Pouring hundreds of millions, or sometimes even billions, of taxpayer dollars into elite sporting stadiums can be a deeply contentious proposition.

From Brisbane’s decision to dramatically scale back construction plans for the 2032 Olympics, to the unrest over Hobart’s planned new AFL stadium, and Victoria’s decision to walk away from the 2026 Commonwealth Games, governments across the country have baulked at the idea of putting often eye-watering sums into sports infrastructure.

And for clubs or leagues looking to fund their own venues, the cost of building a traditional stadium can prove prohibitive.

That is leading to a growing number of cities and sporting clubs throughout the world exploring a potentially vastly cheaper alternative — so-called ‘modular stadiums’.

Built in sections, modular stadiums use steel and other prefabricated elements that are quicker to assemble and can cost less than concrete grandstands.

“The minute anybody talks about stadiums — you think crazy money,” said Adam Torpey.

Construction of a modular stadium at the home ground of Canadian soccer club Vancouver FC.(Supplied: SixFive)

Torpey is the vice-president of business development at Canadian investment company SixFive Sports and Entertainment, one of the companies making the case for modular stadiums.

“(With modular stadiums) you’re not spending 400, 500, 600 million dollars on conventional concrete stadiums. You’re drastically reducing the cost,” he said.

Among the clubs hoping the modular construction technique can provide a more affordable but suitable home is young A-League club Western United.

“We’re not trying to build a 50,000-seat stadium,” Western United chairman Jason Sourasis said.

“We might start with a 10,000 capacity and grow to 15, that grows to a 20, that grows to a 30, but we’ll grow as the demands grows.”

Adam Torpey said modular design had the potential to “drastically” reduce cost.(Supplied)

Western United has established a base at Tarneit, which is 25 kilometres west of Melbourne’s CBD, and currently has a small, 5,000-capacity stadium where it is playing both men’s and women’s A-League matches.

The club plans to put a new stadium behind the current ground by the 2026/27 season and is examining modular options.

The initial budget is around $140 million and United — which will make a decision on the successful builder within weeks — regards prefabricated or modular options as a realistic way to minimise building costs.

“There’s different forms of that,” Sourasis said.

“There’s stuff using engineered timber, there’s concrete precasting.”

Western United’s ground at Tarneit only has a capacity of 5,000.(Getty Images)

‘Meccano Stadium’ criticism

While one of the main benefits of a modular stadium design is the cost — SixFive estimates it can build a 20,000-seat, fully-enclosed rectangular stadium for approximately $85 million dollars – the method is not without its critics.

AFC Wimbledon, a club in English football’s League Two, used a modular design for three stands at the new ground it opened in 2020.

But the unconventional design is mocked by rival fans as the “Meccano Stadium” for an alleged resemblance to products made with toy construction kits.

Nevertheless, the idea of building a modular stadium has attracted the attention of multiple A-League clubs.

Torpey said SixFive had held talks with five A-League clubs.

The topic is a hot one in Brisbane, where the Roar Supporter Federation has been agitating to have a boutique stadium built since the group was set up in 2017.

“In the last 20 years, the average attendance at a Roar game is about 11,000 and in [Lang Park],” federation vice president John Lang said.

“It’s 52,000 seats, it’s just too big and the fan experience is nowhere near as good.”

Modular stadiums use steel and other prefabricated elements.(Supplied: SixFive)

While Roar chief executive Kaz Patafta said the club had more pressing priorities — including establishing a strong presence in the city centre — Lang is pushing for an upgrade of Perry Park, the current home of NPL club the Brisbane Strikers.

“We won’t grow unless we end up with a better product and the product at the moment is not good,” he said.

Many home grounds of A-League clubs are also now being increasingly used for other events such as rock concerts, which do significant damage to playing surfaces.

That can impact the quality of matches and become a further disincentive for fans to turn up.

Modular stadiums can range in size from 500 to 40,000 seats, SixFive said.(Supplied: SixFive)

The A-League’s governing body, the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), said the new-look stadiums were on its agenda, and had met with international parties looking at investing.

“New technologies, particularly modular stadia are a really interesting proposition and help to lower the cost barrier,” an APL spokesperson said.

“We’ve met with SixFive to understand the technology, its benefits and suitability in the Australian market.

“This is something we will continue to explore with our clubs, stakeholders and government in the coming year.”