitch underneath the main TV camera. The away fans are found in the south-east corner of the lower tier. The away supporter configuration can be expanded from 1,500 seats to 4,500 seats behind the south goal in the lower tier, and a further 4,500 seats can be made available also in the upper tier, bringing the total to 9,000 supporters (the regulation 15% required for domestic cup competitions such as the FA Cup and Carling Cup).
The upper tier is contoured to leave open space in the corners of the ground, and the roof is significantly canted inwards. Both of these features are meant to provide as much airflow and sunlight to the pitch as possible. Arsenal have a reputation for having one of the best playing surfaces in the world, and the design of the new stadium took this into account. This does have the effect that supporters in the upper tier on one side of the ground are unable to see supporters in the upper tier opposite. In the north-west and south-east corners of the stadium are two giant screens suspended from the roof. The club are currently in the process of examining whether to add a third giant screen in the north-east corner of the stadium.
The new stadium pays tribute to Arsenal’s former home, Highbury. The club’s offices are officially called Highbury House, located north-east of Emirates Stadium, and house the bust of Herbert Chapman that used to reside at Highbury. Three other busts that used to reside at Highbury of Claude Ferrier (architect of Highbury’s East stand), Denis Hill-Wood (Former Arsenal chairman and father of current chairman Peter Hill-Wood) and Arsène Wenger (current Arsenal manager) have also been moved to Emirates Stadium but they are currently in storage.
Additionally, the two bridges over the railway line to the east of the stadium, connecting the stadium to Drayton Park, are called the Clock End and North Bank bridges, after the stands at Highbury; the clock that gave its name to the old Clock End has been resited on the exterior of Emirates Stadium facing the bridge of the same name. After pressure from fans, the Club has decided to resite the clock inside the stadium, this will happen in the summer of 2010.
The Arsenal club museum, which was formerly held in the North Bank Stand, opened in October 2006 and is located to the north of the stadium, within the Northern Triangle building.
It was announced on 5 October 2004 that Emirates Airline had signed a 15-year deal for naming right of the stadium, worth £100m. This sum also includes payments for an eight-year shirt sponsorship by Emirates, starting in the 2006–07 season.
The stadium name is often colloquially shortened from “Emirates Stadium” to “The Emirates”, although some supporters continue to use the former name “Ashburton Grove” or even “The Grove” for the new stadium, especially those who object to the concept of corporate sponsorship of stadium names. This discrepancy between official and unofficial names is similar to the manner in which Arsenal’s former ground, Arsenal Stadium, was almost universally referred to as “Highbury” by supporters, the media and the club itself.
Due to UEFA regulations on stadium sponsors, during UEFA Champions League matches the stadium is not officially referred to as Emirates Stadium, as Emirates are not an official sponsor of the Champions League competition; other stadia, such as the Allianz Arena in Munich, have fallen foul of this rule before. UEFA refer to the stadium as Arsenal Stadium, which was the official name of the stadium at Highbury.
The need for a new stadium
Arsenal started looking to develop a larger stadium during the later part of the 1990s, as their existing ground at Highbury had a capacity of 38,419 when it became all-seater in 1993, which was lower than the stadium capacities of almost every other European football club of comparable stature. There was little room for expansion as the East Stand backed directly onto the pavement of a public road and the other three backed onto housing; in addition the East Stand is a Grade II listed building. Local residents had objected to any expansion of the stadium and the local council was not sympathetic.
Arsenal had a season ticket waiting list which had been closed for some time with over 20,000 members, and were missing out on a great deal of potential revenue. However, finding a site for a new stadium in London was extremely difficult.
The club were willing to consider a location close to the M25 motorway if necessary, but had a strong preference for a location in the London Borough of Islington close to Highbury. At one stage they had considered moving to Wembley Stadium (Arsenal had played Champions League games at the old Wembley Stadium during the 1998–99 and 1999–2000 seasons) but in the end pulled out of the plans. When the Wembley revamp was given the go-ahead in 2002, there was speculation that Arsenal and Tottenham would move into the new stadium when it was finished, even though the club was pressing ahead with the Ashburton Grove project by this stage.
Ashburton Grove chosen
Eventually the club selected a site, an industrial estate at Ashburton Grove, which was just five hundred yards from Highbury. The plan was announced in November 1999, with a scheduled opening date of August 2003; this later slipped back to summer 2006 due to planning and financial difficulties. The Ashburton Grove site had many occupants, the most significant being Islington Council‘s recycling plant and the Royal Mail Holloway Delivery Office. In order to develop the site, it was necessary to buy out the existing occupants, and pay for their relocation (Arsenal purchased 10 acres (40,000 m²) of former railway land on Lough Road, off Caledonian Road, to house a new recycling plant, while the Royal Mail moved to Hamilton Park); this proved to be very expensive.
Despite Arsenal’s presence in Islington for over 80 years, there were local residents and businesses who opposed the new stadium. Some who were forced to move filed a legal action in July 2002, although they lost the case. The stadium became a major issue in the local elections in May 2006. The Metropolitan Police also demanded that supporters’ coaches be parked in the nearby Sobel Sports Centre rather than in the underground car park, and restrictions on access to 14 streets be imposed on match days. The health and safety certificate would not be issued unless the stadium meets such conditions, without which the stadium could not open. The road closures were passed at a council meeting, but kept under review.
Actual construction of the stadium began in February 2004. As well as the stadium itself, two bridges over the Northern City railway line connecting the stadium with Drayton Park were also built; these were completed in summer 2004. The stadium topped out in August 2005, and was completed ahead of schedule and on budget. The club has announced that all of the hospitality boxes have been taken, and by February 2006 90% of the club tier seats had been sold, by June 2006 the rest had been sold too. The first seat in the new stadium was ceremonially installed on 13 March 2006 by Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby. The stadium’s floodlights were successfully tested for the first time on 25 June, and a day later the goalposts were erected.
The Emirates Stadium was officially opened by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on Thursday 26 October 2006; it had been intended that Queen Elizabeth II would officially open the stadium as well, but she suffered a back injury and was unable to attend on the day. Prince Philip quipped with the crowd: “Well, you may not have my wife, but you’ve got the second most experienced plaque unveiler in the world.” The royal visit echoed the attendance of the Queen’s uncle, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) at the official opening of Highbury’s West Stand in 1932. As a result of the change of plan, Queen Elizabeth did the club the honour of inviting the chairman, manager and first team to join her at Buckingham Palace for afternoon tea on 15 February 2007, the first club to be invited to the palace for such an event.
In order to obtain the licences the stadium needed to open, it first hosted three non-full capacity events. The first non full-capacity event was a shareholder open day on 18 July, the second an open training session for 20,000 selected club members held on 20 July. The third event on 22 July was the first match, as detailed below.
- The first match to be played at the stadium was a testimonial for Dennis Bergkamp against his former club, Ajax. The match featured four teams; the first half saw the current Arsenal and Ajax sides play each other, while after the break each club fielded “Legends” sides. Arsenal won 2-1; Ajax’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar became the first player to score a goal at the stadium, while Thierry Henry scored the first ever Arsenal goal there to equalise.
- Arsenal’s first competitive match at the stadium was an FA Premier League game against Aston Villa on 19 August 2006, which ended 1-1. Aston Villa player Olof Mellberg scored the first goal of the game and thus the first Premier League goal at Emirates Stadium. Arsenal had to wait until 23 September 2006 for their first Premier League win at the stadium, defeating Sheffield United 3-0.
- The first European match there was Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League third qualifying round second leg match on 23 August 2006 against Dinamo Zagreb.
- The first international match there was a friendly between Argentina and Brazil, on 3 September 2006; Brazil won 3-0 with two goals from Elano and one from Kaká.
- Arsenal’s first defeat at the Emirates Stadium was a 1-0 loss to West Ham United on 7 April 2007, in Arsenal’s 23rd home game at the ground. Coincidentally, West Ham United were also the last team to beat Arsenal at their old home, Highbury, on 1 February 2006.
Current demand for tickets still greatly outweighs the number of tickets available, with some 47,000 members on the season-ticket waiting list. Arsenal have not spoken publicly on the topic, but it has been reported that the club is looking into expanding the capacity of the stadium from its current 60,355 capacity.
As well as functioning as a football stadium, the Emirates Stadium also operates as a conference centre and music venue. On 27 March 2008 the stadium played host to a summit between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in part because the stadium was regarded as “a shining example of Anglo-French co-operation“. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band became the first act to play a concert at Emirates Stadium, on 30 May 2008 and played a second gig on 31 May 2008. On 7 June 2009, Emirates Stadium held Capital FM‘s Summertime Ball with artists including Lionel Richie, Leona Lewis and Blue. When the IRB announced that England had won the race to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup on 28 July 2009, The Emirates was named as one of the venues to host matches. It is not yet known how many games will be played at the stadium, but it is confirmed that the stadium will be used for pool games and the Bronze (3rd place playoff) final. Emirates Stadium has also been included in the English Football Association‘s bid to host either the 2018 World Cup or 2022 World Cup.
The stadium’s capacity is currently 60,355, a slight reduction from the original capacity of 60,432 when it opened in 2006. The highest attendance for a match at Emirates Stadium to date is 60,161, for a 2-2 draw with Manchester United on 3 November 2007. The average attendance for competitive first-team fixtures in the stadium’s first season, 2006-07, was 59,837, with a Premier League average attendance of 60,045. The capacity is the 2nd highest in English club football behind Old Trafford. The average league attendance increased slightly to 60,070 in 2007-08, Arsenal’s second season at the stadium.
The £470 million cost of the project, augmented by the extra costs the club had to meet besides building the stadium itself, was a formidable obstacle, especially as Arsenal were not granted any public subsidy. Arsenal had difficulty obtaining finance for the project, and work ceased just after it had begun, before restarting when a £260m loan package was obtained from a consortium of banks, led by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In August 2005 Arsenal announced plans to replace most of the bank debt with bonds. The proposed bond issue went ahead on 13 July 2006. The club issued £210 million worth of 13.5 year bonds with a spread of 52 basis points over UK government bonds and £50 million of 7.1 year bonds with a spread of 22 basis points over LIBOR. It was the first publicly marketed, asset-backed bond issue by a European football club. The effective interest rate on these bonds is 5.14% and 5.97% respectively, and they are due to be paid back over a 25 year period; the move to bonds has reduced the club’s annual debt service cost to approximately £20 million a year. On 31 May 2007 the club’s net debt stood at £262.1 million.
However at the same time there are multiple sources of income for the club; the remainder of the Lough Road site is being used for new housing, as are the surplus areas around the stadium at Ashburton Grove. Highbury is currently being converted into apartments, most of which have been sold. In total, more than 2,000 homes will be built at the three sites, and the club is counting on the profit from these developments to make a major contribution towards the costs of the new stadium. Other sources of revenue include the £100m from Emirates for the naming rights, to be paid over the course of the deal and a £15m contribution towards the capital costs of the stadium’s catering facilities from catering firm Delaware North, which has a 20-year exclusive contract to run the stadium’s catering operation.
Finally, there is the increased revenue from the stadium itself. In 2005, Arsenal’s then chief executive Keith Edelman commented that the new stadium is expected to increase Arsenal’s turnover from typically £115 million to around £170 million. Final accounts for the year ending May 2007, Arsenal’s first season at the Emirates, show that Arsenal’s turnover has increased to £200.8m, compared to £137.2m the previous year and that group operating profits increased to £51.2m. Even once debt repayments are taken into account, the club’s turnover has increased by at least £20m a year, (in 2006-07 the club recorded a surplus of £37 million).
The Emirates Stadium is served by a number of London Underground stations and bus routes. Arsenal tube station is the closest for the northern portion of the stadium, with Highbury & Islington tube station servicing the southern end. Whilst Holloway Road tube station is the closest to the southern portion, it is entry-only before matches and exit-only afterwards to prevent overcrowding. Drayton Park station, adjacent to the Clock End Bridge is shut on matchdays as the rail services to this station do not operate at weekends nor after 10 pm.
£7.6 million had been set aside in the planning permission for upgrading Drayton Park and Holloway Road; however Transport for London stations but TFL decided not to upgrade either station, in favour of improvement works at the interchanges at Highbury & Islington and Finsbury Park, both of which are served by Underground and First Capital Connect services and are approximately a 10 minute walk away.
There are also numerous bus routes serving the area Driving to the Emirates Stadium is strongly not recommended; strict matchday parking restrictions are in operation around the stadium. In addition, for one hour before kick off to one hour after the final whistle there is a complete ban on vehicle movement on a number of the surrounding roads, with no exceptions.
Generally, the stadium opens to ticket holders two hours before kick off. For easy stadium access, the stadium is divided in to four colour-coded quadrants – Orange and Blue at the North end of the stadium, and Yellow and Green to the South. Discussions are underway regarding renaming these to link them to Arsenal’s heritage and to coincided with the club’s 125 anniversary in 2011.
The main club shop, named “The Armoury”, and ticket offices are located near the Yellow Quadrant, with other an additional store at the base of the North Bank Bridge, named “All Arsenal” and the “Arsenal Store” next to Finsbury Park station.
The stadium operates an electronic ticketing system where members of “The Arsenal” (the club’s fan membership scheme) use their membership cards to enter the stadium, thus removing the need for turnstile operators. Non-members are issued with one-off paper tickets embedded with an RFID tag allowing them to enter the stadium.