The Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida has completed a rare double already this year. In February the facility hosted Super Bowl LV and in April Wrestlemania 37 rolled into town.
Two of America’s most prestigious ‘sporting’ events within the space of a few months came to the stadium and it was all made possible thanks to a significant renovation project that begin five years ago.
The Super Bowl was historic, won by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the first time an NFL team has ever contested the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Even for those Manchester United fans who have no interest in the NFL, the success of the ‘Bucs’ usually sets alarm bells ringing, being the franchise owned by the Glazer family.
Having invested significantly in the stadium they followed suit by throwing money at the team, notably in acquiring the ageless Tom Brady, who led them to that historic Super Bowl success. United fans will hope similar investment follows in Manchester.
Old Trafford might be slightly bigger than the Raymond James Stadium, but it’s begun to look tired in recent years. It’s no longer the standard-bearer of stadiums in the Premier League and is too easy a metaphor for how United have fallen from that role on the pitch as well.
At the recent fans’ forum he attended Joel Glazer promised improvements at Old Trafford and made the comparison with the stadium in Tampa.
“You know we own an NFL team in the United States and we just went through that process two or three years ago in our stadium there,” he told the 11 fans United dialled in to the call via Zoom.
“Our stands were 20 something years old and it was up to 16 years until we did a major renovation. We got a Super Bowl there last year and it’s a stadium that we’re very proud of.
“We expect to do the exact same thing now that we’re in a certain cycle with Old Trafford, so that when it’s all said and done, it is something that everyone will be proud of, but again we’re going to work with everybody, consult, make sure everyone has input into what they feel is important, and come up with something that, again, all of our supporters throughout the world can be proud of.”
Glazer added: “With regard to Old Trafford, I think we can all agree Old Trafford is the heart and soul of the club. Over the last 10 years we’ve spent about £100 million on infrastructure at Old Trafford, but that was just annual upkeep and minor changes here and there.
“We’re now going to begin the process, and we had always planned going through a process, of a much more major development of Old Trafford.
“The thing I want to stress is these projects do take time. They’re big projects. And we want to make sure we end up with a result that everyone can be proud of. The same goes for the training ground. Work has been underway behind the scenes to update the training ground, and again, keep it as a world-class facility.
“The thing I want to point out about facilities and infrastructure is they all have a cycle. You do major work, you set a standard. You’re proud.
“Then others try and take it to the next level. And then, time goes on, and then the cycle starts over again then we go in and we do the major work. But we’re committed to ending with a project that is world-class, and something that all our supporters will be proud of because as I said, as we know, it’s the heart and soul of the club.”
For too long now it’s been allowed to fall below the standards it set when United were on the rise in the 1990s and Old Trafford was expanding at a significant rate.
It might remain the largest club ground in the country but it no longer sets the standards in terms of facilities and infrastructure.
Glazer is right to point out that these things go in cycles. Arsenal raised the bar with the Emirates Stadium and Tottenham jumped over it with their own new ground. That is now the best stadium in the country, even if finding a manager to sit in the comfy seat in the dugout is proving to be a challenge beyond Daniel Levy.
Speaking at the fans’ forum, where most present asked a question that related to facilities at Old Trafford in some shape or form, Glazer gave the impression United would be looking at the developments and inventions at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and elsewhere to see what best practice was out there.
“There are future plans and everything does have a cycle, as I mentioned earlier, and what we have the benefit of now is we see what other people have done, what the latest is in different stadiums and we can take the best of what other people have done, consult and implement it at Old Trafford, and end up with a result we can be proud of,” he said.
“A lot of other stadiums have been built with a lot of new innovations. We’re going to go around, see what other people have done – bring those ideas back, discuss them, find out what people feel is important.
“And again, you’re [supporters] at Old Trafford every week, you live it. Behind the scenes, you know what you’re looking for, what you’re not happy about. And it all starts there to create an atmosphere and environment and a stadium that’s what we all hope and dream for.”
Building a winning team on the pitch isn’t as easy as throwing money at the solution, but the Glazers can prove their commitment to making United world-class again by making sure Old Trafford stands as a beacon of that ambition. They’ve done it in Tampa, now they have to do it in Manchester.