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Volume 7 No. 109

Facilities

Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan is looking to acquire the home of the England national team.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

NFL Jacksonville Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan "could be the new owner of Wembley Stadium within eight weeks," according to Alyson Rudd of the LONDON TIMES. The billionaire, who also owns League Championship side Fulham, tabled a £600M ($835M) cash offer for the stadium, and said that he reached the "logical conclusion" a month ago that the FA should apply itself to its "core mission" of running the game "while he expands and improves the national stadium." Khan: "It [the idea of buying Wembley] popped into my head a while ago. The Jaguars have played there five times now and won the last three so we’ve been looking for when there will be a time when this would make sense. It’s been a process. We’ve had a relationship and as we’ve seen what our needs are and what their [the FA’s] needs are -- this was a logical conclusion a month or so ago." He said that the key principle is "synergy." Buying the stadium "will give him the flexibility to stage more NFL games in London and expand the fan base." The deal "scuppers the notion that the Jaguars will play at the new White Hart Lane" but the agreement between the NFL and Tottenham to host games "should otherwise remain unaffected." Khan said that it "will be a while" before he makes a profit from his new investment "as he plans major refurbishment." He said, "Wembley's new but it’s not that new. There will be some major investments required, it’s coming up to that time to upgrade a lot of the amenities, the scoreboard. If you look at what we did in Jacksonville, those boards were around $60 million. We redid the club lounges for around $20 million. We have to keep it fresh, to keep it a venue that people will keep coming to" (LONDON TIMES, 4/26).

BIG DECISION: In London, Rudd & Ziegler reported the details of the offer, which FA sources said would help revolutionize the provision of grassroots facilities in England, "were presented to the FA board" at a meeting on Thursday. The deal would mean England playing autumn internationals between September and December at other stadiums, "but at least initially the Wembley match calendar would remain as it is now between January and June." The deal would put Khan "in prime position to secure the first overseas franchise for the NFL in London." An FA spokesperson said, "We can confirm that the FA has received an offer to buy Wembley Stadium." The FA would retain the income from the "lucrative" Club Wembley seats, between £30M ($42M) and £40M ($56M) a year. The organization has about £140M ($195M) of debt to be repaid on the stadium (LONDON TIMES, 4/26). In London, Sam Wallace reported the FA board, under Chair Greg Clarke and CEO Martin Glenn, "is understood to be" broadly in favor of the move and will "try to convince fans, the FA Council, and clubs that this is a chance to invest all the money in grassroots football." The negotiations "are at early stages but it is believed that the FA will be able to stage England games and FA Cup finals under a lease fee payable to Khan." The "value of the Club Wembley business in perpetuity has been estimated, for the purposes of the deal," at around £350M ($487M). It currently makes up around 15% of the FA’s annual revenue of around £370M ($515M) (TELEGRAPH, 4/26).

KHAN SPEAKS OUT: In London, Martha Kelner reported Khan stressed that Wembley would remain "home to the England national teams" and that Fulham would "stay at Craven Cottage" in a message to the club's fans. He said, "The Football Association would be able to focus on its core mission of developing players with the best player developers and facilities anywhere in the game, thanks in part to the vast financial benefit that would result from the transaction. I trust many, if not most of you, are also supporters of the England national teams, so I hope you welcome the potential of this becoming a reality. ... To be clear, this venture is 100% independent of my investment in and operation of Fulham Football Club, Motspur Park and Craven Cottage" (GUARDIAN, 4/26). In London, Camilla Hodgson reported NFL Exec VP/Int'l Mark Waller "welcomed the news," which he said would "help us grow the sport" in the U.K. He said, "Having stadium options in London has always been critical to the NFL and, in tandem with our 10-year partnership with Tottenham Hotspur, this new relationship would allow for even greater flexibility in scheduling future NFL games in London" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 4/26).

WORK IN PROGRESS: In London, James Olley reported Khan’s proposed purchase of Wembley Stadium will ensure an increased NFL presence in London, "but the prospect of him moving his Jacksonville Jaguars franchise to the capital is not a formality." The view within the NFL is that while the fanbase is growing in the U.K., "it is still not at a level which could support a full-time franchise." Khan has "put the Jaguars in pole position should that change and is in the driving seat to facilitate that growth," given the NFL has "long bemoaned the absence of major stadium options on this side of the Atlantic." Existing NFL agreements "also make an immediate switch highly unlikely." The collective bargaining deal with the players’ union expires in '20, with the league’s broadcast commitments running until '21. Sources close to Khan "believe that while the Jaguars have developed the franchise significantly by playing in London, the case is not yet conclusive to relocate for an entire 16-game season," eight of which would potentially take place at Wembley (EVENING STANDARD, 4/26). In London, Daniel Orne reported former England Manager Roy Hodgson called Khan's bid for Wembley Stadium "a positive for the game," but described "how crucial it would be to keep national games at the stadium in the future." He said that if the bid "is handled in the best possible way, that it could well benefit the game as a whole." Hodgson: "I think that if the FA have made a deal, it will be for the right reasons. And that money would be spent in the right way to help our football in England. ... I enjoyed Wembley like managers before me and I would be disappointed if that was the end of England at Wembley, but I don’t think that will be the case. If a couple of games are taken around the country, I don’t see that as a negative" (INDEPENDENT, 4/26).

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: In London, Tim Sculthorpe reported U.K. PM Theresa May warned the FA to "think of England fans before committing to selling off Wembley Stadium." Downing Street "insisted the process was at an early stage and ultimately a matter for the FA to resolve." But May's official spokesperson "urged caution." The spokesperson said, "This is a decision for the Football Association. But Wembley is the historic home of English football and holds a very special place in the hearts of fans up and down the country. I'm sure the FA will want to strongly consider the views of these supporters before deciding what to do next" (DAILY MAIL, 4/26).

Shahid Khan's offer for Wembley Stadium raises a number of questions for the FA.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

On "the face of it," NFL Jacksonville Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan's offer for Wembley Stadium "is too good to refuse for the FA," according to Ed Malyon of the London INDEPENDENT. Wembley has long been a "millstone" for the FA, "its lingering debt one of the reasons" for hosting every England int'l and FA Cup semifinal there when fans -- "and indeed people inside the FA" -- favored taking those games "on the road." The "big risk" that the FA is running is that, should it decide to take Khan's offer, it would "no longer have any choice in the matter." While an "amicable arrangement is expected to be reached between Khan and the FA over use of the stadium, it would be the American and his company with the final say on scheduling." England "would be going on the road as turfed-out vagrants rather than touring artists." Offsetting that should not be difficult if the FA promises to "invest in grassroots football." That means "significant investment, rather than the token gestures that so many are used to by now." But the "most remarkable thing at play here really has nothing to do with the FA," for which "selling the ground makes a lot of financial sense." This is "really a story" about Khan, a "billionaire on a mission and one taking an enormous risk" (INDEPENDENT, 4/26).

AT WHAT COST?: In London, Matt Dickinson reported the "chance to be cash-rich must be enticing." Think of "all the grand projects, new initiatives promising to save the game’s grassroots and all without having the trouble of having to hit that target" of paying off £142M ($198M) in stadium debt by '24. Working out what could be lost "is much harder because that requires some clairvoyancy," though fans will immediately ask, at a stadium where prices can "already be eye-watering," what control there will be, if any, on tickets for FA Cup finals and England matches in the future? Traditionalists "will fret if the national stadium, with Bobby Moore standing sentinel outside, will soon be known as Taco Bell House." Such a big decision "also requires the FA to be absolutely sure that this is the best deal it can get even if, for now, it is the only one on the table." There "does not seem to be any need to rush into such a major decision, financial and symbolic" (LONDON TIMES, 4/26). ITV's Steve Scott wrote selling the home of English football to an American businessman does not "read well as a headline." If your instinct "is to be appalled," a "careful consideration of the facts might just change your mind." It is true the redeveloped stadium "is no longer a tombstone around the FA’s neck," but it still has a debt which "has to be serviced." In a statement on Thursday, Khan said that the Wembley brand would be "protected and enhanced" under his stewardship. He "went on to guarantee" that important England internationals and "even major football championships will still be played there." With that protection, "it seems this project becomes a win/win for the FA." If, as suggested, receipts from its "more prestigious seats and corporate hospitality" (Club Wembley) are also protected, the FA would "still get a sizeable income from the stadium." The sale would also give the FA "a windfall to invest in its core responsibilities which are grassroots football and nurturing the next generation of superstars" (ITV, 4/26).

MORE OF THE SAME: In London, the GUARDIAN'S David Conn wrote, the FA's proposed sale of Wembley stadium to the U.S. car parts billionaire "was not greeted by a widespread shriek of patriotic indignation, perhaps illustrating how accustomed British people are now to crown jewels being sold overseas" (GUARDIAN, 4/27). Also in London, the DAILY MAIL's Martin Samuelson lamented that Wembley "is the holy grail, still. It is the reason it is so often the venue of choice for UEFA finals, the reason foreign visitors raise their game there in friendly matches, the reason so many football people fought so hard to retain the site when it had fallen into disrepair. It is English football's heart, and soul. So, no matter the deal, no matter its worth, if the national team is evicted from its home, it is a bad one" (DAILY MAIL, 4/27).

FANS LASH OUT: The London DAILY MAIL reported football fans "are furious after plans to sell Wembley Stadium" surfaced on Thursday. Critics "questioned how much the new owner might charge England to play at the ground," while others spoke of their fears the stadium "could end up" being named after U.S. brands like Budweiser or Taco Bell. Plans for the sale "have also sparked a scramble" to reclaim the £40M ($56M) in taxpayers' money pumped into the development of the stadium and the £120M ($167M) National Lottery funding (DAILY MAIL, 4/26).

Gold Coast Titans' contract to rent Cbus Super Stadium expires after Friday's match against Cronulla.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

National Rugby League side Gold Coast Titans is "chasing" a A$40,000 ($30,200) stadium discount "in the hope of avoiding homelessness beyond Friday," according to Travis Meyn of the Brisbane COURIER-MAIL. The Gold Coast's "controversial" contract to rent Cbus Super Stadium expires after Friday's NRL clash against Cronulla. The Queensland government announced a review into its stadium operations on Sunday, but that is "not expected to be completed until late in the year." The Titans currently "fork out about" A$1.3M ($981,800) a year -- at around A$110,000 ($83,100) per game -- to rent the 27,500-seat stadium at Robina. The deal is worth nearly A$500,000 ($377,600) per year more than Newcastle Knights' arrangement to hire McDonald Jones Stadium. The Titans "privately believe Newcastle is a similar comparison and are hopeful of securing a long-term arrangement that will reduce their hiring costs" by about A$40,000 a game. Titans co-Owner Rebecca Frizelle said that the club needs "certainty." Frizelle: "We are working with the Queensland government to resolve the stadium issues. We are confident we will reach a resolution" (COURIER-MAIL, 4/26).

SQ PROBE: On the Gold Coast, Kirstin Payne reported a taxpayer-funded taskforce formed to probe government-appointed Stadiums Queensland "called in an outside consultancy firm to help." In a "duplication of tasks," the taskforce set to review the leasing arrangements and opportunities of Stadiums Queensland will now include exec-level state department bureaucrats and a private firm, the Boston Consulting Group. Terms of reference for the review "encompass responsibilities already tasked to the SQ board," which was paid a collective annual wage of A$1.3M in the last financial year. The review into the board's dealings follows accusations the stadium fees it is charging are "crippling the state's biggest sporting clubs," including the Titans and Australian Football League side Gold Coast Suns (GOLD COAST BULLETIN, 4/26).

The NBA Center in Wuqing District near Beijing.
Photo: nba

NBA China and Hongkun Group announced the opening of the first NBA Center, an NBA-themed lifestyle complex in Wuqing, Tianjin. Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins will participate in the opening ceremony alongside NBA China CEO David Shoemaker, NBA China CFO Wayne Chang and Hongkun Group President Yuan Chun on Monday. Covering approximately 12,000 square meters, the multi-level facility is a first-of-its-kind destination allowing fans to experience the NBA through activities and offerings, including regulation-sized basketball courts for recreational use, a basketball-themed children's entertainment center with interactive games and an NBA retail store. As part of the opening week, NBA Center will host the inaugural Jr. NBA World Championship China Regional Finals, a five-day competition to determine the 10 best girls and boys to represent China in the first Jr. NBA World Championship later this year in the U.S. (NBA). 

Surrey County Cricket Club submitted a planning application for the first stage of the £50M ($69.6M) redevelopment of The Oval. The proposals would increase the capacity of the ground by 2,500 to 28,000 by April '21 and come as the county announced record profits of £3.6M ($5M). Part one of the redevelopment will cost £26M ($36.2M) and result in the Peter May Stand extended to join the Micky Stewart Members’ Pavilion, which will also have an extra wing added (London EVENING STANDARD, 4/26).

Netball NSW CEO Carolyn Campbell said that revamping the NSW tennis centre into a 10,000-seat stadium for netball is "more urgent than ever with news there is no guaranteed venue" for Super Netball clubs Swifts or Giants "if they win the right to host the preliminary final or Grand Final of Super Netball this season." Campbell on Thursday confirmed while the 3,200-seat Quay Centre is available for the weekend of the semifinal, "there are no guaranteed venues in Sydney for the following finals matches" (Sydney DAILY TELEGRAPH, 4/26).

The campaign for safe standing areas at Premier League and League Championship grounds is "likely to be debated in parliament after an online petition gathered more than 100,000 supporters." Petitions that gain more than 100,000 backers are considered "suitable for full parliamentary debates." Jon Darch, who is leading the safe standing campaign, said, “A fortnight ago the petition had under 5,000 signatures, so to add 95,000 in just 14 days demonstrates that fans who support safe standing are not, as the sports minister claimed, just a ‘vocal minority’” (LONDON TIMES, 4/26).

Sports leaders are "clinging to the hope" that Christchurch, New Zealand, will have a separate stadium and metro sports facility ahead of Friday's "long-awaited announcement over the centre's future." After countless delays, Mayor Lianne Dalziel and Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods will "finally reveal how the sporting landscape in the city will be shaped for generations to come." The decision will "shed some light on what lies ahead for the multi-use stadium" (STUFF, 4/26).

Ten years after construction started on the League of Ireland side's new Finn Harps stadium in Stranorlar, Ireland, there "could finally be some good news" for the club. Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport Brendan Griffin approved the granting of further funding to develop the stadium. Griffin said that it was "a shame" that given the money already spent on the stadium, it remains unfinished (DONEGAL DEMOCRAT, 4/25).