On Tuesday of this week, the official website for the organisation raising funds to build a new, single-purpose football stadium for Gamba Osaka – concerningly monikered ‘Field of Smile’ – was updated with new developments for only the second time in the past six months.
For those of us who actually look at these things, the presence alone of wholly two additional articles in the list of news releases was enough to raise a fleeting gasp of anticipation. A subject of personal interest to this column, the proposed new facility had returned to the newspaper pages earlier in the month, and while the website’s previous update in August was just a disappointing blog post that may as well have read “We have nothing to say and can’t say it anyway”, it did teasingly add that they wanted (hmm, key word, perhaps?) to make an official announcement in about October.
27 September is about as about October as it gets, of course, without actually being October. Would these two new website pages reveal the flames to which the earlier media smoke had pointed? Click, click… no, sadly not. The first consisted of just four lines, stating that the organisation had held its sixth board meeting that day (we knew that anyway) and appointed someone named Shosuke Mori as its new chair. The second was slightly longer – twice as long, in fact – but served solely to elaborate upon who Shosuke Mori actually is (the chairman of Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) and of the Kansai Economic Federation, in case you cared).
So it’s back to peering through the smoke to see if there’s really anything burning inside – a familiar experience for Gamba fans, given the virtual absence of anything nearing concrete announcements and developments since news first broke of the stadium plans fully three years ago. Hopes were initially raised a couple of weekends back with an article in the Yomiuri Shimbun, and further information on proceedings at that dull-sounding board meeting was extracted by the Asahi Shimbun today. Smoke masks at the ready.
YOMIURI (Saturday 17 September)
GAMBA OSAKA TO BUILD NEW STADIUM IN GROUNDS OF EXPO PARK
The Expo ’70 Commemoration Park (Suita City, Osaka Prefecture) has emerged as the favoured candidate for the construction of J. League Division 1 (J1) football club Gamba Osaka’s new football-specific stadium, it was learned on Friday (16 September).
This, if true, is big news. Though plans for both the stadium design and the financing of its construction have, respectively, been in place for a year and two years already, the slight niggle has always persisted that Gamba don’t actually have anywhere to put it. The choice of the Expo Park – where the team’s current, outdated facility is located – would be a popular one; identity of location maintained as was the case when Arsenal moved just down the road to the Emirates, and no need for fans to reword any of their songs.
The concept for the stadium was originally announced in 2008, but discussions between Gamba Osaka and Suita City stalled after the two parties failed to agree terms for the facility’s maintenance costs. However, Suita presented a new proposal this July which would reduce the burden undertaken by Gamba, and with the club keen for the construction plans to be decided in time for its 20th anniversary in October, it is thought to be ready to accept.
The ‘it is thought to be’ sounds as frustratingly non-committal as most of the official prose that has been sporadically presented by the Gamba press office. But it is certainly true that the club had entered renewed negotiations with its current home city and that it is preparing to celebrate said milestone this coming weekend. It is understandable if the club wants (there’s that word again) to get things sorted to coincide.
The planned stadium will hold at least 32,000 people – making it eligible to host international matches – and will be built near Gamba’s training ground within the Expo ’70 Commemoration Park.
Meeting international specifications has always been Gamba’s objective – not least considering that regulations to host AFC Champions League matches are set to tighten in 2013. For the first time, the article uses a declarative ‘will be built’ without any qualifications. This seems to hint at an imminent announcement.
It is planned that the construction costs of 11 billion yen will be collected in the form of donations by a fundraising body led by Gamba, with several dozen companies – including the club’s parent, Panasonic – set to contribute a collective eight billion yen. The fundraisers will continue to approach additional, both corporate and individual parties to cover the remainder. The completed stadium will then be donated to Suita City, with Gamba taking responsibility for its operations. The fundraising body is expected to hold a board meeting in the near future at which it will confirm the official plans.
The fundraising structure was publicly announced before a home fixture with Shimizu S-Pulse in 2009 – which ultimately proved to be a PR disaster for Gamba president Kikuo Kanamori – with the complicated-sounding, dual-donation structure designed to ensure that no tax needs to be paid on the monies collected from those who ultimately fund the project. There has always been a paradox to the agreement in that no money can legally be collected until a site is determined, but securing a site in the first place is undoubtedly more problematic for not having the funds in place to guarantee the quick progress of construction. It is therefore reassuring to understand both that several charitable investors are already on board and that the club is not overly reliant on Panasonic – a company with plenty of fish to fry amid disappointing profit-loss figures, the crippling effect on export income of an unprecedentedly high yen, and a major business reorganisation following its takeover of Sanyo.
But what of this board meeting – is there any chance that our (Yomiuri’s) expectations have actually been met despite the limited official information offered thus far? Let’s see what light Asahi have been able to shed.
ASAHI (Thursday 29 September)
DISCUSSIONS TO CONTINUE ON SITE FOR GAMBA’S NEW STADIUM, SUITA CITY (OSAKA) INFORMED
The president of J. League club Gamba Osaka, Kikuo Kanamori, visited Suita City Hall on Wednesday (28 September) to meet with the mayor, Tetsuya Inoue. The meeting was held behind closed doors, but according to Mayor Inoue, Kanamori reported that the fundraising body collecting donations to cover the construction of Gamba’s new stadium had held a board meeting on Tuesday (27 September) and decided to continue deliberating over the site for the facility.
Oh. ‘Continue.’ ‘Deliberating.’ That sounds very much like deciding not to decide anything.
Discussions over the construction of the new stadium began in 2008, when Gamba approached Suita and expressed its desire for the Expo ’70 Commemoration Park to be considered as a potential construction site. In January of last year, the city presented three conditions to Gamba: (1) The stadium should be built by Gamba and then donated to the city; (2) The designated administrator for the stadium should cover any portion of the lease paid by the city to the Commemorative Organization for the Japan World Exposition ’70 that exceeds the equivalent value of the fixed property tax on the land; (3) The costs of any major repairs and maintenance on the facility that may be anticipated in future should be covered by the designated administrator. Discussions soon reached a deadlock as Gamba requested that the city cover the lease and maintenance payments in their entirety, and had consequently been frozen since March 2010.
This is not new information, but does at least eloquently summarise the reasons behind the 15-month stall in discussions and, hence, developments – in Suita, anyway.
Suita reopened discussions with Gamba following the appointment of Inoue as mayor this June. It is understood that Gamba explained to the city on 16 September that “We are also in negotiations with Takatsuki City. We hope to soon decide between Suita City and Takatsuki City as our official construction venue.” Mayor Inoue stated that he told Kanamori on this date, “Please choose Suita.”
One imagines that the prior deadlock was borne of a stubbornness on both sides; equally, it is quite conceivable that the new mayor’s desire for J. League football to remain in Suita has caused both club and president to believe not only that discussions can be resumed, but also that Gamba are suddenly in a much stronger negotiating position. It has been public knowledge from the outset that other locations in northern Osaka have been explored. If one of the first things that Tetsuya Inoue did as mayor was present Gamba with a better deal, perhaps Kanamori has seen his opportunity to play hardball and is willing to sacrifice the October deadline before which the city’s offer was designed to be passed.
Gamba will line up against Urawa Reds on Sunday in a black strip specially commissioned to mark the occasion of their 20th anniversary but, as it stands, no new stadium to put the icing on the birthday cake. With each passing day and hour, the chances of the status quo being broken in time for the celebrations grow slimmer; should the Urawa match pass with no announcement, a further, prolonged wait is highly likely. As ever, it would appear that no news is purely that.