Arsenal to have Real money power

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The Independent Online

Arsenal will have the financial might of Real Madrid once their new stadium at Ashburton Grove is open, the club's managing director, Keith Edelman, claimed yesterday.

Arsenal will have the financial might of Real Madrid once their new stadium at Ashburton Grove is open, the club's managing director, Keith Edelman, claimed yesterday.

Edelman, who announced that income was up 33 per cent at the Premiership champions, said the £350m project was five weeks ahead of schedule and would open in time for the 2006-07 season.

"I think we are building a really strong business model which over the long term will develop strong revenues for the team, and transfers which will be Europe's first class," he said. Arsenal would also receive more in gate receipts at their 60,000-seat stadium than Manchester United, even when Old Trafford is increased to a 75,000 capacity, he said. "We spend nearly as much as they do now [on wages]," Edelman said (Arsenal's wage bill is £69m a year). "The big difference is the transfer budget. Over the last year we're not far behind but over the next few years, when we have the new stadium, we will be able to do exactly the same."

Edelman also said that Arsenal had been approached about Ashburton Grove being used as part of Britain's Olympic bid, and said that the name for the new stadium would be agreed by Christmas. It will not have Highbury in its title and will be named solely after a sponsor.

Edelman hopes Arsenal will get "substantially more" than the £2.5m a year that is the highest so far paid in Europe for such a deal. Arsenal would no doubt hope for double that which would add around £75m in income spread over 15 years. "We've spoken to a number of companies, major, major companies," Edelman said. The obvious candidate - whose shirt sponsorship deal is also up for renewal the season after next - is O2. Other major sponsors include Samsung, Renault and Budweiser.

At the same time, Highbury will be sold and developed into luxury flats, which should raise an extra £70 to £85m. The Clock End clock, the Herbert Chapman bust and the "marble halls", although not the same marble halls as at present, will all transfer to the new stadium which will be a similar bowl shape to Benfica's new ground.

Arsenal are borrowing £260m for the project, which also includes a regeneration scheme, and hope to refinance the debt once the stadium opens.

The "break-even" point, Edelman said, for the new stadium, is just 40,000. Arsenal will sell 44,000 season tickets and already have 23,000 season-ticket holders with 40,000 on their waiting list - the average wait is 40 years. The deal is not dependent on Arsenal being in the Champions' League.

"The funding will work even if we end up bottom of the Premiership," Edelman said. "On day one we will get significant extra revenue." Before then there are property profits which added £42m to Arsenal's turnover last year. The club announced a doubling of pre-tax profit to £10.6m with bank loans currently totalling £142.7m at the end of May mainly relating to the stadium scheme.

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