Why Shahid Khan wants to buy Wembley and why the FA might let him

Confirmation that the Football Association is considering an offer to buy Wembley Stadium from American billionaire Shahid Khan has prompted an outpouring of opinion, ranging from anger to approval.

Here, we look at the key issues behind the potential sale of the English football's iconic home.

Who is Shahid Khan?

Born in Pakistan, Khan moved to the United States aged 16 to study engineering. His first job was washing dishes but he is now worth more than £6bn (€6.8bn). How? Selling car bumpers, lots of them. Now 67, he bought the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 and then English football's Fulham in 2013. Known for his handlebar moustache, Khan was the first foreign-born owner in the conservative world of the NFL and now has is sights on the old Empire Stadium.

How much is he offering?

Figures of between £800m (€910m) and £1bn (€1.13bn) have been reported but it is understood his initial pitch is much closer to the bottom of that range. About two-thirds of that would be cash and the rest would be an agreement for the FA to keep the revenue from its Club Wembley hospitality business for a number of years. This brought in more than £50m (€56.9m) last year, so allowing the FA to keep this income for six years would be worth in the region of £300m (€341.5m)

If Wembley is bringing in this much money, why is the FA willing to sell?

As every accountant will tell you, there is a big difference between revenue and profit. Knocking down the old stadium, with its twin towers, and building a new one took longer and cost more than anybody predicted. The final price tag was nearly £800m (€910m) and the FA has paid more than £300m (€341.5m) in interest on bank loans. Earlier this year, FA boss Martin Glenn said the plan was to pay off the remaining £140m (€159m) of debt by 2023. The venue also costs £60m (€68m) a year to run, which is why the FA has spent the last 11 years filling it with as many events as possible - including NFL games, concerts and FA Cup semi-finals - and hiking up ticket prices, as Chelsea and Manchester United fans have just learned again.

So it is all about money?

Yes and no. The FA has only owned Wembley since late 1999. Prior to that, the venue was privately-owned and that did not stop England enjoying its best moments there as an international side or many years of memorable cup finals. Many critics have said the stadium - the wrong design, in the wrong place - has been a distraction and have pointed out that football associations in Germany, Italy, Spain and so on have coped without owning their grounds. Furthermore, the very idea of England only playing in a not-particularly-accessible part of west London has never been universally popular and there are fond memories of the national team's 'homeless' era while Wembley was a building site. Selling the ground to an NFL owner would probably mean more England games elsewhere. But the crucial issue is what Khan's money would enable the FA to do instead.

Which is?

Invest in grassroots facilities up and down the country. Thanks to improved broadcast and commercial revenues, the FA has been doing more of this in recent years but ask anybody involved in amateur or youth football and they will tell you there is so much more to be done. The FA has indicated that selling Wembley would enable it to spend an extra £500m (€569m) on artificial pitches, clubhouses and coaching programmes. As well as loans, the FA received more than £160m (€182m) in grants to build Wembley, with Sport England coughing up £120million. The sport-for-all agency is unlikely to demand that money back if the FA simply transfers the grant into facilities we can all use.

Does that mean this is a done deal?

No. While there is little argument the FA made a mess of redeveloping Wembley, it is a large, relatively flexible and famous venue in a part of London that is on the up. Should the FA just sell up to the first person who knocks on the door and says 'I like your house'? As we have just seen with the new offer for Sky from American firm Comcast, bidding wars are good for sellers, particularly when there is no urgent need to sell. Khan has said he wants to wrap this up within three months, which is what you would expect him to say. The FA should wait to see if anybody else is interested and how high Khan will go.

But what about the football?

Which football: Association or America? Because the two are linked. Khan, and the NFL, clearly want a London-based franchise and his Jaguars have looked the most likely movers ever since he bought Fulham. The Florida-based team have played more 'International Series' games than anybody else and he already has a deal to play one a year at Wembley. Owning a home here is logical and he has already said he would like to upgrade Wembley to the NFL's high specifications. NFL teams start pre-season fixtures in August and have guaranteed games until the end of November. That would mean England playing autumn internationals elsewhere - no hardship. Khan will need regular fixtures to make the stadium pay, though, so will have no problem renting it to the FA, English Football League, Rugby Football League and anybody else who wants a big stadium outside of the NFL season.

Everyone happy, then?

No, as a quick glance at this morning's papers will tell you. Traditionalists appear to be appalled at the idea of another 'crown jewel' going into foreign ownership, and the likes of World Cup winner Gordon Banks and former Chelsea and Leeds owner Ken Bates, who was heavily involved in Wembley's redevelopment, have voiced their dissent. Bates' annoyance, however, may persuade some fans that this is a good idea. The potential losers here are Spurs, who have their own deal to host two NFL games a season in their new White Hart Lane home, and Chelsea, who need a temporary base while Stamford Bridge is redeveloped. But if anybody can turn this to their advantage it is Spurs chief executive Daniel Levy, so an accommodation of some sort is likely. Khan has said Chelsea would be welcome at Wembley but they will have to get a move on or they could find themselves blocked by the London Jaguars.


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