46 years ago, Mexico staged what many folks believe was the finest World Cup in history, even to this day. The 16 team tournament only needed 5 stadiums to schedule games. The facilities that had the honor were the Estadios Azteca, Jalisco, Cuauhtemoc, Nou Camp, and Toluca’s Bombonera.
Amazingly enough, 46 years later those stadiums are still being used today; they are the home stadiums for America, Atlas, Puebla, Leon, and Toluca. And sure, they have been renovated over the years. Some more than others. One’s bandages are about to be removed.
Puebla’s newly renovated Cuauhtemoc will open its doors for the first time since its face lift this weekend. It was quite the nip and tuck. Even though the new facade has been compared to a commode, it is a marked improvement to a stadium that had been condemned not that long ago.
It could be the start of a new arms race in Liga MX. Monterrey debuted a gorgeous new stadium in time for the Apertura 2015 season. And just last week, Grupo Pachuca announced that they have started discussions about upgrading their playing grounds in Leon, although those talks are in the very preliminary stages. The group is ready to finance the entire deal, provided the State of Guanajuato donates the land. Stay tuned.
A city that is in desperate need of some new digs is Mexico City. Estadio Azteca was quite the marvel in the 1960’s when it opened. It was the inspiration for the modernization of NFL stadiums, with its verticality and multitude of luxury boxes. Despite the occasional face lift, time has not been kind to the Coloso. Has anyone had to use the restrooms there? Before you start hyperventilating and expecting the worst, let’s rip off the band aid early. Yes, it is time to replace the Azteca. It happens. Wembley has been replaced, Highbury as well, as has Yankee Stadium. Their fans survived.
So, it is a question of when, rather than if.
Financing for the projects will most likely be private. There have been a few stadiums that have gone online since Mexico last hosted a World Cup in 1986, each with their own cautionary tale.
The stadium was built as the new home for one of Mexico’s oldest clubs, Necaxa, who moved away from Mexico City. The stadium delivered a modern structure to host games. Unfortunately, the team’s front office could not deliver a team the fans wantd to see. The shininess wore off, fans stopped coming, and Necaxa faded to the second division. Now Necaxa has the Liga Ascenso’s nicest digs. Unless Chivas joins them this summer.
Sometimes private financing can only take you so far. Jorge Vergara has been rumored to lose his shirt in the financing of this stadium, which led to the original playing surface being the fake stuff. But that is only one of the problems. The location is awful. The outrageous Sunday traffic on gameday has caused many Chivas fans to stay away. And the 5pm local start time puts half the stands in direct sunlight. The Stadium itself is wonderful, but there is a lot more to stadiums than just the structure. If you build it, they will not come if it is a huge pain in the ass to do so.
On the surface, Rayados’ new home look spectacular. Gorgeous, shiny, modern, accessible, it seems to have it all. Except for one teency little problem: ventilation. The initial reports from the fans is that the stadium is great, but the air does not move too freely. And anyone who has been to Monterrey in August can attest to the fact that it is oppressively hot. Laredo Hot. Being the creative muchachos, they are, the Rayados fans have dubbed the new stadium la tamalera.
New stadiums are coming to Liga MX, slowly but surely. But even a shiny new bauble doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, as we have seen.