May 24, 2018 / 3:20 PM / 25 days ago

Selling Wembley not selling crown jewel, says FA's Clarke

LONDON (Reuters) - English Football Association chairman Greg Clarke says the country will not be selling its “crown jewel” if an offer from U.S. billionaire Shahid Khan to buy Wembley Stadium is accepted.

FILE PHOTO: FA Cup Final - Chelsea vs Manchester United - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - May 19, 2018 Chelsea fans shield their eyes from the sun during the match REUTERS/Andrew Yates/File Photo

Khan, owner of the NFL franchise Jacksonville Jaguars, wants to buy the stadium in a deal that could be worth up to 1 billion pounds ($1.40 billion).

In a letter answering questions from FA Council members, Clarke outlined some of the detail of the bid and offered reassurances that the iconic venue, opened in 2007 after being built on the site of the old Wembley Stadium, would remain at the heart of English football.

“It’s important to remember that The FA did not own Wembley Stadium before 1999, so this is not a historic situation we are unwinding,” Clarke said.

“There are very few national governing bodies that own and operate their own stadiums.

FILE PHOTO: FA Cup Final - Chelsea vs Manchester United - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - May 19, 2018 General view before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge/File Photo

“We did not own it in 1966 or 1996. The emotional reactions and arguments are entirely understandable and that is why it is important that any owner of Wembley Stadium respects its role as the home of English football.”

Clarke said that while Wembley holds a special place in English football, many people regard the “soul” of the English game as being the “clubs, leagues and volunteers”.

The FA, Clarke says, has funds in place to repay the remaining debt on Wembley by 2024, after which the organisation would be £3 million pounds a year better off.

FILE PHOTO: FA Cup Final - Chelsea vs Manchester United - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - May 19, 2018 Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez scores a disallowed goal from a rebound after Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois saves a header REUTERS/Andrew Yates/File Photo

However, he said that scenario, while positive, was not a transformational one.

“Even debt free, there is a limit to what additional profit can be generated from owning the stadium when capital and operational costs are considered,” he said.

Under the terms of the potential sale, which would involve an initial cash payment of 600 million pounds, would also include the FA continuing to own Club Wembley and its revenue stream valued at around 300 million pounds over its future life.

“If accepted The FA would no longer be responsible for the significant operational and capital expenditure costs of the stadium,” Clarke said. “However, the FA would retain the income from our FA generated events, such as England and Emirates FA Cup matches, even if the stadium was sold.

“In addition the FA offices would remain at Wembley.”

The money from the sale of Wembley would allow the governing body to reinvest in the English game at grassroots level, particularly pitches, and stage more England games away from the capital, a plan to which it is already committed.

Khan, the owner of English Championship club Fulham, insists his bid is not a precursor to moving the Jaguars, who have played one home NFL game per season at Wembley since 2013, to London permanently.

Clarke said the FA were a long way from making any decision on a potential sale.

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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