Saturday, January 31, 2009

Big White Elephant

Big, really big.

Beijing's famous "Bird's Nest" has one event on it's schedule for 2009, one. On August 8th, the stadium will host Puccini’s opera “Turandot".

The $450 million, 91,000-seat stadium doesn't have a tenant. Plans called for the local Chinese Super League club, Beijing Guoan, to move into the stadium following the Olympics. Guoan balked at these plans after seeing the rental fee. A somewhat strange part of this story is that the Bird's Nest is run by CITIC group, the company also owns most of Guoan through a subsidiary called CITIC Guoan. That tells you that the rent must be somewhat exorbitant.

Somewhat stranger is that China's national soccer team doesn't have any matches scheduled at the supposed National Stadium, instead choosing random venues throughout the country.

Beijing does have three other clubs who could potentially (though the changes are about as thin as my arms) call the stadium home. Hongdeng, and BIT both play in the second-tier Jia League, while minnows Baxy play in the third level Yi League.

A stadium which has a horrible reputation as a white elephant is Montreal's Stade Olympique, a major difference between "the Big O" and the Bird's Nest is that the Montreal venue has actually had regular tenants, the Bird's Nest has lost it's best bet to the aging (albeit recently refurbished) Workers Stadium.

Of the other recent Olympic Stadiums, only Seoul's (1998) Jamsil could be lumped into this category though it does see use as a concert venue, and occasionally by tiny Seoul United. That said, Espanyol will soon decamp Barcelona's 1992 stadium for greener pastures in Cornellà de Llobregat leaving the future of that stadium up in the air. With that, the stadium has been in use since 1927.

The Bird's Nest, however iconic it may be, will surely serve as a very large warning sign for the future to not bite off more than you can chew.

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