While there’s been plenty of progress made on Chelsea’s new stadium this calendar year, including the long-awaited approvals by the local council as well as the London Mayor’s office, and even a win in High Court over a potential roadblock, fundamental questions remain unanswered — and that’s before we can even begin talking about a start date for construction let alone an expected move-in date.
Two of these questions involve finances, namely who or how the stadium will be financed and what will it be called.
The latter has a simple, if semi-undesirable answer: sell to the highest bidder. Even way back in 2011, then-CEO Ron Gourlay warned that we should be making our peace with a naming rights package coming for Stamford Bridge, and he meant for the current structure, not any new build. It’s been assumed since the start of these current knock-down-and-rebuild plans that the name will be sold, and those assumptions from a couple years ago have now been corroborated once again, this time by Matt Hughes in the Times. On the plus side, Chelsea are supposedly looking to do that classic “[Your name here] Stadium at Stamford Bridge” formulation, which will probably knock a few million off the selling price but will make it easy for everyone to continue calling it Stamford Bridge. (In a way it even makes sense since the name of the stadium is likely derived from the actual bridge named Stamford Bridge that stood over the creek that is now covered by the railroad tracks running behind the East Stand.)
Related to this likely income is the actual financing of the stadium, long-assumed to covered by the owner himself. But as the Times’ report surmises, Abramovich would be fairly foolish to simply front the money for the project. Debt is cheap and external financing is the smart way to conduct this bit of business (though unlike in the USA, it’s not going to be funded by the taxpayers) — this is the reason why the CPO have agreed to extend the offer of a 999-year lease to Chelsea on the freehold, to allow Abramovich to work from a solid base as he solicits the outside moneys. So while the Times’ report paints a slightly scaremonger-y picture, it also makes it quite clear that no perceived “reluctance to pay for the stadium should be taken as an indication of Abramovich’s interest in Chelsea waning” — but of course when someone tells you to not think of a pink elephant, the first you inescapably think of is a pink elephant. Abramovich is simply doing business and just like he’s taken great care to make the club itself debt free (by converting debt to equity that’s owned by Fordham), he’s unlikely to saddle the club with unpayable debts similar to what led to him taking over in the first place from Ken Bates, or affect the club’s transfer business and intentions to remain part of Europe’s elite (money spent on the stadium is outside of what counts for UEFA’s Financial Fair Play, or FFP, regulations).
That’s a long-winded way of saying that Chelsea are actively exploring options to finance the new stadium, which should be seen as a positive step towards the actual start of the re-buid itself.