It seems quite strange that on the eve of English football’s showpiece event, all the talk is not about the FA Cup final but about the news that Chelsea FC have submitted an offer to buy and develop the site of the defunct Battersea Power Station. While that would seem to be the appropriate intro for me to preview events at Wembley, instead I am going to add my two pennies worth to the mix.
For those who are unfamiliar with London or the site itself, here is a quick synopsis. Battersea Power Station is an iconic emblem of London that sits on the banks of the River Thames imposing itself on the affluent Chelsea embankment on the opposite side of the waterway. It has sat derelict since it stopped generating electricity in 1983 with numerous attempts to develop the site amounting to nothing in the intervening years. Its status as a grade II listed building has thwarted many of these projects with the cost of maintaining its industrial grandeur proving too high for many an entrepreneur. While it sits in a different borough from Stamford Bridge , as the crow flies, it is just three miles away and curiously it is a touch further north than the club’s current home despite actually being south of the river. The site is also more central than Stamford Bridge and the new northern line extension will mean that a tube station will be situated within spitting distance. A plethora of overland train and bus routes already serve the area.
Chelsea have stressed that their bid is just one of many rival bids and that no decision has been made to leave Stamford Bridge but the move – should it go through - is certainly a sensible one. As everyone is fully aware, Chelsea will need to generate additional revenue if they are to conform to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules and remove the reliance on Roman Abramovich’s billions. While expanding the global fan base and further exploiting merchandising opportunities and marketing partnerships – such as the recent accord reached with Formula One team Sauber F1 – will continue to be pursued, matchday revenue is an area in which Chelsea continue to fall short of their rivals as mentioned in one of my previous posts.
The move to a 60,000-seater stadium will put the Blues on a par with Arsenal with regards both to capacity and potential revenue which has to be a good thing. A new home would also release the opportunity to sell the naming rights to the new arena for a lucrative sum without the fear of a backlash from traditionalists. With no sentiment attached to the name Ashburton Grove, Arsenal fans were happy for it to be daubed with the name of an airline, a reaction in sharp contrast to the one provoked when Newcastle’s St James Park was renamed the Sports Direct Arena.
While it would obviously be sad to say goodbye to our home of 107 years and counting, sentiment has to be put aside to safeguard the future prosperity of the club on the pitch and the only way for that to happen – like it or not – is to generate more cash. In order to be successful, the club have a lot of negotiating to do, not least with the Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) who own the lease to the Bridge and with it the naming rights to the club; a safeguard against any nefarious developers buying the club for its real estate value rather than football reasons. If they refuse to either give up their claim or cannot be persuaded to swap their position for a similar one at the new stadium then all this conjecture is moot. Bully-boy tactics won’t work – such as their ill-judged attempt to force through a vote to sell all the CPO shares to the club past October by reportedly trying to purchase enough shares (and thus votes) prior to the ballot – and one would assume that the board of directors have learned their lesson. Equally, it would be hugely disappointing if the CPO shareholders stubbornly refuse to give ground if a respectable offer is given by the club. Holding the club – and the rest of the supporters - to ransom would be a dereliction of duty but I am positive that common sense will prevail over fundamentalism.
As Blues everywhere debate the merits and pitfalls of the move, the predictable jibes of “but Chelsea don’t have enough fans to fill a 60,000-seater stadium” have been spreading across social networks from rival fans. And, to be honest, they have a point. Games against the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool will always be crammed to the rafters but guaranteeing a full house against the Wigans and Blackburns of this world are dependent on two things – success and ticket prices. If the team is conquering all before them then selling tickets will be a doddle especially if players of the calibre of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba can be recruited in the years ahead. Even so - and especially if the club is labouring on the field - the cost of attending a match has to be affordable. The cheapest Champions League knockout tickets this season were almost £60 - after booking fee - meaning that with travel, a few drinks, a burger and programme all added on top, the matchday experience touched around £100. That kind of level is unsustainable in the current economic climate and prohibitive when trying to attract new or casual fans to the club.
But all this is for the future. In the meantime, let’s give Liverpool a spanking in the FA Cup final and see some more silverware return once again to the one and only Stamford Bridge!
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell