I saw a documentary on the BBC about West Ham United's 2016 move to the London Olympic Stadium. As a sports fan I was intrigued, and by the end of the half hour, as a sports fan my jaw was on the floor...
Let's kick off with some numbers about money. The cost of alterations to the stadium to make a home for West Ham are now at an eye watering £272 million. Of that, West Ham are paying just £15 million, and yearly rent of £2 million.
Interestingly, as part of the deal, West Ham are getting many running costs paid for them, costs which include policing and stewarding, lighting, heating, ticketing and even the goalposts! Those running costs are estimated at around the £2 million a year mark, meaning that they get to use the stadium effectively rent free once they've paid the £15 million.
As those figures digest, I'll move on to the story behind the deal, and why we know so little about the money numbers in the future...
The word 'legacy' was bandied around a lot during the London 2012 Olympics, with Seb Coe being at the front of the queue to shout about it. He insisted that the shiny new stadium would be at the head of this legacy because it would always have a running track.
Now, someone should have told Seb that the number of days where it would make sense to have a stadium that size for athletics could be counted on one hand, not including the thumb, but it seems no-one did.
It also seems that little thought was actually given to what would happen to the stadium after the games. Tottenham Hotspur put in a proposal, which would basically have involved knocking it down and building a new one, but with virtually no cost to the taxpayer. That proposal was thrown out because it had no mention of a running track in the new stadium.
That left West Ham in prime position to call the shots, because they knew it was basically them or no-one, and as long as they included a running track, they'd be a shoe in.
When the West Ham club was bought in 2010 for around £100 million, the new owners David Gold and David Sullivan made a surprise announcement at their press conference that they intended to move into the Olympic Stadium. That raised a few eyebrows, even more so when after the deal was done, the club's value rose to an estimated £300-400 million.
Although they said they had no intention to sell, all sorts of investors will be sniffing around a Premier League club in the iconic stadium, and a profit of a couple of hundred million might change the minds of the current owners.
So, if the club does get sold, how much of that profit will be paid back to the taxpayer to go towards the £272 million conversion costs? It's a reasonable question, but the answer is that no-one knows! Despite a freedom of information request to release information about the deal, the London Legacy Corporation have blacked out those kinds of details, citing 'confidentiality.'
Hang on - confidentiality? Confidential to who? This is a public asset, being transferred at huge public cost to a commercial business, but the public aren't entitled to know how much of the money they'll get back, if any?
That's not right.
When the Commonwealth Games were held in Manchester in 2002, another shiny new stadium was built, but on that occasion the legacy had already been worked out. It was agreed in advance that it would be converted for use by Manchester City, and this meant the original design bore that fact in mind. As a result, the conversion only cost around £42 million, with the tax payer footing half the bill and Manchester City the other half.
Why did London seemingly ignore that model? Why did there seem to be no idea about what would *actually* happen after the Olympics? The stubborn insistence on a running track, plus refusal to release details of future payback of taxpayer money, leave huge questions to be answered. The BBC asked Boris Johnson, Seb Coe and West Ham for interviews, but all declined.
Never mind eh, what's £272 million of taxpayer money between friends? I'm sure we haven't heard the last of this story, and I'm equally as sure my jaw will be on the floor a few more time before it's done!
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