NFL matches will take precedence over England internationals at Wembley after the Football Association stunned the game by negotiating a shock deal to sell the national stadium to American billionaire Shahid Khan for around £600 million.
The move – which has been questioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – is on the verge of being agreed and will have huge implications for football with:
The FA pledging to invest all profits from the sale into grass-roots football.
England forced to play internationals away from Wembley in October and November, with Khan’s Jacksonville Jaguars NFL side to become primary tenants.
FA Cup semi-finals potentially being played elsewhere, although the final will remain at Wembley.
The FA retaining the value of the Club Wembley business in perpetuity, which is estimated at being worth around £350 million.
The FA sees the sale as a chance to free itself of the most financially onerous parts of owning Wembley. Khan, who owns Fulham, said last night that he would commit to investing in the stadium, which, although leased by Tottenham this season, is used relatively little. He believed the deal could be finalised by August.
The governing body is thought to be concerned that in the long-term the new Wembley, opened in 2007 and a commercial success, will have to be significantly refurbished and rebuilt.
There are still debts of around £142 million payable on the stadium which would be cleared by a sale. The FA also hopes that around £120 million of public money invested by Sport England in the acquisition of the stadium, and its £757 million rebuild, will be waived in order that all profits can be reinvested in grass roots.
But the Government, Sport England and the London Development Agency have demanded more information about the prospective sale, which the FA claims could enable 1,500 all-weather pitches to be built around the country.
“This process is at an early stage,” said Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman. “It is ultimately a decision for the FA. Wembley is the historic home of English football and holds a very special place in the heart of fans up and down the country. I am sure the FA will consider the views of these supporters before deciding what to do next.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport released a statement, saying: “‘We would like to hear more detail about the way in which such a deal would help the development of the game in this country from the grass roots up. We also want to be reassured that Wembley would remain the home of English football for generations to come.”
Khan is adamant that will be the case but local MP and Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner has called for the deal to be reviewed, saying: “Let’s not see our national football stadium traded away in a back-room deal. Wembley Stadium is not just at the heart of our borough of Brent, it’s at the heart of Britain.”
The FA, though, clearly sees little downside to the deal, with the governing body’s office at the stadium likely to be made available without a lease payment. The new owners would take all income from music concerts at the stadium, of which there are likely to be more. Khan would also be expected to pursue a naming-rights deal once the current contract with mobile phone network EE expires in 2020.
The FA would also retain control of the Club Wembley seats and the debenture scheme that has proved so lucrative. That makes up around 15 per cent of the FA’s annual revenue of around £370 million. The FA earns around £500,000 per concert held there, which are not seen as a major part of its business.
The FA would want assurances that the FA Cup final was staged at Wembley every May but there is a good chance that the unpopular staging of FA Cup semi-finals at the stadium would end.
Many close to the deal believe it inevitable the Jaguars are one day relocated to London, the first team permanently based outside the United States as the league attempts to go global, but Khan, 67, is adamant Fulham will remain at Craven Cottage.
“It will have no impact on Craven Cottage as the home of FFC,” he said in a statement. “And this is imperative to know, and I encourage you to spread the word – absolutely nothing changes in our plans to redevelop the Riverside Stand.”
He added: “Wembley Stadium would return to private ownership and the Football Association would be able to focus on its core mission of developing players with the best player developers and facilities anywhere in the game, thanks in part to the vast financial benefit that would result from the transaction.
“Always know Wembley would be home to the England national teams, and that we would strive every day of the year to be the best possible steward for a venue that is iconic and beloved here and throughout the world.”
With the NFL’s expansionist plans, the ownership of Wembley would clearly put Khan in a strong position were he to elect to move from the Florida city of Jacksonville. His franchise was rated by Forbes at 25th out of 32 in the NFL in terms of value last year.
In addition, the FA has owned Wembley for only 19 years of the stadium’s 95-year existence, buying the old Twin Towers out of private ownership in 1999 prior to its demolition the following year. The FA only moved to acquire the stadium because the Labour government at the time wanted a national stadium in preparation for an Olympics bid.
The other showpiece finals, when Wembley is used by other governing bodies, including the Football League’s League Cup, and play-off finals, and the Challenge Cup in rugby league would have their contracts honoured under the current proposal. In recent years, the FA has been dismayed by the decision by developer Quintain to build a major housing complex on the former car park which has affected the sightlines to the Wembley arch.
The Aston Villa chief executive Keith Wyness says that he wants Villa Park to host FA Cup semi-finals now that Wembley is likely to be sold.
“We all know it went for financial reasons rather than football reasons and we are now able to let it go back to football reasons.” he said. “Not only me but a lot of fans from other clubs would love to see Villa Park back on the semi-final roster.”