Stadium not for sale, says Wembley

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The Independent Online
WEMBLEY, the struggling leisure company, yesterday attempted to dampen speculation that a consortium sponsored by the Football Association was about to bid for its famous London stadium.

A spokesman insisted: 'The Wembley complex is our core business and is not up for sale.'

Nevertheless, the stadium's fate may ultimately rest with Wembley's bankers, who are keeping a close eye on the company. The group, which also owns greyhound tracks in Britain and the US, has not made a profit since 1990 and last year made losses of pounds 65m.

Its biggest problem is paying interest on its pounds 130m debt burden. Lenders have called for asset sales to relieve borrowings, demands that have largely been met.

However, Wembley's management, led by Sir Brian Wolfson, may come under additional pressure to agree to a sale if an offer is forthcoming. That is especially so if proceeds of a deal were substantial enough to clear its debt. Insiders suggest the stadium and adjoining leisure complex could fetch pounds 100m.

The FA, football's ruling body, is understood to be unhappy with the way the nation's premier football stadium is operated. Despite recent renegotiation with Wembley, it is dissatisfied with the terms it receives for using the ground. The split of profits from major events is a particular bone of contention.

Football chiefs would also like to see capital investment at the stadium. Wembley's weak financial position has choked the availability of funds.

The FA consortium is believed to include a leading leisure operator to provide the financial muscle. However, the consortium is only interested in wresting control of Wembley stadium, the adjoining arena and exhibitions halls.

The stock market has identified Wembley as a potential bid target for some months. Other predators, including Rank Organisation, are also thought to be lurking.

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