Chelsea are holding a new round of talks over their £1.5 billion stadium project as the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital owners inch closer to a decision that will shape the club’s future.
While much of the focus has been on how long the board can keep faith with head coach Graham Potter after a terrible run of results, Chelsea have an even bigger issue coming to a head.
Boehly and his co-controlling owner Behdad Eghbali are adamant that Chelsea must have one of the best stadiums in England and in Europe by the time the project comes to an end, with 2030 regarded as the earliest possible move-in date.
Telegraph Sport understands that knocking down Stamford Bridge and building a new stadium on the existing site is currently emerging as the most likely option, although a final decision is yet to be taken.
Chelsea board member Jonathan Goldstein, who is in charge of the project with Janet Marie Smith, the executive vice president of planning and development for the LA Dodgers, is holding talks with the Chelsea Pitch Owners [CPO] and waiting to find out whether a £50million bid to buy a plot of land next to Stamford Bridge has been successful.
Buying the 1.2 acre site that belongs to housing association Stoll would be a huge boost to any plans to build on the existing site, as it would provide Chelsea with increased space for fan parks and offices, while leaving enough room for a new state-of-the-art stadium that could hold at least 55,000.
But Chelsea’s supporters are going to be warned there is no problem-free solution, whichever of the three proposals the owners choose to start work on: building a new stadium on the existing site; redeveloping Stamford Bridge or relocating.
Boehly and Clearlake have reassured the CPO that they would only seriously consider a move away with their backing, which means that knocking down Stamford Bridge and building a new stadium, as previous owner Roman Abramovich had planned to do, currently represents the most realistic option.
Chair of the CPO Chris Isitt said: “The CPO is having positive talks with the club about redevelopment. We understand this is a complicated project which needs careful consideration, but we share the common aim, which is to have the best stadium in London.”
Inside the decision that will shape Chelsea’s future – what to do with Stamford Bridge
Knock down and rebuild Stamford Bridge
This is currently the most likely scenario and the one previous owner Roman Abramovich was granted planning permission for. Building a new stadium on the existing site would also be the most popular option among the majority of supporters and the Chelsea Pitch Owners [CPO].
While there is unlikely to be enough space to build one of the biggest stadiums in the country, starting from scratch would give Chelsea the opportunity to build one of the best with a new capacity of at least 55,000. Knocking down Stamford Bridge and clearing the debris would take around 12-18 months itself, which means the entire project would take at least five years to complete.
The big issue with that is Chelsea would need somewhere to play for that period of time and it is hard to find credible alternatives past Wembley, which is a terrifying prospect for supporters who are well aware of the drawbacks of travelling out to the national stadium for cup finals. Groundsharing with Fulham is another possibility, but Craven Cottage will have a capacity of just under 30,000 when the new stand is fully open.
Redevelop Stamford Bridge
This would rank as the second option for the CPO and a number of match-going supporters, but, in reality, is probably the least likely to happen. Chelsea simply do not have the space to replicate the Liverpool approach of building new stands behind existing ones to cause a minimum amount of disruption to supporters during construction.
Instead, the London club would most likely have to close off large areas of the stadium and play in a building site while stands were rebuilt one at a time. The estimated time of doing this is thought to be even longer than knocking down the stadium and starting from scratch, and the expense would also likely be larger. The biggest downside for Chelsea’s owners, however, will be that delivering an up-to-date, top-of-the-range stadium at the end of a stand-by-stand redevelopment would be incredibly difficult if not impossible. However painful the process, the one non-negotiable for co-controlling owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali is that Chelsea must end up with one of the best stadiums in the country and in Europe.
Move away from Stamford Bridge
This is the scenario which many fans and members of the CPO could not stomach. For the owners to keep the Chelsea name and move the club to a new site, then it would require at least 75 per cent of the CPO voting in favour. The owners are committed to not trying to move Chelsea without the backing of the CPO and doing so would take much negotiation, even if a vote could potentially be passed. The only viable site that would stand any chance of getting the green light from CPO members and fans would be at nearby Earl’s Court.
The positive would, of course, be that moving would give Chelsea much more space to build one of the biggest and one of the best stadiums in the world, and remain in Stamford Bridge in the meantime. But it is not even known whether or not Earl’s Court could be bought with the Earl’s Court Development Company last week releasing a ‘draft masterplan’ to redevelop the site themselves as ‘a destination for entertainment, innovation and excitement’, which would include housing. The plans are some way off becoming reality, but even if it could be bought, the estimated cost of the Earl’s Court site would be around £750 million – making it the most expensive option.
This is essentially what Abramovich did for his 19 years in charge, but it is not feasible for the current owners if Chelsea want to remain a global brand and grow in size. Stamford Bridge’s capacity of just under 40,000 is dwarfed by the rest of the Premier League top-six and even by London rivals West Ham United. As a result, Chelsea’s matchday revenues are smaller than the clubs they are competing against, which also puts them at a disadvantage in terms of Financial Fair Play.
The time frame
Chelsea would ideally like to be playing in a new stadium in or around 2030, which means big decisions must be taken in the coming weeks and months. The planning process could take over a year, even though Abramovich’s grand plan to rebuild Stamford Bridge was given the green light by Hammersmith and Fulham Council before being shelved and then abandoned altogether.
Meetings between the Chelsea board and the CPO are taking place, while the club are also due to find out whether their £50 million bid to buy a 1.2 acre plot of land next to their current stadium, owned by housing association Stoll, will be successful. Buying the Stoll site would significantly increase the amount of land Chelsea could build on were they to rebuild or redevelop the current stadium. It would most likely be used to open out the plot and build offices and immersive fan experiences on, leaving more room for the stadium itself on the current plot.
Given Tottenham Hotspur’s state-of-the-art stadium cost around £1 billion, then Chelsea must budget paying at least £1.5 billion for their own new stadium project. There is no other way to finance such a big spend other than taking on debt, although the Boehly-Clearlake Capital owners may also consider offers of outside investment to help fund the new stadium.
Who’s in charge
Board member Jonathan Goldstein has been put in charge of the new stadium project by Chelsea’s owners. The London-based property developer is the chief executive officer at Cain International, the real estate company responsible for developing Islington Square, The Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills and Raffles hotel in Boston. Janet Marie Smith, the executive vice president of planning and development for the LA Dodgers, the baseball club Boehly part owns, is also taking a lead role. Among her numerous projects have been the renovations of the 56,000-capacity Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox. Smith is credited with creating the Dodgers’ Centerfield Plaza at the front of the stadium, which has almost two acres of restaurants, shops, entertainment and kids areas.
Will there be a stadium sponsor?
The short answer is it is far too early to say, but it is worth noting that Dodger Stadium, home of the LA Dodgers, is not sponsored. Interestingly, reports in America last year claimed that the Dodgers were looking for partner or field sponsors instead of trying to cash in on stadium naming rights. Two examples quoted were the ‘Dodger Stadium presented by a sponsor’ or ‘the sponsor’s field at Dodger Stadium’. Boehly and Eghbali have already demonstrated an ability to look outside the box during their short time at Chelsea.
What it means for the CPO
The Chelsea Pitch Owners recently celebrated their 30th anniversary and in 1997 purchased the Stamford Bridge freehold, the turnstiles, the pitch and the Chelsea FC name, granting the club a 199-year lease on Stamford Bridge for an extremely small rent. The purpose of the CPO is to ensure that Stamford Bridge could never again be sold to property developers after the club almost lost the stadium because of financial difficulties in the 1980s.
The CPO fought off a bid to buy back the freehold by Abramovich in 2011 and the organisation, which is nonprofit, has experienced huge growth over recent years and now has around 14,000 shareholders from 44 different countries. At least 75 per cent of the CPO would need to vote in favour of a move to a new stadium in order for Chelsea’s owners to be able to move the club and retain the same name. Boehly and Clearlake Capital made a number of promises to the CPO during the takeover and the new board have met with the organisation on several occasions already.