A 101-year dream is coming true: the Corinthians soccer stadium, chosen to host the World Cup opening match
Legend has it that, from May to September 1910, a series of meetings among five workers held in the lamp light on the corner of Cônego Martins and Imigrantes streets in the São Paulo neighborhood of Bom Retiro engendered the Corinthians Paulista Sport Club. On September 1st of that year, its birth was registered in the club’s founding charter – “Brazilian, most Brazilian,” as their fans (called the fiel or “faithful”) chant when singing its anthem. From then on, the soccer club has racked up 101 years of “a thousand traditions and glories”: more than 40 titles, including state, interstate and national tournaments and the FIFA Clubs World Championship in 2000. Achievements celebrated by millions of “crazies,” as their supporters call themselves, including the Odebrecht Informa team reporting and some of the characters in this story. But never on home turf.
For a century, the Corinthians “nation” of fans has cherished the dream of having their own stadium. Its current headquarters, Parque São Jorge, hosted major matches until the 60s. Since then, several leaders of the Corinthians have developed some audacious plans for sports arenas, without success. While the stadium stayed on the drawing board, the club used Pacaembu Municipal Stadium, owned by São Paulo City, as renters – and they will continue to use it until the end of the 2014 World Cup.
Architect Aníbal Coutinho Coutinho, from the Diegues e Cordeiro Arquitetos firm, came up with a plan to retrofit Pacaembu, that is, it would have been completely renovated to become the “Big Team’s” permanent home. Odebrecht had similar plans, with a sophisticated design for Paulo Machado de Carvalho (the stadium’s official name), but the club did not get the necessary concession from the City. “By then, the relationship between Corinthians, Odebrecht and the architectural firm had been firmly established. We started looking for the best conditions for making this dream come true,” says Luis Paulo Rosenberg, who has been the club’s Chief Marketing Officer for four years and a fan since birth.
Part of the club’s history
They found the best conditions in Itaquera, in the East Zone of São Paulo, where they decided to build a new stadium. The neighborhood is part of the team’s history: a former Corinthians president, Vicente Matheus, got the concession for the area in 1979 during the administration of then–Mayor Olavo Setúbal. Until recently, it housed Corinthians’ youth league training camp, and has been the focus of studies for previous projects. “We tried to reach an agreement with the City Government to unite these two hubs of Pacaembu, but we realized that Itaquera was the best option,” says Luis Paulo Rosenberg.
The new stadium will be built in a 198,000-m2 area. Rectangular, it will have a 7,000-tonne roof whose appearance will belie its weight. “The arena will convey a sense of lightness, as if it were hovering in the air. It will have an aura of monumentality,” says Rosenberg. The structure is open on the north and south ends; on the west end there will be a building housing private boxes, parking facilities and service areas, among other facilities. Located on the east side, one of the stands will be as high as the building on the west side. The other stands behind the goals will be lower. “There are over 48,000 seats, all told, including the stands, boxes and VIP areas,” says Frederico Barbosa, the Operations Manager for the project.
Part of the workforce, which will include 2,000 members at the peak of the project, will be local hires. “We have already started a version of the Acreditar [professional education] program to train 300 people, including construction assistants, carpenters, bricklayers and steelfixers,” says Frederico.
2014 World Cup
During negotiations for the project, the stadium was mooted as a possible venue for the opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. FIFA confirmed it in October 2011, which will require some temporary installations, such as increasing the number of seats to 65,000, adapting the press room to receive 5,000 media professionals, and modifying the stadium’s security, as it will be visited by more than 30 delegations of heads of state during the event. The project will be completed by December 2013.
According to a study conducted by the Accenture consulting firm, the economic impact of holding the opening match of the 2014 World Cup in São Paulo will be BRL 30 billion over 10 years, especially in the East Zone, the most populous part of the city, which is lacking in infrastructure and investments. “The arena will be one of inducers of a process that will improve people’s quality of life in the region because it will stimulate investments in mobility projects, bring in educational institutions and businesses, and consequently create job opportunities,” argues Benedicto Junior, CEO of Odebrecht Infraestrutura. “This trend can already be seen in the rising property values in the East Zone,” adds Benedicto, a “passionate supporter” of the Corinthians club.
According to Project Director Antonio Roberto Gavioli, the stadium will help bolster the Odebrecht Organization’s image. “The exposure is enormous. We have over 30 million clients,” he jokes, referring to the number of Corinthians fans in Brazil. “Furthermore, we are going to build the stadium hosting the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.” Gavioli stresses the team’s pride in taking part in a project that is so important to the city, the state and the country. “It’s an opportunity for Odebrecht to reach segments of society that had once known little about us.”
The contract was signed on September 3, during the celebrations of the club’s 101st anniversary. A party attended by the former President of Brazil and current President of the Republic of Corinthians, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, marked the event, where 30,000 fans also gathered at the entrance of the jobsite – attendance worthy of a classic soccer tournament.
Everyone, from the fans to the club president, is eagerly awaiting the new stadium. “I want my home, I want this dream to come true,” says Sidnei Beires, 28. A resident of the Cangaiba district, about 10 km from the future arena, Sidnei is one of the organizers of the monthly gatherings at the entrance to the jobsite: a pot-luck barbecue where admission is free and everyone brings their own food.
“The idea came up during a meeting near Pacaembu that we held two years ago,” says Silvio Oliveira, another organizer of the event. “Anyone can come if they’re a Corinthians fan,” he says. He adds: “We’re not here to just keep an eye on the progress of the work, but to celebrate, to witness and be part of this history.” Both Sidnei and Silvio can already see themselves cheering for Corinthians in the future stadium. So can Andrés Sanchez Navarro, the club’s President and a member since 1969. “I will be right there with the fans, in the stands,” he predicts. And so can Benedicto: “I will definitely be at the stadium for the team’s first game there, and like thousands of other ‘crazies,’ I will be proud to see the wonderful house built in Itaquera.”
Going to any Brazilian stadium is, above all, a proof of love for a club from its fans. Run-down infrastructure, difficult access and few leisure options before and after the games usually keep some of the supporters away. For Andrés, the Corinthians stadium is a watershed in Brazilian sport. “It will be an impressive thing for soccer in this country, better than the European standard,” says the President. The ideal for this project is to make going to the stadium a pleasant experience, win or lose. “We want to go beyond being a ‘place to see a game’ by providing comfort for the fans, fast and easy access to the stands and facilities of the stadium, and offering other services. We want to give the fans a full experience,” explains Aníbal Coutinho.
High-definition screens and TVs will be installed throughout the stadium, in the snack bars, in the restrooms (all internal areas will be air-conditioned) and other facilities to ensure that, even when they leave their seats, fans will still be able to watch the game. “Unlike a game of basketball or baseball, which are long, soccer matches are short. Therefore, fans don’t like to like to leave their seats to make sure they won’t miss an important play. Thanks to the wireless system covering the entire stadium, you’ll be able to order snacks from your seat, pay by credit card and get them right where you are, without getting up,” says Aníbal. For 20 years, the architect has visited major stadiums in the United States and Europe to study their operations, see how things work on game days and even check out the type of grass they use.
This structure and those facilities will cost the club BRL 820 million. Of this amount, BRL 400 million will be financed by BNDES, Brazil’s national socioeconomic development bank, which, by decision of the Federal Government, is providing loans up to that amount for each city that will host World Cup matches, disbursed to a Special Purpose Company (SPE) formed to carry out the project. The SPE will use the BNDES loan to cover part of the investment needed to build the stadium, and that amount will be fully repaid to the bank from future revenues generated by the stadium’s operations.
The SPE will also be the major shareholder of a Real Estate Investment Fund (FII), the owner of the stadium, which also has the right to receive Development Incentive Certificates (CIDs), based on an incentive mechanism created in 2004 by São Paulo City to encourage investment in the East Zone. The certificates are equivalent to 60% of the total investment.
Investors who hold these certificates can use them as payment for service tax and/or property tax in São Paulo. In the case of the Corinthians stadium, the value of CIDs was limited to BRL 420 million, regardless of the final cost of the construction project. Certificates will be valid for 10 years. “Other projects will be financed through CIDs and, along with the stadium, will bring development to the East Zone,” says the Mayor of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab, after signing the law granting tax incentives for the project at a ceremony held at the jobsite in July. The projected income from the stadium, including revenue associated with sponsorship, can be used to defray part of the investment if other sources are not enough.
Odebrecht has given the necessary guarantees to make the deal possible: if the project runs out of funds during construction, the company will purchase enough shares in the FII to cover the amount required. The club is also a shareholder of the fund.
The creation of an FII is common practice in the housing market, but unprecedented when it comes to financing sports arenas. “We came up with this solution because banks rarely make direct loans to soccer clubs in Brazil,” explains Felipe Jens, CEO of Odebrecht Investimentos e Participações.
“In addition to building major engineering and construction projects, Odebrecht has developed financial engineering solutions for 67 years. Clients for major infrastructure projects don’t always have all the necessary funds available at the time the contract is signed. We come in with the engineering solution in one hand and the financial engineering in the other. They go together,” says Felipe, who adds: “We believe that the soccer market is going to grow in Brazil. Word is beginning to circulate in the financial market about the possibility of IPOs for soccer clubs, and that will involve massive amounts of money, since investors are also huge fans.”
Call it a dream. In the case of the Corinthians, it is the dream of a nation of more than 30 million people. And it is on its way to coming true.