English football was shocked earlier this week when it was announced that Shahid Khan, the owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars franchise the Championship’s promotion hopefuls and Chelsea’s friendly neighbors Fulham Football Club, launched a bid to acquire Wembley Stadium from current owners, The Football Association (The FA). Initial reports had the offer at £500 million but more recent reports have almost doubled it, with the latest figures putting the overall figure at nearly £1 billion.
Khan’s plans for the stadium are grand, to put it mildly.
“I want it to become the greatest stadium on the planet. I want it to be a must on any bucket list. I want it to be open to different sports and I want fans to go there to enjoy the sport but also to enjoy the venue. I have been to Wembley many times and it is an iconic and special place.”
“Even when the Jags were terrible, we were winning in London and when I asked the players for a reason they told me it was the vibe and the energy inside the venue. It gave me an even greater appreciation of what a positive home stadium it could be.”
The FA would leave the negotiation rounds with a pretty good deal as well. Initial terms would allow England to still play there, though the matches would likely be moved around as they used to be before the New Wembley was built. The FA would also be allowed to keep revenues from the Club Wembley hospitality scheme while also receiving a massive windfall of cash to reinvest in grassroots football — a promise that’s always made in such situations, but not always kept.
It’s a deal almost too good to be true for The FA, who didn’t actually own England’s national stadium (the old version, with the towers) before the 21st century. So the initial knee-jerk reaction to the takeover bid was largely misplaced due to most not recalling this fact.
But what really matters for us is how the potential purchase would affect Chelsea’s chances of using the stadium as a temporary ground during Stamford Bridge’s redevelopment, set to begin in 2019, with the team moving out in 2020 and returning no earlier than 2024. Khan, as a businessman, would certainly welcome the opportunity to make more money in his new stadium.
In a way, this is almost beneficial to Chelsea — not having to deal with The FA or the full England match calendar — but it’s also unclear what priority, if any, Chelsea might be given should the NFL’s presence in London continue to expand (presumably that’s what Khan’s betting on first and foremost) and what other events the stadium would be used for (and thus how bad the pitch would get), and so son. The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement is good through 2020, and any significant change to the league’s overseas presence would require renegotiations, which would not happen before then. The NFL had targeted 2021 as the date for a potential London franchise before (either new or a relocated one), but that so far remains nothing but a vague notion.
(Incidentally, that Khan is looking to buy the stadium has set off serious fears among the Jaguars fanbase regarding a potential move from Jacksonville, FL to London.)
“Chelsea are talking about maybe building a stadium and we will welcome them because we will be looking for more creative ways to multi use.”
“We will absolutely be looking into things like that. We want to support English football and we want to support Wembley.”
“Wembley will remain as the cradle of English football, only supplemented by the NFL and other events.”
-Shahid Khan; Source: Daily Mail
Chelsea don’t have too many other viable options at the moment than Wembley, though, ideal as it may not be. Twickenham is a non-starter thanks to its political quagmire, while others are either too small (Craven Cottage?), too far (London Stadium), or just too weird to even consider (White Hart Lane; Loftus Road; stadium:mk; etc).
“We haven’t really thought that through. We are committed to rugby here — big and small — as well as the NFL, and at the moment, we don’t have any plans for football at all.
“Just to be really clear — we have an arrangement and an agreement with the local authority that we will stick to the sports that I have mentioned. Football isn’t on our radar for this stadium.”
-Steve Brown, Rugby Football Union CEO; Source: Independent
Khan’s purchase, if all goes well, will go through in the summer, before the start of next season. Where we go from there, we’ll just have to wait and see. Chelsea have several other things to still worry about with the new stadium itself, including, most importantly, the financing agreements with third party investors (unless Abramovich has gone off the deep end and is willing to finance it all himself), plus plans for the rail works, and a few other minor issues.