West Ham United: Who Is Benefiting From The New Stadium?
The reaction to the news that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is to hold an investigation into the finances of the conversion of the Olympic Stadium for the use of West Ham United has been fairly predictable. The decision to grant the stadium to the club on the terms that were eventually agreed caused considerable anger, and this was, perhaps, understandable. It wasn’t a matter of straightforward jealousy, although there has been a movement on the part of those who would seek to defend the agreement at all costs to try to imply this, more of a public asset being essentially gifted to a Premier League football club at a time when a new television contract was set to guarantee that club’s financial position in a way that has never happened before in English football.
Khan’s intervention has come after Sky News learned the estimated annual outlay of moving “retractable” seats is one of the factors behind the rise. The cost of the seats, which were originally installed to improve the view for football, has risen from an estimated £300,000 to £8m, with engineers estimating that work to move them could take fifteen days at the end of the football season and a further fifteen days to put them back at the end of the summer – three times as long as the five days initially predicted for each period. The concerns are very real. The stadium has a busy summer ahead and the Premier League’s close season is now short enough for any significant changes to the stadium to be required to be carried out quickly and efficiently. Not only are events planned for the summer threatened by further delays, but a worst case scenario – for the club – would mean delays in getting it back to its football state.
The mayor’s office has confirmed that it has inherited “a mess” from predecessor Boris Johnson, which, considering the former incumbent’s now well-documented habit of playing fast and loose with any truths that he found to be inconvenientm is hardly surprising. The cost of converting the stadium for football use has now ballooned from £270m to £320m, and this further increase seems to be the straw that has broken the camel’s back, in terms of Khan’s patience with it all. The total cost of the Olympic Stadium now stands at £752m, of which all bar £15m has been paid by the taxpayer – West Ham United’s contribution amounts to around one-seventh of one year’s television money and a paltry rent of £2m per year.
It’s not even as though the supposed benefits of West Ham United moving into the stadium are even working out for the club’s own supporters. Although season tickets were sold at relatively modest rates, match day ticket costs have remained astronomical, and this morning the Twitter account @WHUFC_News (West Ham News) posted confirmation that the cheapest home tickets for their match against Arsenal would be £50, including for children. All of this comes on top, of course, of dissatisfaction amongst supporters at not being allowed to stand at the new stadium, outbreaks of violence on more than one occasion at matches already this season, and disquiet over stewarding that is now being carried out by third parties acting on behalf of the stadium operators rather than by club staff. As if this hasn’t been one PR disaster after another for the club, this week the former Burnley chief executive Paul Fletcher, who was an adviser on the original planning of the stadium, went as far as to say the stadium should be knocked down and rebuilt, telling the Mail on Sunday that:
The stadium is so poor in football terms, it breeds poor behaviour. The stadium is fundamentally problematic and like a battleground for fans both inside and outside. There are issues such as the distances many fans find themselves from the pitch. It was set up for athletics so has shallow sight-lines, meaning many fans simply don’t have a good view.
So, taxpayers are footing the bill for the redevelopment, whilst West Ham United supporters are still getting stiffed over ticket prices for a stadium that a lot of them don’t seem to like very much and which is now openly being described as unfit for purpose while the cost of ongoing work is continuing to spiral in an upward direction. It seems almost like a rhetorical question, but it should be asked loudly and repeatedly anyway. Who, exactly, is benefiting the most from this omnishambles of a decision, and is it too late for it to be unwound?
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