Wembley stays in the red with pounds 8m hangover

NIGEL COPE

An increase in the number of pop concerts - including several by Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi - helped increase operating profits at leisure group Wembley last year, though restructuring charges still dragged the troubled company to an pounds 8m loss.

The company is awaiting the decision of the Sports Council on whether Wembley or Manchester will be chosen as the preferred location for the new National Stadium. Wembley expects the long-delayed decision in the next few months and the board said yesterday that it had "an extremely strong case".

The 72-year-old stadium has already beat off rival bids from Birmingham, Sheffield and Bradford and is now in a two horse race.

Finance director Nigel Potter dismissed suggestions that the company's future relied upon winning the nomination. "In the short to medium term it would have little or no impact because we have contracts with the FA for major events that last until 2002," he said.

"Whichever way the decision falls Wembley Stadium will always be an attractive international location for sports and entertainment events.

Wembley said the appointment of Peter Mead, a director of the advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers as a non executive director last week would boost its marketing campaigns. Jarvis Astaire, the showbusiness impresario, will remain on the board and draw on his contacts in political circles to help Wembley's case.

In the year to December 1995 Wembley reduced its losses to pounds 8m compared to the previous year's pounds 35m. The loss is attributable to the cost of re- financing of the group last year.

Operating profits increased from pounds 11.7m to pounds 19.7m boosted by seven pop concerts held during the year, compared to none in 1994. The total number of events rose from 22 to 29.

Bookings for 1996 are also ahead of last year at both Wembley Arena and the stadium. Concerts confirmed for this year include Tina Turner, The Eagles and the Three Tenors. Six European Championship football fixtures are also scheduled for Wembley this summer.

Profits at the US greyhound racing tracks have been boosted by a full year contribution from 856 video lottery terminals at the venue in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

Sales and profits were down at the UK greyhound arcing tracks with Wembley blaming the fall on the National Lottery.

Chairman Claes Hultman said the company had generated pounds 23m of free cash flow last year and reduced its gearing to 42 per cent compared to lat year's level of 323 per cent. Its borrowings now stand at pounds 65m. He stressed that no acquisitions would be made. "We have plenty of ideas to make these assets sweat," he said.

Last year was traumatic for Wembley. As well as a refinancing and a pounds 35m loss it included the departure of long standing chairman Sir Brian Wolfson and five others including Sir Peter Thompson and Alex McCrindle. Alan Coppin was appointed chief executive.

The shares closed 2p down at 365p last night.

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