Wave of red figures swamps Wembley: Refinancing is one of several options being considered to strengthen balance sheet

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The Independent Online
WEMBLEY has resolved its differences with the Football Association over sharing television and advertising revenues, but still faces far more urgent financial problems.

Thumping pre-tax losses of pounds 65.7m were announced yesterday for 1993, almost twice the pounds 34.1m lost the year before.

Although the result was struck after a pounds 98.3m property write-down, Wembley again failed to generate enough income to cover pounds 16.2m of interest payments on its debts.

Sir Brian Wolfson, chairman of Wembley, the home of English football, said a refinancing was one of several options being considered to strengthen the balance sheet.

'We are actively pursuing all alternative stretegies. We have, for instance, even talked about getting out of the US,' he said.

The damage inflicted on the balance sheet by the write-down is heavy. It has cut shareholders' funds to pounds 62.8m, giving gearing of 242 per cent with debts at pounds 152.1m.

One analyst said: 'Wembley would have to have a most amazing upturn in trading to avoid a refinancing.'

The write-down has caused a breach of Wembley's borrowing powers. A shareholders' meeting has been called for next month to increase the powers from two to three times its shareholders' funds.

Distributable reserves have also turned from being pounds 4.2m positive to pounds 59.6m negative, forcing Wembley to abandon ordinary and preference dividends. Saving the preference payment, due in July, can really be achieved only by a financial reconstruction.

Wembley has already agreed with its banks, led by Barclays, to make pounds 50m of disposals by Christmas. It has sold pounds 40m of businesses so far.

Sir Brian was a little more optimistic about trading, however. He said: 'The leisure industry has been devastated by recession. There aren't that many companies left, but things are getting a little better.'

Analysts expect Wembley to do little better than break-even this year. The most bullish forecast is a pre-tax profit of pounds 1m.

Sir Brian said the deal with the FA would benefit both sides. 'Two plus two can occasionally make five,' he said. 'The ability to market television and advertising packages jointly gives us more muscle.'

The FA and UEFA, the governing football body in Europe, have also agreed to stage six matches of the 1996 European Championships at Wembley. All of England's home internationals will be held at the stadium until 2002.

Sir Brian said this proved that recent press reports that the FA was going to stop using Wembley were 'just a whole host of bullshit'.

Coca-Cola has signed a 10-year sponsorship deal to become the offical soft drink supplier to the Wembley complex, which includes the Arena. A drop in the number of event days at the Arena from 148 to 119 in 1993 was one of the prime reasons behind a fall in operating profits from continuing businesses from pounds 12.7m to pounds 11.1m.

Wembley's greyhound tracks - six in the UK and four in the US - performed better. Average attendances at meetings, which are held three times a week, fluctuate between 1,000 and 2,000.

(Photograph omitted)