Inflation is rising, energy prices are rising directly. Surprisingly, it was in this constellation that the League Football Association came up with a plan for mandatory investments in the long-neglected infrastructure of the stadiums of the second highest competition, which is called the Fortuna National League (FNL).
“From the 2024/25 season, artificial lighting will also be mandatory in the second league stadiums, and from the 2027/28 season on the heated lawn,” said Dušan Svoboda, chairman of the League Football Association (LFA), a week ago.
The clubs participating in the competition themselves voted for these rules; according to the information in the List of Reports, only the representative of Vlašim presented a negative opinion at the board meeting.
And Dukla Praha, which has both lighting and heated turf, pointed out to the board that when it will be mandatory for second-league clubs to temper the turf in the winter months, their costs will increase to astronomical proportions that do not correspond to club budgets.
How much will it all cost
The acquisition of poles and lights will cost 10-15 million crowns, the construction of a heating system will cost 15-20 million crowns according to local conditions. All this, of course, at current prices, which can rise.
The costs of heating the lawn last season were estimated at 670,000 crowns in Slovan Liberec, for example. “We heat with hot water. I asked the supplier what it looks like next winter with an estimate of the price increase. It will definitely happen, at least about the level of inflation, but quite possibly up to one hundred percent, “says Vlastimil Čadílek, technical director of Slovan Liberec.
These are all amounts completely out of reach of a large part of the second league clubs. “At Varnsdorf, we have a budget of 16-17 million crowns for the season. I will receive 2.2 million crowns a year from the League Football Association for my share of television and sponsorship rights. Clubs in the 1st league receive 10–12 million, “states Vlastimil Gabriel, Chairman of the Board of FK Varnsdorf. “The state should help sports much more,” he says.
“We have been considering for a long time in the league committee whether we will go for it. But there is nothing left, the infrastructure of a large part of the second league stadiums does not correspond to the level of professional competition, “says Tomáš Linhart, head of MFK Chrudim.
The management of the League Football Association was inspired by the method used two decades ago by the then head of the Football Association, František Chvalovský, in the highest competition. It was then ordered that, by a certain date, every Premier League stadium should have lighting and heating.
“At that time, the clubs went to the town hall and said there: If you do not contribute to the lighting and heating, then there will simply be no I. league,” recalls Tomáš Bárta, now the executive director of the LFA.
And with a similar appeal, representatives of second-league clubs will now turn to city councils and councils. “If I went there with a similar request a month ago, they would laugh at me and tell me not to go crazy. When I go there now, I will say that it is an obligation that otherwise they will not let us play the second league, “says Varnsdorf boss Vlastimil Gabriel.
They think similarly in Chrudim. “We will contact the representatives of the city, we will ask for help from the Pardubice region, we will try to get subsidies from one of the programs of the National Sports Agency,” Tomáš Linhart from MFK Chrudim has already thought about the resources.
Many stadiums already have lights and heating
Elections to municipal councils are held at the end of September. The newly elected representatives of several cities can therefore look forward to an early visit by representatives of local football clubs.
Prostějov, Táborsko, Vlašim, Třinec, Varnsdorf, Chrudim or the Brno club from Líšeň will need investments in the construction of artificial lighting and a heating system under the lawn. Vyškov plays his matches in the once first-league Drnovice. However, the lighting set was already dismantled and taken there, the lawn was never heated there.
Stadium equipment for II. league
They already have lighting and heating:
Dukla, Jihlava, Karviná, Opava, Příbram + main stadiums of Olomouc, Slavia, Sparta
Where this equipment is missing:
Prostejov, Taborsko, Vlasim, Trinec, Varnsdorf, Chrudim, Vyskov (Drnovice), Lisen
Note: The revision of the lights is needed in Žižkov, where Sparta B will play. In Drnovice, where Vyškov enters, the lights have been dismantled.
The necessary equipment is logically available to clubs with a first-league past, ie Dukla, Jihlava, Karviná, Opava and Příbram.
In addition, there will be three B teams of first league players in the second league next year. Béčko Sparta will dig at the equipped Viktorie Žižkov stadium, where only a partial improvement of the lighting quality is needed. Slavie Reserve plays in Horní Počernice, where the stadium is now without lights and heating, Sigma Olomouc will probably use Andrů’s stadium for matches A and B of the team.
After all, there are other béčky, which are expected to be in the coming years in II. Of course, they can use the infrastructure available to their premier league teams.
In this sense, in the future, when lighting and heating become mandatory, they can also use local synergies in Brno, where Líšeň can use the same city stadium in Králové Pole as Zbrojovka.
The stadiums of FK Ústí nad Labem and Viktorie Žižkov already have the necessary infrastructure, ie clubs that have relegated to the third league this year, but are living the ambition of an early return.
If we disregard these two clubs, however, the new rules will probably be a big obstacle in the future in the so-called throughput between the second league and the third highest competition, which is the Czech Republic in the Czech Republic, MSFL in Moravia. “In the end, only B teams of league teams will advance to the second league, and regional football clubs will completely destroy it,” fears Vlastimil Gabriel from Varnsdorf. “Look at Germany, the juniors are not allowed in the second league.”
More light, more traffic, more money
Why did the current need to address the infrastructure of second-league clubs arise? “Lighting in stadiums is needed so that we can increase the offer of TV broadcasts from this competition,” explains Tomáš Bárta, Executive Director of LFA.
But there are other reasons. “Before each season, we have a small number of clubs that, due to the low equipment of the stadium, have the ambition to strive to advance to the highest competition. By making lights and heating mandatory in II. league, some presumption will be created that something will continue to happen to those stadiums in the event of a promotion, “says Tomáš Linhart, a member of the league committee.
“If I wanted to advance to the 1st league, I would need another 100 million for the reconstruction of the stands or facilities,” Vlastimil Gabriel comments. “In Varnsdorf, the city has an annual budget of 300 million, so such an investment in the stadium is a utopia. The state should take care of the sports infrastructure and its development in the country, “he does not hide his bitterness.
This year, the National Sports Agency will contribute to three major sports facilities, in all cases the halls where ice hockey will be played in the first place. And in Brno, Jihlava and Kladno.
“And there is nothing to do with football stadiums that are being built in Hradec Králové and Pardubice. This is the defeat of football, it seems to me that we were robbed, “said Miroslav Pelta, its former chairman, at the recent general meeting of the football association.
The biggest scarecrow is the price of energy
All sports institutions, unions, divisions and sports units are calling for a special subsidy program that would help them cope with the dramatic rise in energy prices. This is related to the war caused by Russia in Ukraine.
Filip Neusser, chairman of the National Sports Agency, has not yet been successful in negotiating with government officials.
In this context, too, it makes sense to pay special attention to the costs that would arise from the mandatory installation of heating systems, which will follow logically. And it will be the use of these systems, ie the heating itself, that will bring with it additional, very significant costs.
The first league clubs are now obliged to heat the lawns. The regulation is prescribed in such a way that at the time of the match the temperature of the vegetation substrate must be at least 3 degrees Celsius, at a depth of 2 centimeters.
“One day of heating will cost 30,000 crowns,” says Martin Kovařík, a spokesman for FK Teplice. “But only when the facility starts up, in the next few days it can be reduced to 15,000 crowns a day,” adds Rudolf Řepka, director of the same club.
Clubs use different technologies. “We in Liberec use hot water, because the gas connection does not lead here. For the 2021/22 season, heating our lawn cost 670,000 crowns. This is an amount 50 percent higher than the cost of other energy used in the stadium area, “says Vlastimil Čadílek, technical director of Slovan Liberec.
“Clubs like Sparta, Slavia and Plzeň, which have it, temper the whole winter. I think it could cost about 2.5 million. We and other smaller clubs do not have such resources, so we always turn on the heating about a week before the home matches. Of course, it depends on the weather conditions and the condition of the lawn, “adds Čadílek.
It was in Liberec that the lawn was completely destroyed in the spring. “We have now used a new technology with a different subsoil treatment, we believe that the grass will take root better,” adds Slovan’s technical director.
However, everyone is most concerned about both the current and, above all, the further expected rise in energy prices. Heating the lawns will be a huge cost item for the clubs of the I. league, in the future it is waiting for the second league.
“Heated lawns are to have secondary league clubs in five years. Perhaps the economic situation will be better at that time, “Dušan Svoboda, chairman of the League Football Association, looks to the future with optimism.