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Volume 7 No. 146


Gary Neville

Former ManU player Gary Neville said to a panel of MPs that selling Wembley is a "short-term plan we’ll regret forever," according to the LONDON TIMES. Neville described the proposed dividend for grassroots football as "nonsense and absolutely ridiculous." Neville: "They are talking about an extra £70 million ($91.4M) a year for 20 years -- that's a pittance in football, it’s a pittance in government, it’s the price of a fullback." The FA claimed that the deal would enable it to invest an extra £70M a year -- and a total of more than £2B ($2.6B) over the next 20 years -- in artificial pitches, grass pitches, coaching and other initiatives. Neville told the panel that he agreed with the FA "that something must be done to improve facilities at the bottom of the pyramid" but said that selling the national stadium "was not the way to do it." He called on the government to "intervene and reset" the '92 deal in which the top clubs broke away from the English Football League to set up the Premier League. Sitting alongside Neville during the first half of the committee’s hearing on the proposed Wembley sale was Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust co-Chair Katrina Law, "one of two fans’ representatives on the FA council." Law explained that polling conducted by the Football Supporters’ Federation revealed that fans "were divided on the sale," with one third "strongly opposed," one third in favor and one third "wanting to know more details about the grassroots investment and what guarantees the FA will gain" from EPL side Fulham Owner Shahid Khan. Law added that she was "not personally against the idea of selling Wembley but was concerned Khan was getting the stadium on the cheap" (LONDON TIMES, 7/18). In London, Joseph Curtis reported Neville said that the FA "could put a levy on agents' fees that could generate similar amounts of cash" or the Premier League could "reduce its prize money" to fund grassroots projects. He added, "The current prize money for the Premier League is £2.5 billion ($3.27B). Let's make it £2.25 billion ($2.94B) and give that £250 million ($327M) to grassroots football. That's an extra £250 million a year" (DAILY MAIL, 7/18).

ON ONE CONDITION: In London, David Conn reported the FA's proposed sale of Wembley Stadium "has become more likely to gain the necessary approvals of public bodies" after Sport England "expressed conditional support." In written evidence submitted to the U.K. Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee before Wednesday's hearing, Sport England said that it "sees benefits in the FA’s plan" to invest the projected £600M ($784M) in proceeds in grassroots facilities "as long as Wembley’s sporting status is protected." The FA confirmed in April that it was in discussions to sell Wembley for £600M to Khan, who could use the stadium as a European base for his Jacksonville Jaguars during the NFL season. Sport England’s consent "is legally required" because the organization contributed £120M of national lottery funds toward the £757M total cost of rebuilding Wembley 20 years ago. Sport England suggested that if "the necessary safeguards are in place it will give consent and provide grants to boost the FA’s investment." It said, "Provided appropriate protections can be agreed it appears that there is an opportunity to co-invest new funds strategically, for the benefit of football, and the wider community, at the grassroots or community level" (GUARDIAN, 7/18). In London, Sam Wallace reported the FA told MPs on Wednesday that Khan "is better equipped to make a commercial success of Wembley than the governing body." In its written evidence, the FA said that by selling the stadium and retaining Club Wembley, "the corporate hospitality element that is crucial to its current Wembley business plan," it would be able to "divest itself of the loss-making part of the business and future maintenance costs." It admitted that "others with greater expertise at running the stadium could potentially turn a profit." The FA said, "While the part of the stadium business the FA might sell would operate at a cash loss for the FA, a potential purchaser with access to content which the FA does not have (eg, NFL and other fixtures or events) could have the ability to make a new cash positive business plan for the stadium that is potentially not feasible for the FA" (TELEGRAPH, 7/18).

ON SHAKY GROUND: The BBC's Mandeep Sanghera reported the FA said that only "one in three pitches at grassroots level is of adequate quality." The figure was part of the FA's written evidence on Wednesday about the possible sale of Wembley Stadium. There are 21,000 grassroots clubs, 50 county FAs, 25,000 schools and 330 local authorities which are "catered for by the FA." The organization pointed out that 150,000 matches were called off last season due to poor facilities, one in six matches "are called off due to poor pitch quality" and 33 of 50 county FAs "are without their own 3G pitch" (BBC, 7/18).

Businessman Juan Roig's latest commitment to Spanish Basketball League (ACB) club Valencia is a project to build a 15,000-seat arena, according to Víctor Romero of EL CONFIDENCIAL. The club currently plays at Fonteta de San Luis, a municipal facility that seats 8,500, "which is no longer enough for a club that has nearly 8,000 season-ticket holders." Valencia's "on-court success, the deterioration of the court and the desire to attract top int'l basketball events" have inspired the club's principal financier to "accelerate the process." Roig's plan is to build the new arena next to the recently-built academy, L'Alqueria, in which he invested more than €18M ($21M). The goal is for the new arena to be ready by '22. To carry out the construction, Roig created a business organization called Licampa 1617, which will own the facility (EL CONFIDENCIAL, 7/18). MARCA reported Roig is personally investing €192M ($224M) in the arena, which would host sports, musical and cultural events (MARCA, 7/18).

Premier League side West Ham United will "carry out an urgent upgrade" on its Rush Green training center. New Manager Manuel Pellegrini was "less than impressed with the facilities" and work will "start imminently" as West Ham has planning permission to work on the 29-acre site. Pellegrini will "doubtless demand more privacy than afforded to his predecessor David Moyes, who was astonished to share a changing room with 14 coaches and backroom staff" (London DAILY MAIL, 7/17).

League One side Bristol Rovers will introduce a new big screen at Memorial Stadium for the '18-19 season. The club announced the screen will arrive for the start of the new campaign "thanks to a sponsorship deal" with Bristol-based insurance broker Brunel Group. The company agreed to sponsor the South Stand at the stadium for the next three seasons but it is "also helping to transform the matchday experience for supporters" (BRISTOL POST, 7/18).

Rugby Football League Championship side Sheffield Eagles said that spiraling costs at its new home are "strangling the club and its future existence," yet pleas for a council loan "have fallen on deaf ears." The "club returned to the city, where it now plays home games on a new artificial pitch at the Olympic Legacy Park," in March. But its "long-awaited homecoming has been soured by soaring costs," including £10,000 ($13,100) "needed to fence off the ground, and other expenses like temporary seating, toilets and security" (THE STAR, 7/17).

Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges committed HK$1.5B ($191.1M) to redevelop the training facilities at Sha Tin. The Jockey Club has spent most of the past decade focusing on the development of the Conghua Training Centre, but with that officially opening on Aug. 28, "it can now turn its attention to improvements at home" (SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 7/18).