Sale of Wembley to Jaguars owner survives English FA meeting
LONDON (AP) — American investor Shahid Khan’s 600 million pound ($785 million) offer to buy Wembley Stadium survived a meeting of the Football Association’s board without being rejected on Thursday.
A decision was taken by the board of English soccer’s governing body to take a presentation on the terms of the sale to the larger FA Council , which features representatives from across the English game and next meets on Oct. 11.
The FA’s chairman and chief executive want to sell Wembley to Khan, who owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and Premier League team Fulham, to raise funds for footballing facilities across England.
The FA has agreed to put the proceeds of any deal into a trust but some Council members, including former Premier League chairman Dave Richards, have questioned why Wembley needs to be sold only 11 years after the rebuilt national soccer stadium reopened. Former England player and assistant coach Gary Neville said the cash for grassroots infrastructure could be raised from wealthy Premier League clubs or by taking a cut of agents’ fees on transfers.
Even if the FA Council and board approves the sale, the government would have to sign off on the deal because it provided some of the 120 million pounds in public funding for the 757 million pound rebuilding project in north London.
The takeover agreement includes provisions to ensure the stadium remains a top-level soccer venue available for cup finals and England games, and maintain restrictions on stadium sponsors, including the ability of a betting company to be associated with the Wembley brand.
“If we are fortunate to ultimately be approved as the new owner and steward of Wembley, we would first and foremost operate the stadium with nothing less than exceptional care and respect,” Khan said in a statement.
The FA would retain the rights to hospitality packages for games, which are valued at 300 million pounds in terms of future earnings.
“Following on from this discussion, the FA board has agreed to take the presentation to the FA Council to get its input now that the full facts are known,” said the FA.
Khan said the FA’s decision was “welcomed and encouraging,” five months after his purchase plans were announced.
“I understand the discussion was open and thorough,” he added. “One cannot ask for more as we continue to work through the process with the FA board, FA Council, Sport England (government-funded agency), the Mayor of London’s office and DCMS (Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) toward reaching an agreement that will serve English football for generations to come.”
If Khan completes his purchase of Wembley, it raises the prospect of an NFL franchise in London — potentially the Jaguars.
Wembley has staged regular-season NFL games since 2007 and the Jaguars started playing at the stadium in 2013 — the year Khan bought Fulham, which would continue to play matches at Craven Cottage in west London.
“The Jaguars’ investment in London as our home away from home, at a time when other NFL teams are becoming more interested in the UK, will be protected and enhanced,” Khan said of his proposed Wembley takeover. “In Jacksonville, our footing as a small market NFL franchise will be significantly strengthened by the new local revenue streams we will be able to count on well into the future.”
Wembley, which staged its first event in 1923, was in private ownership until the FA raised the funds to buy the site and redevelop the stadium before the 2007 re-opening.