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The Warsaw Voice » Business » March 27, 2013
Business & Economy
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Open Stadium
March 27, 2013   
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Marcin Herra, CEO of the PL.2012+ company, which manages the National Stadium in Warsaw, talks to Andrzej Jonas and Andrzej Ratajczyk.

The National Stadium in Warsaw is one of several sports facilities built for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament. In your opinion, how has Poland benefited from hosting this event? Was Euro 2012 a success as a project?
Generally, Euro 2012 was hailed as a great success both domestically and internationally. We succeeded despite all those pessimistic prophecies that we would fail. Poland and Ukraine have shown they are capable of meeting the challenge of hosting the third biggest sports event in the world.

Polls confirm this; 85 percent of foreign guests surveyed said the event met the highest standards in terms of organization, and nearly 90 percent of Polish respondents said the event was a success and Poland was a very good host. The organizational success of Euro 2012 together with the atmosphere surrounding the event have influenced the international image of Poland in a positive way, and the economic effects of accelerated infrastructure development can be counted in billions of zlotys.

Hosting major sports events is a unique opportunity to promote cities or countries in terms of tourism. The best example is probably Barcelona, which has gained popularity all over the world thanks to the 1992 Olympic Summer Games, the result being a significant increase in tourism. Will Warsaw and Poland in general see the same kind of success as Barcelona?
A report summing up Euro 2012 and produced by a team of economists led by Jakub Borowski referred to the so-called Poland effect, or the event’s influence on the economy, the development of inbound tourism and the country’s image. Euro 2012, along with EU funds, has undoubtedly been an important factor behind Poland’s economic growth and spurred investment in recent years.

The level of investment projects related to hosting the event is estimated at zl.90 billion. The positive effect of Euro 2012 on Poland’s GDP in 2008-2020 is estimated at over zl.21 billion. That is due to the accelerated development of infrastructure—a leap by about three to five years, combined with an increase in Poland’s investment attractiveness, the development of the road network and an improvement in the country’s image abroad.

Before and during Euro 2012, Poland received a lot of positive media coverage all over the world. Poland was being shown as a modern and dynamically developing country. During the tournament, nearly 700,000 foreign guests from 123 countries visited Poland, spending zl.1.1 billion here, zl.200 million more than we expected. That’s the short-term effect related to tourism. But it’s the long-term effect that is more important. Thanks to Euro 2012, the value of Poland’s national brand has grown substantially, the most of all national brands analyzed.

Another significant effect of our success in hosting the event is related to what is known as social capital. Those five years of preparations for the tournament have shown that, despite many problems and difficult situations, we are able to work together on such a big and complex project—and it is worth noting that more than 170 institutions and several thousand people were involved in organizing the event. But social capital is also about the belief of Polish people that they are capable of hosting events of similar stature in the future.

One last important thing is the know-how we have gained related to managing such projects. We have gained the experience and know-how to prepare ourselves for major events. We have developed the procedures and know what to do while preparing such big projects. And this is one of the greatest benefits for us.

The National Stadium in Warsaw is the largest and most expensive sports facility built for Euro 2012. Unsurprisingly, it arouses the most interest and the greatest expectations. For the time being, though, not much is going on there. What should be done to make the stadium a venue for major sports and cultural events and make sure it is profitable?
Big stadiums work for their success and brand for years. But we’re not going to wait that long. We aim to be one of the five best-rated stadiums in Europe on various counts by 2015. When it comes to hosting large cultural events such as concerts, we want to be mentioned in the same breath as London’s Wembley. In terms of business events and conferences, we want to be on par with Munich’s Allianz Arena, which is among the leading venues in this area. Moreover, we want to follow the example of the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in terms of building social cooperation and model ourselves after the Emirates Stadium in London, for example, in terms of top organizational standards. We aim to combine the best practices and put them to use at the National Stadium. Obviously, we are aware of the difficulties we’re going to encounter. The greatest challenge is the time frame within which we want to achieve this goal. Generally speaking, it takes five to seven years of work for the best sports facilities to achieve their position; we want to reduce this time to two to three years.

What changes are you planning to the way the National Stadium operates?
We believe that the stadium’s doors ought to be open to the public on an everyday basis. That’s why in February we decided to open all the gates and introduce a large number of activities—daily attractions for all those who feel like coming to see the National Stadium. In the spring we also plan to make sure that something will be happening every day in the area around the stadium. We plan to organize various sports activities as well as summer cinema, art events and exhibitions. The stadium should be a place where whole families can spend time together in an interesting way. On weekends, people should be able to go for lunch with attractions for children, for example. We keep increasing the number of theme tours around the stadium. They are immensely popular, as evidenced by the fact that we’re now accepting reservations for June.

But you can’t enliven the stadium without organizing events for a mass audience there. This is why we are preparing a calendar of various events. We want the stadium to be a multi-purpose facility where major sports, social, cultural and business events take place; a place where important words are uttered and important decisions are made. At the beginning of the year, we assumed that in 2013 the stadium would host 10 major events. Now we already have 12 dates set and there’s every indication that there will be more of them. The stadium will host soccer matches played by the Polish national team, and it will also be where marathons start and end. There will also be no lack of music events, including concerts by international music stars, in addition to an international housing trade fair, a book fair and a big science picnic. We expect that a major event will be held at the stadium every three or four weeks. These will include three events every year with free admission for everyone under 15.

We are trying to actively promote the National Stadium as a business venue. The stadium has the largest number of conference rooms and the most extended congress infrastructure in Warsaw. Lately the rules have changed for booking the VIP boxes on two levels of the stadium. Now it will no longer be necessary for customers to book a box exclusively for an extended period of time. It will be possible to book an exclusive spot for a single event such as business dinner, negotiations or a contract signing ceremony.

What do you think are the prospects for the development of conference tourism in Poland? Is the National Stadium ready to host major business events and conferences?
The best proof of the stadium’s functionality in terms of hosting business events are plans to hold the COP 19 Climate Change Conference there. This will be the largest and most prestigious event in Poland this year. The Ministry of the Environment, which will be the official host of the event, has selected the stadium because it enables the more than 10,000 conference participants to gather together in one place. Obviously, the pitch will have to be used for that purpose as well—a makeshift building with several halls, including two plenary rooms, each with 2,500 seats, will be erected there.

When it comes to the prospects for the development of conference tourism, the stadium is without a doubt a major selling point for Warsaw. With its location almost in the city center and a direct connection to the airport, the facility is suitable for hosting business events. What matters here is also the fact that it’s difficult to find another facility in Warsaw that could host a conference for over 2,500 participants. Undoubtedly, there are also synergies between the stadium managed in the right way and the developed areas around it.

Not only large business events can draw foreign tourists to Poland and Warsaw, though. One-day trips to cultural events in, for instance, London, Paris or Berlin are increasingly popular these days. Why couldn’t Warsaw too host interesting concerts or other events that would attract tourists from all over Europe? However, this won’t be possible without building trust and reaching perfection in organizing events.

When will the National Stadium start to generate profits?
According to the business plan, this year we have to reckon with an operating loss of zl.20 million. In 2014, after a year of coordinated work, the situation should look much better and we expect to be able to set aside funds for future upgrades and improvements for the first time, and in 2015 we expect to generate our first operating profit.

A very significant factor related to the functioning of stadiums in Europe and elsewhere is strategic partnerships that influence not only the way in which a brand is perceived, but also the financial results. That’s why, beginning in the second half of this year, we will be building such partnerships, trying to offer attractive terms to a title sponsor, for example. But we want to do that in a responsible and professional way, highlighting good management and efficient organization, having a well-structured calendar of events and showcasing the potential of the National Stadium.
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