West Ham's Move Into London's Olympic Stadium Secures Venue's Future Status
EPL West Ham United will move into London's Olympic Stadium beginning in '16 after a deal on Friday that makes the venue "a lasting part of London's sporting scene but drew criticism over the cost to taxpayers," according to Keith Weir of REUTERS. The agreement should "settle a long-running saga" over the future of the stadium, built with £430M ($654M) of public money. However, "any triumphalism was tempered by criticism" after local and national government pledged an additional £65M ($98M) to help transform the venue into a 54,000-seat stadium. West Ham signed a 99-year agreement that will make them the main tenant of the stadium in east London, "only around three miles from the smaller Boleyn Ground where they have placed for more than a century" (REUTERS, 3/22). In London, Roger Blitz reported conversion costs are about £150M-£200M ($228M-$305M), taking the overall cost of the stadium to £600M ($914M). The club will pay annual rent of £2.5M ($3.8M) and an upfront fee of £15M ($22.8M) "that will go towards the stadium’s conversion." The remaining costs are "drawn from public funds," including a £40M ($60.9M) loan from Newham Council, the local authority, and £38.7M ($58.9M) from the Olympic budget (FINANCIAL TIMES, 3/22).
WIN-WIN: In London, Owen Gibson reported London Mayor Boris Johnson and West Ham Vice Chair Karren Brady hailed it as a "win-win deal." Brady promised fanas it would "look and feel like West Ham's stadium," despite sharing it with athletics, concerts and other sports. Johnson had insisted on a so-called "embarrassment clause" to ensure that taxpayers would share in any upside if West Ham co-Owners David Gold and David Sullivan "sold the club at a profit in the first 10 years of their 99-year lease." Johnson said, "The stadium is a fantastic national asset. The key point I'd like to make is that the taxpayers will be making money now from the stadium. There is a lot of revenue sharing" (GUARDIAN, 3/22).
ORIENT OPPOSITION: Also in London, Ian Winrow reported West Ham could face another legal challenge to their tenancy of the Olympic stadium with League One Leyton Orient Owner Barry Hearn claiming the London Legacy Committee have "ignored their own rules." Hearn "attacked the decision" of London Legacy Development Corp., describing it as a "massive, massive mistake." Hearn "has been opposed" to West Ham moving to the stadium, which "is a stones-throw" from the Matchroom Stadium, home of Orient. Defending the decision, Brady said, "For anyone who thinks we have had a free ride, we most certainly haven't. We want to pay our way and we accept we have to pay our way" (TELEGRAPH, 3/22).
'BIGGEST MISTAKE': The PA reported former Sports Minister Richard Caborn has branded the deal to lease the Olympic Stadium to West Ham as "the biggest mistake of the London Olympics." Caborn said that he "welcomed the fact that the future of the stadium was now settled but insisted there has been unnecessary cost to the public purse." Caborn said, "This is the biggest mistake of the Olympics and lessons should be learned from this. West Ham are basically getting a stadium costing more than £600 million for just £15 million and a small amount in annual rent [£2M]" (PA, 3/22).
THE BIG BOYS: The SPORTS MOLE's Sian Cowper reported West Ham Manager Sam Allardyce has described West Ham's move to the Olympic Stadium as one of the "most positive developments in the history of the club." Allardyce: "West Ham are a traditional, community-based club with a rich history but the opportunities to create a new legacy by moving the few miles along the road to Stratford, are limitless" (SPORTS MOLE, 3/23). GOAL's Stuart Watson reported West Ham captain Kevin Nolan believes West Ham's future move to the Olympic Stadium can put the club "amongst the big boys" in the Premier League. Nolan: "You can see that this is a club that has always had the up-and-downs because they haven't been able to splash the cash. They haven't had the stadium to create the revenue, so I think this is the perfect opportunity to put this club in amongst the big boys" (GOAL, 3/22).
MAKING THE MOVE: In London, Des Kelly opined "Can you believe it?" British taxpayers "have just handed a Premier League football club a stadium worth half a billion pounds which, in these austere times, you might think is charity enough." However, "not content with that almighty handout, the Government is throwing another £25million of public money in their direction to ensure the interior fittings, including new seats and a roof, are to their liking when they move into their gigantic new council house." At the end of the process, West Ham will "receive more than £630m of real estate with huge commercial potential and donate only £15m and £2m a year in rent for the privilege" (DAILY MAIL, 3/22). The BBC's David Bond wrote, "We have known for some time that a hefty wedge of public money would be needed to pay for the costs of retro-fitting an Olympic Stadium that really should have been made for football from the start." To pay for it there is -- as LLDC CEO Dennis Hone put it -- a "cocktail of funding". But "it is really not that complicated." All but £15M ($22.8M) of the money is coming from the taxpayer -- "either in the form of direct grants or loans which has prompted criticism that West Ham have got their new, iconic home on the cheap" (BBC, 3/22). In London, James Lawton noted there "surely could be no surprise" that Brady "was so ecstatic about her club's massive endowment from the taxpayer." Brady, "I'm delighted that we have been confirmed today as the anchor concessionaire for the Olympic Stadium. I commend my two chairmen, David Gold and David Sullivan, for their passion and commitment. I'm delighted this has been rewarded. It was important to me that we struck a deal that would stand the test of time that represented the right deal for West Ham United and their loyal and patient supporters." One possible translation: "boy, did we get a sweetheart deal" (INDEPENDENT, 3/22).