American firm may bid to buy Wembley

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The Independent Online
AN AMERICAN company is believed to be in the running to buy Wembley Stadium, the home of English football. SFX Entertainments, a New York- based firm specialising in the management of big venues and the promotion of sports events, is understood to be preparing a bid to buy Wembley in a move that could scupper England's bid to stage the 2006 World Cup.

The current owners, Wembley plc, have already agreed to sell the venue in a deal under which a renovated Wembley would be the centrepiece of the Football Association's 2006 bid.

But SFX is understood to be considering making an offer before Wembley's extraordinary general meeting on 11 March, which was due to rubber-stamp the FA-backed bid.

SFX, which has subsidiaries world-wide, is looking to expand its operations in Europe. One of its subsidiaries manages the basketball player Michael Jordan and another manages the top names in English sport, including Michael Owen.

Under the FA's deal, Wembley would be sold to the English National Stadium Development Company (ENSDC), a joint venture between the FA and Sports Council, for pounds 103m. The deal is supported by Lottery funding. But it could be put on hold if other bidders come forward.

A third company, ENIC, which had a bid for Wembley rejected in January, yesterday said it also intended maintaining its interest in the venue.

A Wembley plc spokesman said: "We're very confident the ENSDC deal will go through and it's our understanding that our largest shareholders are backing it." Within the past few days, however, it has emerged that three of Wembley plc's independent directors have been lobbying shareholders to reject the ENSDC bid and consider other options.

Should the ENSDC deal fall through, the FA may be forced to look elsewhere for a location to build a centrepiece for its 2006 World Cup bid.

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