The news this week that Chelsea are in talks to move to the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Earl’s Court exhibition centre must be seen as a step in the right direction for the economic future of the club. Earl’s Court is set to be demolished after hosting the Olympic Volleyball tournament in 2012, and Chelsea have reportedly expressed an interest in the site. They will have a fight on their hands to secure the land, however, as there has already been interest in turning the site into a residential estate with over 8,000 homes being built there. But in order to keep up with the footballing giants of this world Chelsea must move, as over the past decade they have slowly but surely outgrown their spiritual home of Stamford Bridge, and the logical step is to increase capacity and increase revenue.
With Roman Abramovich’s desire for the club to become self-sufficient and UEFA’s new regulations coming in, which somewhat tie owners hands when it comes to financing their club’s needs, Chelsea need to increase their fiscal means somehow, and through selling around 20,000 extra tickets per home game, they may find the answer. This, combined with the increased revenue more corporate boxes a new stadium would bring, such as the facilities found at the Emirates and Eastlands, will greatly increase the matchday financial intake.
Although they have the 5th highest average attendance in the Premier League, Chelsea fall well behind title rivals Manchester United and Arsenal, and, as has been mentioned above, in terms of revenue from corporate boxes, they rank well below Manchester City. Like Liverpool, whose average attendance ranks 4th and whose Anfield stadium holds a little over 45,000 compared to Stamford Bridge’s 41,841, Chelsea are searching for pastures new in order to compete both globally and financially in years to come.
A move half a mile down the road to Earl’s Court may seem ideal, keeping the club in west London, and, in fact, moving the club from the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but there may be some problems along the way. Namely, that neither the Stamford Bridge pitch, nor the naming rights of the club are owned by the club. They are both owned by the Chelsea Pitch Owners. This was originally set up in the 1990s to protect the ground from property developers, before the time of Roman Abramovich, and means, if Abramovich moved the club without the consent of the CPO, the club would no longer be able to operate under the name of Chelsea FC. In financial and legal terms I don’t see this being a problem for Abramovich as he could surely just buy these rights back. But what could become interesting is if the CPO have an ideological opposition to the move, after all, the CPO number over 12,000 fans who bought a share in the non-profit organisation for the precise reason of protecting the club and its traditional home. If the move goes ahead, there could be some interesting ramifications.
Stamford Bridge has been Chelsea’s home for over 100 years and has a long history and heritage, but in order to keep up with their main rivals in England, Chelsea must look to their future, as well as taking solace in their very successful present, and secure a move to a new, purpose built, stadium.