Mighty few fans and a multitude of stadiums in Hungary

Vasárnapi Hírek commissioned Publicus Research to conduct a survey of Hungarians’ interest in football and their willingness to attend games. The results, as you will see, must be discouraging for Viktor Orbán, who hopes for, and spends vast sums to achieve, a revival of interest in the game. As we all know, because of Orbán’s football mania an incredibly expensive program of stadium building has been underway.

Originally I was overly ambitious and planned to have a complete list of new or completely refurbished stadiums, their capacity and cost. I’m sure this could be done, but not in the time I have today. Therefore you’ll have to be satisfied with a list that is most likely far from complete.

So, let’s start at the beginning. Although people are apt to forget life under the first Orbán government, the stadium mania started then. In 2000 the government embarked on a stadium reconstruction program, which over the next three years was supposed to include the renovation of 38 football stadiums at a cost of 12.7 billion forints. Compared to what’s going on today, this was a pittance. By 2003 only four stadiums had been completed and 19 were partially refurbished.

In 2013, the second Orbán government launched a new stadium construction program. By then the construction of the stadiums of Ferencváros, Debrecen, and Felcsút had pretty well been completed, so the government expanded its horizons. Under the new program Honvéd (Budapest), Győr, Újpest, Pécs, Vasas (Budapest), Zalaegerszeg, Kaposvár, Kecskemét, MTK (Budapest), Paks, Pápa, Békéscsaba, Mezőkövesd, Siófok, Dunaáujváros, Gyirmút, Ajka, Balmazújváros, Cegléd, Kozármislény, Sopron, Szolnok, Tatabánya, Szigetszentmiklós, and Kisvárda will all have nice new stadiums. At that time we were told that the list may get longer. And indeed, if I recall, I read somewhere recently that Szeged will also get a stadium.

By January 2015 the government had spent almost 500 million euros on stadium construction. And by October of this year Népszava reported that “a new wave of stadium building is coming.” The paper estimated the cost of the 20 or so stadiums at 160-180 billion forints.

By that time several stadiums had been finished: Groupama Stadium (23,700 seats) at a cost of 14.7 billion forints; Nagyerdei Stadion, Debrecen (20,340 seats) at a cost of 12.5 billion; and the Pancho Arena in Felcsút (3,500 seats) at a cost of 3.8 billion forints. And the new ones are coming fast and furious: by the spring of 2017 six more stadiums will be ready for the nonexistent fans. Some of the stadiums mentioned here are rather large, with a seating capacity of 20,000 or more, while others are more modest but still not modest enough for the average number of fans who show up at National Championship 1 (NB1) games, about 2,000. And these are the best teams.

The figures are impressive or outrageous, depending on one’s outlook. We ought to keep in mind that for years the Orbán government has been spending more money on sports than on Hungarian higher education, and most of this money is spent on football.

On December 12 Vasárnapi Hírek published a summary of Publicus’s findings. The headline read: “Total lack of interest in Hungarian football.” Not only have the billions spent on stadium construction had no appreciable impact on the quality of Hungarian football, but the poll indicates that all this construction has also failed to translate into any political advantage for Fidesz and the government. Eighty percent of Hungarians polled over the age of 18 think that much less should be spent on stadiums. Seventy-five percent think that the government spends far too much on professional football and the teams that make up the NB1, over and above the expenses for stadium construction. Even Fidesz voters oppose the lavish spending on football.

The majority of the people who consider Viktor Orbán’s financial support of the sport to be extravagant would like to see the money spent instead on healthcare (54%), the elimination of poverty and hunger (29%), education (21%), and the creation of jobs (13%). In addition, from the “savings,” 7% think that the pay of state employees should be raised, while 6% would improve the country’s infrastructure. The rest would rather spend the money on other sports.

An NB1 game at the Debrecen stadium

A NB1 game in Debrecen

The news that the Hungarian national team will be able to participate in the European Championship next year as a result of winning two matches against Norway reached almost everybody polled, but only every twentieth person thinks that the Hungarian government’s support of football had something to do with it. Thirty-two percent believe that it was the quality of the players that made the difference; 20% think that it was due to luck, and 20% believe that the quality of the new coaches had something to do with the wins.

Currently only 8% of the adult population attend football matches with any regularity, and in the future even fewer plan to do so, only 6%. Sixty-one percent neither follow the NB1 championship games now nor plan to do so in the future. Twenty-five percent follow the games on television, but one-third of these are interested only in the results and the news summaries.

And now a few words about the “capacity utilization” of these new stadiums. In Debrecen, with a seating capacity of 20,000, there are normally 3-4,000 fans. In the Groupama Aréna (FTC), with a seating capacity of 22,000, on a good day there are 6-8,000 people. Next year MTK will have a new 5,000-seat stadium; their matches are normally attended by a few hundred fans. The same is true of the matches of Vasas, Honvéd, and the Puskás Academy.

At the same time, there are sizable cost overruns at the stadiums under construction. According to the latest report, the stadium in Szombathely (Haladás) will cost 14 billion instead of 10 and the arena in Diósgyőr will cost 9 billion instead of the estimated 6.

It is hard to believe that Viktor Orbán is so blind when it comes to football that he really believes that building twenty or so brand new stadiums in smallish provincial towns will make a difference in either the quality of Hungarian football or the numbers of fans. Instead, it seems more plausible to assume that he is spending these vast sums of money with an eye to eventually hosting the EUFA finals or World Cup games. (Of course, he would have to further enlarge stadiums to pull this off.) I’m sure he would regard this as the culmination of his political career, topped only by having the Hungarian team in the finals–the EUFA finals or, if he’s really hallucinating, the World Cup.

Three years ago Sándor Csányi, president of the MLSZ (Magyar Labdarugó Szövetség), announced the more modest goal of hosting games during the 2020 UEFA. He made this announcement in the presence of Viktor Orbán and Michel Platini, then head of European soccer’s governing body. (Platini is currently under investigation in connection with the FIFA scandal of last summer and in October was suspended from his post.) In 2014 Budapest was one of eight cities selected to host games during the round of sixteen and group stage. As a result, the New Puskás Stadium must be built, and that will cost 165 billion forints.

Altogether this is the mad scheme of a man who is crazy about football. A whole country is paying for his abnormal attachment to a sport in which he couldn’t excel.

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Guest

What a ludicrous waste of inordinate sums of money on useless monuments to satisfy the ego of emperor Viktor the first……

Guest

Don’t you mean Viktor the last?

When the downfall comes the name will be tainted forever – a but like Adolph.

And I think like ‘Attilla’ that you mentioned recently? Only this time in Hungary as well!

We can but hope!

Michael Kaplan
Guest

You are so correct Mr. Balint. I have hope reading such comments. Than you.

Guest

@Some1

Hi.

Re the format changes currently being implemented.

Looking great, but it would be really good if the edit function could be restored.

Member

I thought the edit function is there for 15 minutes in fact. I am testing it.

Member

test editing function: if this appears, it means I could not delete it.

Member

editing function is not working. if you get it going, this can all be deleted.

Member

This is a new comment widget, and although I set it up so we would be able to edit, the function does not work yet. I reached out to the developer, and I hope to resolve the problem as soon as I hear back. I appreciate everyone’s patience.

Matt_L
Guest

Argh. What a waste. Hungarian football is not very enjoyable to watch right now. Major League Soccer here in the US has higher quality play. No amount of money spent on stadiums is going to improve either league play or the chances of the Hungarian national team going to the World Cup. More modest sums of money spent on coaching and youth development would have yielded better results.

webber
Guest

Yep – the saddest thing about all this is that the stadiums are an almost complete loss as investments. All they yielded was a short-term upturn in construction, artificially stimulated using tax money (through a dodge in which corps. could write off taxes if they built a stadium). In the long term, they are just loss makers. The income from ticket sales surely doesn’t even cover salaries and stadium upkeep expenses, much less give a return on the investment in the stadiums.

All that money could have been used for infrastructure, education, or health care, which would have contributed to long-term economic improvements. That money is gone now, as are all these years – wasted.

Leuih ging-dak
Guest

Years ago I attended Temple University, in Philadelphia. At the time its football program was weak, and few attended home games – most for laughs. The picture you post of attendance at a football game in Hungary reminds me of typical attendance by Temple fans. One homecoming game found the fans from the Coast Guard Academy fully filling the bleachers across the field, while Temple fans like me had premium seating up the 50 yard line from field to the top of the stands.

Guest
London Calling! I’m going to try and finish my post before I fall asleep from ennui…. The problem surrounding Hungarian football is corruption! Now there’s a surprise. Spot betting in Asia and the paying off of players is widespread and fans stop attending or watching when they are aware of a fix – as Italy is presently finding out. Their game is in terminal decline apparently – not that I’m in a position to know – simply because of the corruption – the scores, the sendoffs the Yellow cards are all heavily bet on in the global (illegal) betting market. Making a mockery of any game as all come under suspicion. Hungary is the perfect country to corrupt the game – the players need the money and the political hierarchy are in denial – and no investigations are ever carried out – “I see no ships”! In addition, being a patriarchal country – football is a vote winner for the controlling men, where the woman must have the dinner on the table for when he gets home stupefied via the kotchma. The woman’s got to be ready to do her duty and make babies or risk a good slapping. And… Read more »
webber
Guest

“It was sponsored by Audi – probably forced to –”
Not forced to at all. Any company that finances a stadium has this deal – for every forint they spend on a stadium, they pay a forint less in taxes. It’s a win-win situation for the company, and a lose-lose situation for the country. Audi builds a stadium, writes off the amount in taxes, AND gets to put its name all over the stadium.

Guest

The stadium was already built – I doubt if Audi gets such a free ride even
in Orbanistan.

All corporations do careful risk analyses and why would they risk their precious good name on a potty little football club?

I’m not convinced.

webber
Guest

You don’t have to be convinced about the tax credits for stadium (re)construction and football club “building.” They exist regardless of whether you believe in them. This tax reg. is a lovely little thing, isn’t it? The govt. can say it’s not paying a thing for football, and it isn’t exactly lying, it’s just leaving out the little detail that companies are not paying taxes, they are using their money to “build football.”

Guest

I’m not convinced……… that Audi would risk their name on a potty little football club ….

Such a global company would only be interested in winners like Coke or Nike.

The economics of spending – for Audi – such tiny amounts against risking their Global brand in VW is just not credible.

I believe there’s another explanation.

And before I assimilate an argument, I’m normally the one to decide whether I need to be convinced or not.

webber
Guest

Really? I’ve seen kids teams in Britain with corporate sponsorship. Haven’t you? Audi has its name on all sorts of clubs. For example, Audi has sponsored Győr’s women’s handball team since 2005 – Győri Audi ETO KC. You can’t say Orbán is responsible for that. That team has done very well, incidentally. It’s all peanuts for Audi – and with the new tax regs in Hungary, they get what is effectively free advertising space for doing it.

webber
Guest

You have far greater regard for automobile manufacturers than I do (Volkswagen Group involved in corruption?? Faking diesel data? Perish the thought!)

Guest

You’ve strayed from the main thread! I was arguing against the tax concession being the reason.

Of course altruism enters into Big Corp – my company matched my contributions for an extra bell to be founded for the tower where I bell-rang.

Audi’s name was all over ETO which had, contrary to the handball team – a low media exposure. Really low.

The ladies handball team us all over Hungary. So worth the candle – independent if the tax concession.

I believe VW is a victim of being too big to control and being at the mercy of some rogue engineers.

I am not convinced – yet – that VW is/was systemically corrupt like Hungary Kft is – but no great regard!

But that’s really O/T. And please have the pleasure of the last word!

sztív
Guest

he speaks about the famous bunda – although quite why a bribe is named after a fur coat I’m not sure.
A colleague and I had a business meeting with a mid ranking official from MLSZ about 10-12 years ago , when we were leaving he asked us where we were going. “Újpest” we answered! Don’t bother he replied. You’re gonna lose 2-1. We went and I don’t remember the score.
Just for the sake of absolute accuracy Megyeri Út in Újpest was rebuilt by the first Fidesz government not this one.

bimbi
Guest

What a waste? Yes indeed.

But surely more disturbing is the cynical contempt that this man has for his own countryfolk. The children, the poor, the old, the needy and the sickly in Hungary count for nothing in the eye of this megalomaniac. Their plight, their desperation is discounted to zero when weighed against the glory of Fradi football.

How much more repulsively can this man portray himself?

Cruel, uncaring, selfish, greedy and dishonest (“no tax payer’s money…”)

ercsi
Guest
The fundamental issue is different and therefore everything Orban makes us spend on football is money down the drain (although politically Fidesz can benefit). Football is a global business now. There exist millions of FC Barcelona or MU fans in India or Vietnam. Actually there are way more Madrid or Barcelona fans in Hungary than there are Ferencváros fans. These teams make several hundred million euros from sales (ticket, merchendizing etc.) and correspondingly spend such amounts on the best talent. The talent pool is global. As a result it is inconceivable that Hungarian individual teams alike Videoton or Debrecen – no matter how much tax-payer subsidies they receive – could ever get close to any of the top teams. The national team is a bit different (because already most players live outside Hungary) especially as competition at various championships were made easier (which is why Hungary now qualified for the European Championship). But what may work in handball (that Veszprém or Győr could be a European top team), which is much less part of the global entertainment industry, cannot ever happen in football. It’s too late. It’s really hopeless – but hope dies last and meanwhile people are happier just… Read more »
Monday
Guest

Another ludicrous terror plot against the dear leader.

Strategically leaked by Népszabadság so as to be somewhat more credible.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/12/14/orban_viktor_merenylet_terrorelharitasi_kozpont/

Guest

Here’s the Publicus poll result in English:
http://bbj.hu/politics/poll-finds-hungarians-want-less-spending-on-stadiums_108726

PS and OT:
The new format takes a bit of time getting used to it – and also my data were lost, well not too big a problem …
Now let’s see if I can edit that comment – seems not.

sztív
Guest

I had the misfortune of watching a vast amount of Hungarian league and European club football between 1996 and 2012. Although it still has a long way to go, the standard of football as improved greatly over that period and some part of that improvement is down to Orban’s investment in the game (though it pains me to say it).
Imagine what could have been achieved had 9 out of every 10 Ft invested not been stolen but then the Hungarians certainly don’t have a monopoly on football related corruption.

Guest

I like the new format, especially the ability to change the order from oldest to newest. And assuredly, the ability to edit will appear again! Many thanks for all this!!

Guest
You know in reading about all those forints going to stadiums it would seem that fellow who is ‘crazy about’ football just appears to be putting the cart before the horse. I’d be curious on how much goes to academies and development of players. Really a great deal must be done to make sure the country invests in those actions for their football program. And has that pipeline going. If not seats will not be sold to simply watch poor players. And all that is predicated on what the motives are in Hungarian football today. If it’s simply forints filling only some coffers well it’s like shoveling garbage against the tide. As for the future of Hungarian football, it will be interesting to see how they fare in the upcoming Euro Championship. They don’t have an easy time of it in their group. Let’s see if they can take the pressure. They haven’t been there for a long time and they will certainly be tested. I think it will be fascinating to watch Hungarian football in the sense of whether or not Viktor succeeds in perhaps transferring all that ‘grit and determination’ that apparently exists in the Fidesz setup to… Read more »
buddy
Guest

“The news that the Hungarian national team will be able to participate in the European Championship next year as a result of winning two matches against Norway reached almost everybody polled, but only every twentieth person thinks that the Hungarian government’s support of football had something to do with it. Thirty-two percent believe that it was the quality of the players that made the difference; 20% think that it was due to luck, and 20% believe that the quality of the new coaches had something to do with the wins.”

None of the above, I’m afraid. The main reason why Hungary qualified is because the tournament was expanded for the first time from 16 teams to 24. If it had still been 16 teams, as in previous years, it is virtually certain that Hungary again would not have qualified.

buddy
Guest

It’s true that practically no one in Hungary has anything good to say about Hungarian soccer. I really don’t know anyone who follows a local team or even watches their games.

But here’s a different kind of sports stadium being built: the first stadium in Hungary being built for American football, in Székesfehérvár, The difference is that this stadium is being built due to the ever-increasing popular interest in the sport among Hungarians, and the need for new stadiums for their league:
http://www.szekesfehervar.hu/index.php?pg=news_159766

Guest

Amerakai football in Szekesfehervar? I’d think Viktor must be thinking big with dreams of getting Szekesfehervar on Monday or Thursday Night Football one day with his sports Meistersinger. That could be the Emperor’s sleeping sports ‘circus’ down the line. And maybe a selling job to the NFL as well.

Member

Still major problem with this new blog software. No editing is working yet. It sends an ungrammatical banner (“Subscription Not Successed”). Will now test whether italics, bold, hyperlink and image work:comment image

Member

Eva, my vote: the previous blog software, with editing capability, was better. I think this only lets the owner edit, unless I am missing something.

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