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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK
A steal at half the price
Will Smale
BBC News Online business reporter in Lisbon, Portugal

Estadio da Luz, Lisbon
Home to Benfica, Lisbon's Stadium of Light will host the Euro 2004 final
The two Portuguese businessmen were completely aghast.

An open-eyed look of disbelief on their faces, they shook their heads and breathed out heavily.

They both appeared very tempted to go for a few surprised swear words, but were too polite.

"...How much?" said one of them, still stunned.

Sitting in the sleek air-conditioned boardroom of one of Portugal's leading software companies, I had just told them that Portugal's seven new stadiums for Euro 2004 were built for less than half the price of the new Wembley national stadium in north London.

The businessman, whose headquarters is just down the road from one of the two shiny new stadiums in Lisbon - Estadio Jose Alvalade - a futuristic, curvy ground with 52,000 seats, were far from convinced England had got good value for money.

Yet other experts, including UK civil engineers, say Wembley is worth every penny.

So has Portugal got the bargains of the century, or is Wembley vastly over-priced?

Five-star stadiums

The new Wembley Stadium, set for completion in 2006 is budgeted to cost £757m ($1.3m), whereas the seven new stadiums across Portugal, came in at a combined £333m. In addition, Portugal has expanded and revamped three existing stadiums for £73m.

The new Wembley Stadium
The new Wembley will have a few facilities
The biggest new ground in Portugal, the 65,000 seat Estadio da Luz (Stadium of Light) in Lisbon cost £79m.

So are Portugal's new stadiums a bit, well, basic? Far from it, three of them - Luz, Jose Alvalade, and Porto's Dragao have been given UEFA's top five-star rating, which means they are as good as the best stadiums across Europe, and have all the bells and whistles that come with this.

COST HEAD TO HEAD
New Wembley - £757m
The seven new Portuguese stadiums - £333m

And while the other four new Portuguese stadiums are much more modest in size, with capacities around the 30,000 mark, one of them, Estadio Municipal de Braga, in the north Portugal city of the same name, was actually carved out of a mountainside at the site of a former quarry.

COST & CAPACITY
Estadio da Luz, Lisbon - £79m, 65,000
Jose Alvalade, Lisbon - £52m, 52,000
Dragao, Porto - £65m, 52,000
Aveiro - £29m, 30,000
Braga - £55m, 30,000
Bessa Seculo XXI, Porto - £30m, 30,000
Algarve, Faro/Loule - £23m, 30,000

They may be smaller, but each has been given its own architectural character - there is no apparent identikit cost-cutting.

So is Wembley a limited edition Rolls Royce, with the opulence and facilities to match? Taking shape against the London north skyline, it is certainly an impressive beast - 90,000 seats, a 133m tall supporting arch that at 315m long claims to be the longest single span roof structure in the world, a roof that partially retracts, and even more toilets than any other stadium in the world - 2,000.

Facilities

Simon Inglis, the author of a number of books on football stadiums, says the vital factor to consider is that the £757m figure for Wembley contains the entire full cost, everything from purchase of the land to the cost of the lawyers.

Estadio do Dragao
Dragao Stadium has been praised for its 'clean lines'

"They are not bad stadiums in Portugal, but it is not a fair comparison," he said.

"For a start, the £757m figure for Wembley accounts for the cost of everything. The figures are fully complete and totally transparent - you could do a forensic examination.

"For example, London property prices are so high, that it cost some £100m alone to buy the land.

"It will also be extremely well-equipped stadium. The stadiums in Portugal are better compared to English Premiership grounds of the same size."

Alan Crane from the Institution of Civil Engineers also points out that the Wembley figure also includes associated work such as upgrading transport links.

Wage differentials

"We are talking about a whole different thing," he said.

Estádio Municipal de Braga
Braga Stadium was cut from a mountainside

Mr Crane said another factor in the comparison was Wembley's much bigger size.

"It is much, much cheaper to build a 50,000 capacity stadium than a 100,000. For every seat above 50,000 the cost increases significantly.

"There are factors most people don't take into account, like a stadium having to be able to empty in a certain time. Getting 100,000 out in 10 minutes requires expensive solutions.

"Labour costs are obviously also much higher in the UK than Portugal."

But still, seven very nice stadiums for less than half the price of one.....

The men at Siscog software in Lisbon would opt for the seven.

Next Thursday BBC News Online will look how Portugal hopes Euro 2004 will mean a long-term tourism boost.


PORTUGAL IN THE SPOTLIGHT


Portuguese football fan Can Portugal afford Euro 2004?
The cost and benefits to the Portuguese economy

PORTUGAL INFO

EURO 2004 - FULL COVERAGE

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