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An update on multipurpose stadiums and underlying tensions

Teams like Huddersfield Town and Wigan Athletic share stadiums with rugby sides in England. Shared facilities are a reality of modern sport, not an excuse or a cause for consternation.

Laurence Griffiths

This morning after watching Huddersfield Town face off against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, I wrote about a thousand words trying to link their situation to multipurpose facilities in America (link). See the pitch at John Smith's Stadium had rugby lines on it, and I sort of ran with that.

The Huddersfield Giants did in fact have a match yesterday, February 16th, at John Smith's Stadium. Coincidentally, they beat Wigan 22-10 to remain undefeated. They play rugby league, which is different than rugby union, in the Super League. There were 8,023 people in attendance.

The attendance for today's FA Cup match at that same ground was 12,117. I was wrong to say Huddersfield is a rugby town, clearly it's much more complicated than "oh there were empty seats".

I was informed by fans of Huddersfield Town that when the grounds were built, they were owned 40% by the council (local government), 40% by the football club and 20% by the rugby side.

We've seen recent examples of football clubs having financial issues, and Huddersfield Town faced their own in 2003. The owner of the rugby side, Ken Davy, took over the club which was in administration. As part of the takeover, the football clubs share of the stadium was transferred to a holding company. That period of Huddersfield's history seems to be fraught with turmoil. There was even a protest to remove him as chairman.

So it's quite clear why fans would be upset that I called John Smith's Stadium a rugby ground. It's a multipurpose ground, and it's not the only one in England. Wigan Athletic share their grounds with Wigan Warriors. Athletic now outdraws the rugby side, but in the early years rugby was more popular at DW Stadium.

I don't wish to belittle either fan base, which I admittedly know little about. What I wanted to explore and still want to explore is how multipurpose grounds work in other countries. The solution in America has been artificial turf, which prevents the churned up pitch we saw today in Huddersfield, but that solution has been controversial.

What I was hoping folk would take away from the first article was that ownership of the grounds is not a prerequisite to success the way it is often characterized. The Seattle Sounders have thrived in a ground owned by the Seahawks (which was designed with soccer in mind). That the Revolution and Chivas have had a worse go is not simply boiled down to "they need their own stadium".

Stadiums are large, expensive, and greatly impact local communities. Sharing causes the occasionally oddity, like yard lines on a soccer pitch, but these are the financial realities of professional sports. As is the case with the resurgence of Wigan Athletic, and the reemergence of Huddersfield Town, winning and a robust fanbase are way more important.