In Depth

Wembley deal: pros and cons of selling the national stadium

The FA is mulling over a £500m deal from US billionaire Shahid Khan that could transform the game

The FA are mulling over an offer from US billionaire Shahid Khan to buy Wembley Stadium for more than £500m.

Khan who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL side, as well as Fulham FC, wants a guaranteed base for American Football in London.

Showpiece events such as the FA Cup final, the English Football League play-off finals and Rugby League’s Challenge Cup final would remain at Wembley, and England would still be able to play most of their games there.

And while Khan would own the stadium, The FA would still get the revenue from ticket sales for football matches and the Club Wembley receipts.

But the proposal has provoked an angry response from some quarters, with 1966 World Cup winner Gordon Banks, former Chelsea owner Ken Bates and the Football Supporters’ Federation leading the protests.

They say that English football’s spiritual home should not be put up for sale. Bates told the Daily Mail that the stadium was a “national treasure”.

However, the deal would allow the FA to pump hundreds of millions of pounds into grassroots football and provide new pitches across the country.

Does it make sense?

“Since it was re-built and re-opened in 2007 Wembley has been an albatross, a drain, a millstone around the FA’s necks and a symbol of how money is mis-spent in English football; a misguided idea from start to finish,” say Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph.

Rebuilding Wembley cost a crippling £757m and 11 years after it opened the FA actually still owes £140m on the project and still makes a loss on the stadium.

Taking the money is the obvious thing to do. “It is a national disgrace that the richest football country in the world – through the FA and the Premier League – does not have adequate facilities to play the game at every level… It is embarrassing that we have so many waterlogged, neglected, vandalised municipal facilities. In 2014 there were 639 high-quality, publicly available artificial pitched in England. In Germany there were 3,735.”

What about the history?

The FA has only owned Wembley for 19 years, and does not make money out of it.

“It is hardly selling off the crown jewels. It is not a betrayal of tradition,” says Burt.

Henry Winter of The Times agrees. “The Brent multi-event venue sponsored by a mobile network operator has long lost its mystique. Seventy-five of the 92 league clubs have played there since it reopened in 2007.

“The FA ruined all the tradition that Wembley had, demolishing the Twin Towers, removing that long, noise-generating walk from the tunnel in the corner and, most sacrilegious of all, getting rid of the iconic 39 steps so now, painfully, the winning team disappear out of sight at one point, breaking that visual connection with the fans.”

What’s in it for Khan?

He can see dollar signs, says Ed Malyon of The Independent. “Owning and operating Wembley purely as an events space would likely be a successful venture in its own right but what Khan truly craves is an NFL franchise in London, something he has made big strides towards by bringing the Jaguars to Britain for one home game a year every year since 2013.”

David Conn of The Guardian agrees. “For Khan, the attraction appears to be expanding the NFL into London and ensuring the Jaguars have pre-eminent rights to be the team who play there.

“While the NFL season is on, from September to January, the FA has accepted that England matches will not be played at Wembley and move around major club grounds instead, a prospect many fans are likely to welcome.

“During those months, traditionalists might avert their gaze from the goings-on within England’s national football stadium. But it is a sign of the times that the FA’s proposal itself is being entertained as a potentially workable idea to husband scarce resources, rather than dismissed with a cry of betrayal.”

Can the FA be trusted with the money?

“The devil of the deal with Khan will be in the fine detail, and actually how much money will be released to grassroots, as the FA is hardly renowned for shrewd handling of fiscal matters,” warns Winter in Times. “Look at the financial mess over Wembley in the first place. You wouldn’t necessarily trust the FA to run a successful tombola at the village fete.”

The FA’s promise that it will use the money to support the game at a local level “is the promise to which the FA must be held and against which it should be judged”, says Conn in the Guardian.


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