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Nov 12, 2008

Chelsea's stadium conundrum

So, contrary to recent reports, Chelsea are not planning to move to a new stadium three miles down the road. In fact, Chelsea are not planning on moving away from Stamford Bridge at all. Not unless they can help it.

This is not because of any misty eyed love for their SW6 address, where the club has resided since its formation in 1905, or because the fans would be dismayed at a move from their ancestral home.

No, unsurprisingly it boils down to money, and how best to make the most while spending the least. It's sensible stuff, especially in the current climate, and it's also consistent with the club's long-stated objective of becoming self-sufficient from Roman Abramovich's benefaction by 2010.

While the club have not ruled out speculating to accumulate the key is how much Chelsea are willing to speculate.

The reported plan, which was subsequently denied, would have seen Chelsea spend £500 million to move in to 75,000-seat stadium on a site currently occupied by the derelict Battersea power station, one of London's more unlikely landmarks.

The cost of which would be offset by developing Stamford Bridge into luxury apartments - a similar plan to that employed by Arsenal who made more than £100 million selling flats and penthouses on the redeveloped site of Highbury.

Chelsea need to increase their capacity in order to rival the matchday incomes generated by Arsenal and Manchester United, being able to do so is crucial if the club are to have any chance of being viable without Abramovich's billions.

With 76,000 seats at Old Trafford and 60,000 at the Emirates, Chelsea's rivals make around £3 million every home game. With 41,841 seats Stamford Bridge is just not big enough to compete.

With losses of £74.8 million in 2007 and overall debts of over £560 million (owed in the form of loans to Abramovich - which could easily be written off) the club have already begun to tighten their belt, laying off 15 members of their scouting team last month saving around £1million in wages.

In an ideal world Chelsea would increase the Bridge's capacity. But with the stadium hemmed in by two railway lines expansion seems tricky at best, impossible at worst.

However, as Peter Kenyon, the club's chief executive, has said: ''In the current financial climate all stadium redevelopment discussions are on the back burner and we are clear that only when all possibilities of redeveloping Stamford Bridge are exhausted will we seriously consider other alternatives.''

Ridiculous as it may sound that will include the previously mooted idea of demolishing the ground and starting again with the pitch rotated by 90 degrees to create more room for stadium's footprint, or even creating another tier by lowering the pitch as Barcelona did at the Camp Nou.

One other reason Chelsea are unwilling to up sticks is an agreement in place with non-profit organisation Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) which owns the freehold of the stadium and the club's name. The body was formed in 1997 to prevent Stamford Bridge being sold to property developers.

Taken to the unlikely realms of the N-th degree, that could mean that unless a future move gained the backing of CPO, the name Chelsea FC could cease.


After the latest desperate spin on the Billionaire Foreign Investor Wheel of Fortune the dial has stopped on the name of Philip Anschutz. And the lucky Premier League contestant is Newcastle United.

Unless you've been living under a stone for the last few decades - or just don't care about such things - you'll know that Anschutz is one of the most influential and successful entrepreneurs in US sports and one of the key architects and patrons of Major League Soccer.

Through his Anschutz Entertainment Group he owns two MLS teams, including David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy, an NHL ice hockey team, a stake in the LA Lakers and a raft of sports and entertainment venues from the Staples Center in LA to The O2 in London.

With Keith Harris, chairman of investment bank Seymour Pierce, heading up Newcastle's search for a buyer to take the Magpies off Mike Ashley's hands, fans of St James Park club should be heartened that Anschutz has a long standing appreciation and understanding of the game.

It was believed that Anschutz was up against Clark Hunt in the chase of Newcastle, but the owner of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and MLS's FC Dallas, has ruled himself out of the running, despite the increasing strength of the dollar against the pound making UK opportunities more appealing to Stateside investors.

But before Newcastle fans get too excited, Harris has warned time is running out for the sale to be completed in time for the crucial January transfer window - a potential cut-off point which could make or break a deal.

''If the fans were to put themselves in the shoes of a prospective owner, during the course of a season you have one shot at changing the playing personnel and that's the transfer window in January, so I think there are probably two alternatives," Harris told the Newcastle Chronicle.

''One, if matters can progress quickly then an owner would want to be in position to have a look at the squad and discuss it with the manager before January. If that isn't possible then they would have a look at what has happened during the course of the transfer window with a view to reforming the team after January.''


There's good news and bad news for West Ham United.

The good news, which in truth comes with a rather tarnished lining, is that the club are close to agreeing a new 18-month contract, valued at around £1.9 million, with Asian betting company, SBOBet. The only problem is that the agreement is half as long as the three-year deal with previous sponsor, the now defunct travel company XL, which was worth £2.5 million a season.

All of which means that the club are set to be out of pocket to tune of £3.1 million for the period until the end of next season.

The bad news is that West Ham's long-term future is no closer to being resolved after the High Court decided to reserve judgment before deciding whether to grant Sheffield United a permanent injunction to prevent the Hammers taking an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the Carlos Tevez affair.

With a potential £50 million bill hanging over them, a delay of weeks over whether the club will even be able to have their case heard by the CAS in Lausanne means there is almost no chance West Ham will be able to attract a new owner to replace Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson whose financial clout has been severely undermined after the Icelandic economy's collapse, most notably bank Landsbanki.

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