London takes over Olympic Stadium and its nightmare lease with nightmare West Ham

Stadium public funding scandals are rarer in Europe than in North America, but there are a handful, and the tale of London’s Olympic Stadium is an especially scandalous one. The story so far: The government spent £429 million (or maybe £701 million) to build the stadium for the 2012 Olympics, then London Mayor Boris Johnson promised to spend £190 million to convert it to use for soccer by West Ham United, but it ended up costing £323 million. And now current London Mayor Sadiq Khan has taken over management of the stadium, in an attempt to rein in not just the soaring capital costs but also the deal that Johnson signed that forces taxpayers to fund everything from security to goalposts and corner flags. Of which deal West Ham’s owners say, sorry, no backsies:

The concession agreement is a watertight, legally binding contract signed in 2013 in good faith by West Ham United, who remain absolutely committed to its terms for the entire 99-year duration.”

Let’s see, what could make this even worse? How about that everyone involved seems to hate the Olympic Stadium as a home for soccer? Or maybe that if things continue to stand as they do currently in the English Premier League, West Ham will get relegated to the second division next year, meaning London will effectively be paying through the nose to provide a 60,000-seat stadium for a minor-league team? I sure hope London taxpayers are big fans of corner flags.

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19 comments on “London takes over Olympic Stadium and its nightmare lease with nightmare West Ham

  1. The comparison of the Championship to Minor League isn’t really appropriate. Last time West Ham were relegated they averaged over 30,000 attendance.

    1. And F.C. Cincinnati draws 20,000 a game in the USL. No, it’s not quite the standard U.S. “minor league” system of farm teams, but it means West Ham won’t be competing in the same league with the top teams, and that’s a pretty big comedown even if it turns out to be temporary.

      1. True. Also much less of that big Sky Sports/ BT Sport money. Yes, they do televise some lower division matches but the money isn’t nearly what it is in the Prem. Does anyone know if Upton Park (West Ham’s old, much loved home) is still standing?

        1. It was torn down earlier this year:

        2. So long as they get promotion straight back to the Premier League it’s not a total financial disaster. Relegated teams get significant (multi-year) parachute payments from the Premier League to soften the blow of losing TV money. Not to say there isn’t a financial impact (of course there is – matchday revenue will also fall although I’m sure they’d set huge Championship attendance records, being in the Championship hampers efforts to get a naming rights partner etc) but the main thing from the club’s perspective would be to bounce straight back.

          Bigger public money issue is that the terms of the lease mean West Ham’s rent is halved if they’re in the Championship. If £2.5m doesn’t cover costs, it would only get worse.

      2. If one must use an American analogue to describe the second division of English soccer, “mid-major” is more appropriate. All English clubs are independent entities, but some are the Kentuckys and Auburns, and others are the Gonzagas and Butlers. And some, like West Ham, are the equivalent of NC State, a perennial also-ran in a Power Five conference.

        1. The one time I went to a game at Upton Park, the PA announcer had to remind fans to be nice to their own team.

    2. Nope, Neil is spot on. Championship is minor league because it isn’t the “premier league.”

      I believe you may be confusing major league with professional league.

      The KHL is “major league” but the quality/income is still behind the AHL which is a minor league to the NHL.

  2. Gee, if only London could declare bankruptcy in order to get a judge to quash this contract… but this is an option that appears to apply only to lessees.

    So London is stuck with West Ham, but if the situation were reversed (IE: the club stuck with a horrific lease) they would just walk.

    Boris Johnson is a fool. Why is he still in cabinet?

  3. Track and field stadium conversions seldom turn out well. The track puts the fans so far away compared to custom built stadiums. Football teams have tried for years to make LA colosseum work. Montreal’s baseball conversion was horrible. Atlanta’s conversion worked, but it was really designed as a baseball stadium temporarily converted to track. Beijing is still looking for a non olympic use for the Nest. The one thing I liked about Chicago’s olympic plan was the idea of making the track stadium disposable.

    1. That is one of the things that always got me about football grounds in the UK, and the soccer specific ones here, compared to the American football stadiums where MLS started and the big international games are still held. In the American football stadiums even when sitting close you feel far away. In the UK grounds and the US SSSs you feel close even when sitting far.

  4. Some of the more popular and big attendance teams in the lower division are actually considering a runaway league to make up for low TV money. They would certainly welcome West Ham.

      1. Agree, however there are some teams with a huge following that haven’t been in the top division for years and are tired of the ridiculous difference in TV money.

      2. This is not likely a real story at all. This “information” came from a blind sourced Bloomberg US story. There appears to be little interest or corroboration in the English press (including places where they would have better informed sources). Aston Villa has been winning games so maybe that is why the story has gone away (and a clue to exactly how fragile this move would be if in any way real).

        It is certainly possible that there some exploratory meetings but the intent was likely about trying to make broadcasters show their teams more on TV (the Championship, like the NFL, has a very uneven distribution of televised games and some of the rarely televised teams had been complaining about this so these meetings may be seen as a counter strategy).

        1. Squeeze is right. This comes up every few years, not because someone is trying to make the “Championship” a big deal but because big-time Championship teams don’t want to share TV money with lower-level league teams.

          Championship teams still want to make the Premier League more than anything. (Also, I think that league is like the 5th or 6th most popular league in Europe based on attendance)

  5. These days if ANYONE brings up the “O” word… RUN AWAY! Attention! SoCal suckers, you are next! Head for the hills – if they’re not on fire.

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