Leipzig’s Red Bull Arena


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If anyone out there reading this article knows of any other athletic facility anywhere else in the world where a football stadium which was constructed, quite literally, right inside of another, larger football stadium — then by all means, please feel free to name the club and country in the comments section below because this blog, for one, and perhaps a few of the other readers, as well, would like to be made aware of that!

In any case, the relatively new RED BULL ARENA, which sets beautifully right inside the old ZENTRALSTADION at the LEIPZIG SPORTFORUM along the picturesque Elsterbrecken in the central eastern German state of Saxony, is certainly one of a kind as far as football stadia in Deutschland go.

Although the old Zentralstadion was the ‘big match’ home for the national team during the time of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the first football stadium in all of Europe to have the capacity for 100,000 spectators never really did have a tenant in terms of a club team. East German Oberliga club FC Lokomotive Leipzig did stage many big matches at the Zentralstadion against teams such as Benfica Libson (Portugal), Fortuna Duesseldorf (West Germany), FC Girondins Bordeaux (France) and SSC Napoli (Italy) while drawing crowds in the neighborhood of 80,000 over the years. And the re-named Vfb Leipzig had a few seasons in the mid-1990s at the Zentralstadion due to work being done at their traditional home ground, the Bruno Plache Stadium, but eventually the draining cost of maintaining the massive Sport Forum complex in Leipzig became too much of a financial burden for local municipal officials.

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Bundesliga club SCHALKE 04 GELSENKIRCHEN (blue shirts, blue shorts) defend against a set piece taken by host RASEN BALLSPORT LEIPZIG (white shirt, red shorts) during a pre-season Testspiel played at the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig on July 24, 2010.
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Ultimately, it was decided by city officials to build a much-smaller, football-only arena at the site of the old Zentralstadion. The contract for the renovation and operation of the new stadium was given to the real estate equity company, EMKA GMBH, headed by entrepreneur MICHAEL KOELMEL. Construction of the new Zentralstadion in Leipzig began in December of 2000 but would not be completed until March of 2004.

The total cost for the project in the end was reportedly 116.0 million Euros altogether with the German Federal Government having contributed 51.0 million Euros towards that end. No doubt, Germany hosting the 2006 FIFA World Cup final tournament had at least a little something to do with that. The FIFA Confederations Cup, a tournament run every four years by the world’s organizing body that involves all the planet’s different continental champions, also kicked in another 12.0 million Euros towards the project in Leipzig.

The very first competitive football match played at the newly-renovated Zentralstadion (official capacity : 44,345 spectators) featured FC Sachsen Leipzig facing the reserve side of Borussia Dortmund on March 7, 2004, during the Regionalliga Nord campaign. The official opening of the new stadium took place later that summer in conjunction with an international tournament that July featuring Bundesliga club Werder Bremen, Belgian side Club Brugge and Serbian outfit FK Red Star Belgrade. The first full international contest saw Germany defeat visiting Cameroon 3-0 after two goals from Miroslav Klose and another by Kevin Kuranyi on November 17, 2004.

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The new Zentralstadion in Leipzig was the only football stadium from the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik to stage matches (four group-stage games and one Round of 16 contest) when Germany hosted the final tournament of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. A year earlier, the site had also staged matches in conjuction with the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup of Germany, which was meant to serve as a warm-up for the main event to follow. Koelmel was on the verge of a deal with businessman Gerald Wagener to unload the new Zentralstadion entirely but negotiations were broken off, as German magazine der Spiegel reported in April of 2005, a few months prior to the Confederations Cup.

The project actually came in 26.0 million over the original budget, partly as a result of compliance with FIFA security regulations, but the city of Leipzig municipal government agreed to absorb only a third of this cost and left the real estate investor to shoulder the rest of the unexpected tab — this on top of the 27.0 million or so Euros that Koelmel had already poured in upon getting involved.

FC Sachsen Leipzig continued to play a few matches here and there at the new Zentralstadion up until 2007, but the facility that in former times would hold in excess of 100,000 people for football matches of the East German national team once upon a time remained without a cash-paying tenant long after the 2006 FIFA World Cup came and went.

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Believe it or not, but this particular spot pictured above once played host to the SPORTFORUM LEIPZIG’s facilities for Olympic swimming. The old bleachers remain but the pool, itself, has been filled in and appears to now serve as a parking lot. In the background, one can easily observe the modern RED BULL ARENA built inside of the old ZENTRALSTADION.
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Koelmel finally caught the break he had been looking for when the well-known Austrian energy drink manufacturer RED BULL GMBH took over tiny, little SSV Makranstaedt, a club playing in the Nordostdeutscher Fussballverband Oberliga Sued (fifth-highest level in Germany) in May of 2009 and announced a goal of Bundesliga football within ten years. Of course, the successful Austrian company already operate FC Red Bull Salzburg, who celebrated the Austrian Bundesliga title this season for the third time in the last four years, as well as the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the United States. And then there is Red Bull Brasil of Campanis, a team that competes in the lower divisions of Brazilian professional football, as well as the African club Red Bull Ghana of Sogakope in the Ghanaian first division.

Under its new moniker of RASEN BALLSPORT LEIPZIG, the former SSV Makranstaedt club romped to promotion by claiming the NOFV-Oberliga Sued title for the 2009/10 season. In March of 2010, the Austrian energy drink manufacturer entered into a stadium-naming rights agreement with Koelmel for the old Zentralstadion. The very next campaign saw the renamed Red Bull Arena host revamped RB Leipzig, whose rent will be in adjusted according to the level of football the club are playing, in the Regionalliga Nord for the very first time.

On the very last day of May in 2012, a sold-out crowd of 43,231 spectators turned out at the Red Bull Arena to watch the national team of Germany contest an international friendly with its counterpart from Israel.

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