On Wednesday it was announced that Shahid Khan had withdrawn his bid to purchase Wembley Stadium from The FA. Sammy James gives his thoughts on why he thinks this is a bad move as both a Fulham and a general football fan.
So Khan’s Wembley deal is off for now, whilst this was greeted by many around the country with joy, I’m concerned at what the implications could be on many levels.
Shahid’s bid for the National Stadium was widely reported to be around £600 million. There was criticism though that this wasn’t nearly enough to purchase the stadium considering the FA’s £798m outlay back in 2007, and the fact that property prices in the capital have boomed since its opening.
However, many did not factor that Shahid’s offer not include the lucrative Club Wembley hospitality business which was valued by the FA at between £250 and £300 million.
Hospitality is the key driver behind new stadia these days. The reason ‘that lot down the road’ were considering spending £1 billion on a new ground that only housed an extra 18,000 fans was not to get more ‘regular’ fans in the stadium, but because it allows them to take a slice of the enormous hospitality industry that continues to grow, especially in London.
Therefore, £600m for the least profitable part of the stadium is good value. You could argue that the value of the land is higher than that, but that’s only if you were able to knock it down and build flats, which of course, could never happen.
Selling Wembley would also mean the FA no longer have the financial and logistical burden of running the UK’s largest stadium. It could simply concentrate on its raison d’être; promoting and coordinating all levels of football in this country. All with the guarantee that the national team and all existing football commitments at the national stadium were protected forever.
However, it seems like the “WE CAN’T SELL THE CROWN JEWELS” brigade have won for now. Somehow believing that if our treasured Wembley is in the safe ownership of the FA that they will sleep better at night, ignoring all potential benefits that could come with a straight £600 million going direct to grassroots football.
I have seen plenty of comments online about how the FA should significantly increase the levy on Premier League income that goes towards investing in football facilities across the country. Their argument is that even 5% would mean a constant stream of money fed directly into where funding is directly needed. It’s a nice idea, in principle, but how likely is it that 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs will agree to forfeit 5% of their income, when they already spend millions on their own academies? Fairly low I would guess.
As far as I see, there would be no disadvantage to the regular fan of Wembley being privately owned. Yes, some England games may be affected, but this would mean the team would travel around the country, something has always been positively welcomed by the public, players and media. From what we are seeing at Craven Cottage, there is a chance that ticket prices could increase, but with many tickets already pretty high (£60+ for a play-off final ticket), it’s not like they’re a steal right now anyway. Shahid already owns two stadia, so it’s not like he is a complete novice in this department.
From a Fulham perspective I also find the news a bit worrying. Clearly Shahid had a masterplan at work here, and Wembley was a key part of that. He had a vision of owning Fulham, redeveloping our Riverside stand and owning Wembley. It was the perfect dual-ownership arrangement, and there was even discussion that the residences in the new Riverside would potentially be used to accommodate Jaguars staff when in London.
Whilst I don’t think Shahid would pack everything in at the first knock-back, is there potential of this being an ‘all or nothing’ situation? I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility that Shahid might be debating whether it’s worth investing in the Riverside project at all if he can’t also have Wembley too.
The re-built Riverside stand is key to Fulham’s future sustainability as a Premier League side. It solidifies our position at Craven Cottage for the long-term, something that FFC fans unanimously see as completely crucial. Khan confirmed in a letter to the FA Council that the club were due to commence building in May, but with the sudden change in situation, it would be reassuring to see a consolidation of these intentions.
Khan also stated that he hopes to re-commence the conversation of buying Wembley in the future when the FA Council are more “unified”. I for one, hope that is sooner rather than later.