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Almost a year after World Cup, Brazil still struggling to deal with its new stadiums

05/01/2015 12:58 EDT | Updated 05/01/2016 05:12 EDT
SAO PAULO - Brazil spent billions renovating and building World Cup stadiums that were supposed to help modernize and improve local soccer. Almost a year after the tournament ended, the nation is still trying to figure out what to do with them.

Some of the 12 new state-of-the-art stadiums are just now being completed as originally planned. Others are already up for sale.

The Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo hosted the World Cup's opening match last June, a 3-1 win over Croatia for the host nation. But the venue wasn't fully finished at the time and only now it's been completed, 10 months after the tournament.

Part of the glass covers that were supposed to be added to the stadium's roofing structure were finally installed last month, along with a few other things that were still missing at the $450 million arena. Attendance has significantly increased at the stadium owned by popular team Corinthians, but the club can't keep any of the revenue because the money is still being used to pay for its construction.

A year after it handed over the stadium to FIFA for the World Cup, Corinthians still hasn't been able to reach a naming-rights deal for the arena.

Another stadium only now being completed is the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, which last month inaugurated the retractable roof that had to be abandoned before the tournament because of construction delays. The roof was in the original project for the World Cup, but FIFA asked organizers to postpone its installation to avoid the risk of not being ready in time.

The club that owns the venue, Atletico Paranaense, boasts the fact that it has the first soccer stadium in Latin America with a retractable roof, but while announcing the termination of a contract with stadium operator AEG last month, the club admitted that "the (financial) return was not the one expected."

"There are a lot of ways to make money from these stadiums, but you have to work hard to make it happen, it's not automatic," local sports marketing specialist Joao Henrique Areias said. "The way things are now, you can't expect Brazil to profit from them. And we all know who is going to continue to pay for this bill, it's the taxpayer."

Brazil spent about $3 billion on the World Cup stadiums, saying the new venues would become a legacy for the country. Most were turned over to private operators who are now struggling to profit from soccer. Some have resorted to children's events, corporate gatherings and religious services to increase revenue.

The new stadiums are better and more modern, but they are also more expensive to maintain, prompting operators to charge more from fans and clubs.

Flamengo, Brazil's most popular team, recently said it could lose money by playing at the Maracana Stadium, the site of the World Cup final. The club said that under the current contract with the stadium's new owners, it keeps too little money from match attendances. Atletico Mineiro also pointed to a similar problem at the Mineirao Stadium, the site of Germany's 7-1 win over Brazil in the World Cup semifinals.

"It's not worth playing at the Mineirao unless we have a crowd of more than 40,000 people," said Atletico Mineiro president Daniel Nepomuceno, whose team often prefers to play at the smaller Independencia, a non-World Cup stadium in Belo Horizonte.

Popular club Bahia last month threatened to stop playing at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador because if felt the consortium running the new stadium was making too much money off the team's matches. It only agreed to keep playing after renegotiating the contract.

The venue that has profited the most this year in Brazil is Palmeiras' Allianz Parque, which was not built for the World Cup. There were no financial incentives from the government to help build the arena, unlike in the World Cup stadiums. Palmeiras gets to keep all the money from soccer attendances, while Constructor WTorre, which paid for the arena in Sao Paulo, gets most of the revenue from concerts and other events over a 30-year period.

This month, two World Cup stadiums were virtually put up for sale. Constructor OAS announced it was selling its stake in the Arena Fonte Nova and in the Arena das Dunas, in Natal. OAS has been struggling after being linked to a corruption investigation at the nation's state-run oil company, Petrobras.

In the western city of Cuiaba, the Arena Pantanal had to be closed for "emergency repairs" this year after officials discovered structural problems that threatened users. The stadium also is not fully finished as originally planned.

The Arena Pantanal is among the stadiums already considered by some to be a white elephant. Others include the venues in Natal, Brasilia and the jungle city of Manaus, places without much soccer tradition.

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