The Venue of Legends will at last become the venue of legroom when the new, state-of-the-illuminated-arc Wembley Stadium opens its doors in 2006 – possibly for a match between England and Brazil – but the best views will come at a price that is likely to be beyond the means of many football supporters.
In its sales pitch for the most luxurious seats, which will account for 20 per cent of the 90,000 capacity, Wembley National Stadium Limited yesterday gave the public the opportunity to guarantee a seat and in-stadium hospitality at all 12 "core" events per season during its first decade. However, those joining the "Club Wembley" premium-seating scheme will be committing themselves to an outlay of over £20,000.
Wembley has divided the price for the 16,000 behind-goal "club" seats into a licence fee of £3,900 for the 10-year period and a season ticket at £1,350 a year. When VAT is added, the overall cost rises to £20,445, or £167 per match, although the price will remain fixed.
Since those fixtures include all England full internationals, the FA Cup final and both semi-finals, League Cup final, FA Community Shield and Rugby League Challenge Cup final, many will consider it an investment worth splashing out for. Corporate boxes are also on sale for between £60,000 and £270,000 per annum, but the Football Association denied that the "average" fan would be priced out.
"We either do it this way or ask the tax-payer to pay for the stadium," said the FA's Nick Barron, who is also Wembley's communications manager. Asked whether a notoriously stop-start project was dependent on the packages selling well, he replied: "It's not necessary for the completion of the stadium. Wembley is getting built, no question. We don't need to sell them all out – that would be reckless."
Prices for the 71,200 "ordinary" seats – which Wembley boasts will have more legroom than those in the old ground's royal box – will be set according the general ticketing policies of the FA and Football League. Nor will the FA have to pass on any increase if construction costs rise above the projected £757m. They will be absorbed by the Australian-based construction company, Multiplex.
Jonathan Hill, representing Club Wembley, claimed the cost of its corporate packages compared favourably with Ascot, Wimbledon and Twickenham. He enthused about "light, spacious concourses as wide as motorways", about the "wide, padded seats" and four huge restaurants, adding: "The aim is to make it a real 'destination venue', like Ascot or Wimbledon."
Supporters for whom quaffing champagne and strawberries is not a match-day priority will be more impressed by the promises of improved sightlines, toilets and refreshment areas. The old Wembley enjoyed a worldwide reputation due to the heroics of Matthews, Hurst and Gascoigne but also the athletics, boxing, speedway, rugby, rock concerts and evangelical rallies staged there. Yet behind the surface romance of the twin towers, it had become a rotting, rusting edifice, living off its name.
Michael Cunnah, Wembley's chief executive, described it as having "a fantastic past and magnificent future". Rod Sheard, the architect, said it had "served the nation well for 80 years", but added: "We expect better now. This represents a generational leap like we haven't seen. To give you an idea of the scale, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is a third the size of what Wembley will be."
The new "Wembley experience" may be launched by an old rivalry. The FA Cup final of 2006 is pencilled in for the showpiece opening, but with the builders reportedly on schedule and on budget, the FA is pondering an invitation to Brazil or perhaps Scotland.
THE CORPORATE COMPARISON
CORPORATE BOXES (160 in total, 19 key events a year)
8 seats (£60,000pa) £395 per person per event (pppe)
12 seats (£90,000-£120,000pa) £395-£526pppe
20 seats (£175,000-£210,000pa) £461-£553
CLUB WEMBLEY 10-YEAR SEAT LICENCES (16,000 seats in total, 12 key events a year)
Premier (£16,100 one-off licence fee + £5,450pa season ticket+VAT) £691pppe
Executive Gold (£8,400 + £2,800pa+VAT) £356
Executive Silver (£5,600 + £2,000pa+VAT) £250
Club (£3,900 + £1,350pa+VAT) £170
OTHER SPORTING EVENTS (2003 PRICES)
WIMBLEDON (hospitality at men's final 2003) £2,145pppe
CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE (on-site hospitality at 2003 final) £1,375
FA CUP FINAL (on-site hospitality at 2003 final) £800
ENGLAND V TURKEY (off-site hospitality) £700
TWICKENHAM (hospitality at England v France 2003) £650Reuse content