Cash race to rescue Wembley

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The Independent Online
THE race to save Wembley, the struggling leisure company that owns and operates Britain's largest sporting venue, is intensifying as two rival teams vie to raise more than pounds 60m each from the City.

One proposal is from Allied Entertainments, a company run by Harvey Goldsmith, the music promoter. This is believed to have the backing of Sir Brian Wolfson, Wembley's chairman.

Under the proposal Wembley would make an offer of pounds 20m for Allied. A further pounds 60m would then be raised in the combined group to pare down some of Wembley's crippling debts.

Allied has hired N M Rothschild, the merchant bankers, whose main task at the moment is to conduct a valuation of the company's film library and other assets with a view to justifying the pounds 20m price tag.

Mr Goldsmith's group has also hired the stockbrokers Beeson Gregory to sound out City institutions that might be prepared to invest up to pounds 60m in the restructured group. Two parties that have already shown interest are Mirror Group Newspapers, which views Wembley as a possible part of an expanded multimedia business, and Phillips & Drew Fund Management, which has an 18 per cent shareholding in Wembley.

Mirror Group, which is being advised by the merchant bankers Hambros, thinks that an interest in Wembley and its wide spread of entertainment and sporting events, might be a logical link. The group is part of a consortium that has a controlling interest in Newspaper Publishing, which owns the Independent and the Independent on Sunday.

The main rival to Allied's bid is a group headed by Luke Johnson and Hugh Osmond, the City entrepreneurs behind the Pizza Express and My Kinda Town restaurant groups. They are using advisers at Credit Lyonnais Laing to sound out City institutional support for their rescue attempt. City analysts are fairly confident that they have the ability to raise the finance, although they appear unlikely to win the support of Sir Brian.

A third potential rescuer is Apollo Advisers, a US investment house led by the property tycoon, Leon Black.

Sir Brian said his board was 'going through the normal dialogue' with each possible rescuer, adding that the company would make a full statement 'in due course'.

Last week Wembley's financial plight was highlighted when the company announced a deficit of nearly pounds 10m for the half-year, pounds 7m of which was due to interest payable on the company's borrowings.

(Photograph omitted)