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What Can Chelsea Do To Keep Up Financially?

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29:  Andre Villas-Boas poses with his staff on the pitch after being unveiled as the new Chelsea Manager at Stamford Bridge on June 29, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Andre Villas-Boas poses with his staff on the pitch after being unveiled as the new Chelsea Manager at Stamford Bridge on June 29, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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As most of you are aware, Manchester City have just agreed a deal to rename their home ground Etihad Stadium, after the airline*. The deal for the naming rights is reportedly worth in the region of £150M over ten years, which is a very nice chunk of change, and although there's some question about whether there's been any funny business in an attempt to manipulate UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules, my suspicion is that this is now what stadium naming rights are going for.

*Which, hilariously, translates from Arabic to 'united', although that depends on who you ask.

With one of our major rivals for the Premier League securing such a lucrative deal, Chelsea have to ask themselves what they can be doing to increase their revenue streams. Yes, they're expanding in the United States and Asia, and they're doing an exceptional job of squeezing as much money as possible out of sponsorships. But the fact of the matter is that unless they can substantially add to their match-day income, they're going to be at a severe disadvantage compared to teams who don't play home matches in Stamford Bridge. The stadium a) doesn't have a corporate name and b) can only seat 42,449, which means, essentially, that something has to give.

There are three options, as I see them, and feel free to do some mixing and matching.

Option One: Sell Naming Rights

Chelsea are a bigger brand than Manchester City, and Stamford Bridge is a more important ground than the now-former City of Manchester Stadium. With 15M a year coming into City's coffers, one would have to imagine that Chelsea could get at least that much were Chelsea to, say, start playing in Samsung Bridge, as Vital Chelsea have wildly speculated claimed is possible.

The obvious advantage is that the club wouldn't have to move away from Stamford Bridge, which means saving a lot of hassle, expenditure (although I'm reasonably confident that that would not count towards FFP) and time. Of course, the main disadvantage is that Stamford Bridge wouldn't really be there anymore, and one suspects that renaming a 106-year-old ground after a (for example) consumer electronics manufacturer would be more than a little tacky. I like that we possess the only ground in England that was also the name of a major battle between England and Norway.

Option Two: Build A New Ground

Leaving Stamford Bridge would be rough, but it's a viable option. Chelsea cannot expand their seating at their current grounds due to planning rules regarding exit egress*, and that means that if we want a bigger stadium, we have to move elsewhere.

*I may be making that up, but I swear that's the explanation I remember.

There are several issues with this. The most important is that Chelsea might not actually be able to move at all. To Wikipedia!

The [Chelsea Pitch Organisation] also owns the name Chelsea Football Club Ltd, which is licenced back to the club on condition that the first team play their home matches at Stamford Bridge. This means that should Chelsea move to another stadium in the future, they would not be able to use the name Chelsea Football Club without permission from 75% of CPO shareholders.

This actually ties in quite neatly with problem number two, which is that there aren't a lot of appropriate areas for a stadium to go in central London - the vast majority of usable land is much further out. If Chelsea suddenly ditched SW6 for greener pastures, one can't imagine that the CPO shareholders would be that happy about it. Earl's Court Exhibition Centre, which is within easy walking distance of the Bridge, has been mooted as a possibility, but there are plenty of issues with that site as well than Chelsea have come nowhere near resolving (although there was some interest from the club earlier this year).

On the plus side, renaming a new stadium after a corporate sponsor would be much more amenable than renaming Stamford Bridge. I'd have no problem with the Blues paying in Samsung Arena if it was a brand new structure. If you're going to be playing in a soulless modern stadium, you might as well go whole hog, right?

Option Three: Accept Lower Income

I can't imagine anyone really wants this, but it's technically an option so I'm listing it. Chelsea could simply operate under a continued competitive disadvantage and, presumably, see their place in the pecking order slip as a result. This may have some appeal to those who really don't want to move and really don't want to see Stamford Bridge renamed, but my suspicion is that it would suck for most of us who rather like Chelsea being a top-tier team both domestically and in Europe. I'll pass on this one.

Right now, I think I favour a move to a new site and with a corporate name to massively increase our matchday revenue and sponsorship income. But that's a pipe dream, really, because the is no place to build a stadium nor is there any guarantee there will be in the future. I'm worried that to keep up, Chelsea are eventually going to have to auction off the naming rights to Stamford Bridge, and I guarantee you nobody will like the results one bit.

I'm interested to see what everyone's thoughts are, though.

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