West Ham seek Olympic size knees up

West Ham United owners David Sullivan and David Gold are to issue new shares in the club in a bid to raise some £40m that will be used to repair the clubs ailing financial position. The club’s debt currently stands at £100m, but it is believed that Sullivan and Gold are desperate to secure funding for the proposed move to the Olympic stadium in Stratford.

Under the Hammer’s previous ownership, the idea of West Ham moving to Stratford after the 2012 Olympic Games was initially rejected, as the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) was adamant that the stadium be retained for athletic competition. However, the plans to build a £537m stadium, with an 80,000 capacity, and then immediately tear it down and leave the capacity at just 25,000, has been widely derided in the media and amongst taxpayers.  An OPLC spokesperson  told the Times

“The Olympic Park Legacy Company is currently looking at the uses of the Olympic venues, including the stadium, after the Games. Nothing is ruled in or out at this stage.”

However, although Sullivan and Gold’s proposal to move West Ham from the Boleyn Ground to the Olympic Stadium is receiving greater encouragement from the OPLC and local authorities, Tessa Jowell, the Olympic Sports minister,told the Financial Times that there must be “money on the table” from the club before talks can begin in earnest.

Should the club be successful with their proposal for the Olympic Stadium, the cost of converting the 80,000 capacity athletics arena into a 55,000 capacity modern football stadium would be approximately £100 million. However, just as Manchester City have benefitted financially from moving into the City of Manchester Stadium after the Common Wealth Games in 2002, a move to Stratford would transform the economic model of West Ham, and enable them to compete with the Premier League’s elite in terms of gate receipts and match day experience. Aside from moving into a brand new stadium just 3 miles from Upton Park, the stadium would also come with unrivalled transport links, and allow the sale of Upton Park for redevelopment, in a similar vein to Arsenal’s Highbury Square development.

Whilst momentum surrounding the project gathers pace, there are stumbling blocks that could prove insurmountable. The stadium built in Stratford will come equipped with a running track that may create a less daunting atmosphere than currently experienced by opposing players at the Boleyn Ground. The running track is vital to the Olympic Stadium’s athletic legacy, which the OPLC is insistent on bestowing upon the development. Olympic officials will require that the community receive access to the stadium, whilst the National Skills Academy and a branch of the English Institute for Sport are in line to move in, according to the Guardian. Further, the question over how successful the conversion into a football arena would be has also raised doubts. The hospitality and merchandising needs of Premier League football teams are not to be taken into account in the development’s building plans, with catering and merchandising areas placed temporarily adjacent to the stadium for its initial use at the Olympic Games in 2012. Further, just who would pick up the £100m conversion cost is another source of contention.

Birmingham managing director Karren Brady is confident that such problems can be overcome however, insisting in an interview with the Times that,

“There are obstacles, but it seems to me if architects can’t take account of a running track and find ways to build under the stands, then they shouldn’t be in business. It’s madness to tear down an 80,000-seater to make it a third of the size and then use the place for two or three athletics meetings a year.”

Karren Brady is also an advisor to England’s World Cup 2018 bid, and knows that West Ham’s proposal to eventually rent the Olympic Stadium could hinge on the success of England’s bid. The Olympic Stadium, along with the plans proposed by Tottenham Hotspur for White Hart Lane’s redevelopment, has been included as a potential host stadium, and should England’s bid come to fruition, the capacity of the stadium will remain at 55,000 rather than a reduction to 25, 000. This would favour West Ham’s proposals, and so Brady will hope her work in England’s World Cup 2018 bid will pay-off for the club and country.

One thing is certain, West Ham are serious about the move, and should the proposal become a reality, West Ham fans should begin preparations for a 55,000 person knees up in Stratford, because West Ham’s current debt ridden position could look a lot rosier after 2012.