The news seemed to break like a bolt from the blue: the FA are in advanced talks with Shahid Khan, the owner of Fulham FC and NFL team the Jacksonville Jaguars, over the sale of Wembley Stadium.
What you think of this probably has to do with your political leanings or your vulnerability to sentiment: it’s your view on private ownership of something like a national stadium or whether you worry that we might end up with the Coca Cola stadium at Wembley.
Those are the concerns of most over the deal: should the FA be selling a national treasure, the home of football, which could instead become the home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Or even Fulham FC.
But perhaps the most pressing side of this is what happens to Chelsea, who are due to spend a few years playing at Wembley whilst Stamford Bridge is renovated, and Tottenham.
The Chelsea point is an obvious one. Perhaps they’ll have to pay more to rent a stadium which is now owned by a potentially less cooperative owner (and, indeed, the owner of a local rival). There are potential downsides for the Blues.
For Tottenham, it’s less clear but also potentially more dangerous.
Moving into the new White Hart Lane stadium, Spurs are financially restrained. Despite Daniel Levy unilaterally handing himself a £3m bonus to make him the highest paid figure at the club last year, they are unable to pay their players the going rate for top players at the upper end of the Premier League. The fact they’ve fostered an exciting young team who love playing for the club for reasons which go beyond money stands them in good stead, but moving Tottenham to the next level is vital if they’re to stay amongst the country’s biggest clubs in the long term.
Step forward Levy’s masterplan: to build a new stadium, get into bed with the NFL, offer them a home in the UK and potentially become the London American football franchise.
Khan’s Wembley bombshell seems to blow that out of the water – though only to a certain extent.
NFL sides have a history of uprooting teams. The St Louis Rams are now the Los Angeles Rams: LA is a bigger city and can attract more fans, so the owners simply moved the club. That could happen with the Jacksonville Jaguars: Khan’s Florida side are one of the smallest in the NFL and can’t really compete financially with the LA or New York teams, for example. Moving it to London wouldn’t seem illogical. There is no suggestion yet that this is Khan’s plan – but it would seem like an obvious benefit to him commercially.
If that happens, Spurs will miss out on an NFL franchise which would be a huge money-spinner for the club. It would also mean American football games in London could be at Wembley instead of White Hart Lane, another huge blow to Tottenham, who would be left with a state-of-the-art stadium featuring a retractable pitch and separate dressing rooms to comfortably incorporate 50-player NFL teams.
Spurs wouldn’t be losing out immediately: the NFL is committed to playing up to two games a season for the next couple of years and starting in October this year. But it would be a blow to the long-term viability of Levy’s masterplan.
What happens next will be interesting. In their negotiations over the last few years, the question is have Spurs managed to forge a relationship with the NFL which is strong enough to withstand this news? Or could the Jacksonville Jaguars simply move into Wembley, giving the NFL a London franchise and bypassing Spurs completely?
If Wembley is sold, Tottenham could be by far the biggest losers.