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Junk Mail... Or Is It?

By David Arrow :  14/11/2008 :  Comments (0) :
In amongst the usual array of bills and junk mail on my mat earlier this week was a glossy magazine entitled PanStadia which claims to be “The No. 1 journal for the sports and entertainment facility industry worldwide”. I know, hardly the most succinct strap line and a cover price of £25 to boot.

Now, I didn’t request the publication, have no affiliation with the industry sector and couldn’t understand why the publishers had gone to all the trouble of sending me a very expensive glossy magazine. It was about to go the same way as the rest of the junk mail when I saw on the front page the now infamous graphic image of the Tesco Dome.

That got my attention and off came the wrapper. Inside was a 10-page leader article entitled “True Blue” by feature writer Paul Haines who “delves into the difficult decisions being faced by Everton FC in their quest for a new stadium”.

I’ll get on to the contents shortly but my first thought was that Everton have either given or sold their season ticket database to this publication, because randomly sending expensive construction magazines to people that don’t want them doesn’t make a great deal of business sense on the part of the publishers. Now, being an Evertonian of over 40 years I love a conspiracy theory and I convinced myself that this was an attempt by the club to communicate a positive message to the core support ahead of the upcoming public enquiry.

After a day or two, my "grassy knoll" theory was looking a little shaky because if I’m right then 20-odd thousand others will have also received it and I would have expected a more willing contributor than me to have raised the issue by now. So perhaps I’m wrong and they got my details from somewhere else and I’m the privileged recipient of an expensive magazine that just happened to have a feature about my team in it. Either way, it was an interesting read on a number of levels and thought that it was worth sharing.

Before going to much further, I have read pretty much everything I can on the Kirkby issue, most of it on this site, and nailing my colours to the mast, I am totally opposed to the move. I also know a lot of you are sick to the back teeth of the issue and don’t want to read another article dragging up the same old chestnuts. At least it’s vaguely topical with the enquiry starting next week... I just hope that it doesn’t polarise us all as most articles on this subject inevitably do. Consider it information sharing with the odd bit of partisan comment from the contributor.

Whilst there weren’t 10 pages of narrative — lots of graphic images of the new stadium and a couple of full-page ads broke it up — I did learn a few things. As you would expect from a magazine that makes it’s living promoting new stadia “worldwide” it laid out a persuasive case in favour of the move and highlighted all the deficiencies of Goodison Park, “despite it’s rich history, Goodison Park's status has fallen steadily over the past 30 years… restricted views… inability to generate increased revenues…” et al.

I was very interested to read the extensive quotes attributed to our acting CEO Robert Elstone and Alan Bowen, who I’ve not heard quoted before but has the title of “Head of Stadium Operations”. Apart from the in-house propaganda pre-vote, this is the most comment I have read from the Club on the matter. It was Wyness-esque rhetoric but nonetheless interesting, set in the context of the article in which the writer, after laying out the background, posed the question:

“If the Kirkby project does become unviable for Everton, then where would that leave the club?”

To get to the question, the preceding commentary hadn’t really addressed the very real possibility that it will be thrown out because it contravenes the planning regulations and will have a detrimental impact on adjacent economies, more that any delay will render the project uneconomical.

Apparently it’s a 90-week building project and the club will be 12 months behind schedule if the project gets the go ahead in spring 2009. The cost of the delay as quoted by Alan Bowen ranges between £9m and £14m. “We are only committed to a certain level of financial outlay on the stadium. Once we exceed that amount, it becomes unworkable for us”. He doesn’t say what that financial walk-away point is, however. Last I heard we were in for £78m — does that include the cost of the delay or is Tesco picking up the tab for that?

At the risk of taking us off at a tangent too far, clearly a quicker-than-expected public enquiry has been beneficial for the club and will provide certainty to all concerned by spring next year, which is no bad thing. Whilst personally I hope the inquiry kills it completely, let’s say it doesn’t and it receives the green light. If so, will the economic recession, set to last into 2010, be beneficial or detrimental to the project? Since the project was called in, interest rates are lower, sterling has weakened, the construction sector is in severe contraction and land prices are falling. So, is it fiscally prudent against this economic outlook to spend £78m+ on a new stadium?

Most observers believe attendances and corporate entertainment/sponsorship has maxed out, certainly in the short-term economic cycle. Considering our inability to sell out Goodison for the two most attractive fixtures of the season, filling a 50k stadium is questionable and I’ve never bought the argument that there is a host of lucrative corporate clients waiting in the wings to entertain customers at Everton. We’re not exactly a fashionable corporate attraction; remember in our halcyon days of the Eighties we were sponsored by a cooked meats firm in New Brighton! (I know it was pre-Sky so it doesn’t count). TV revenue should actually hold up with continued robust demand from the Middle and Far East markets but as we all know, they are only interested in the usual suspects... so we will get our slice of this, new stadium or not. End of digression, back to the question.

The 3 options discussed were:

  • Option 1: Redevelopment of the stadium on the existing footprint.
    This was rejected out of hand by our head of stadium operations. Building it to Uefa regulations would reduce the capacity to 35k and we’d need to ground share for 2 years. “(the cost)…is mammoth in comparison to what we are getting at Kirkby”.
  • Option 2: A newly built stadium on an expanded footprint.
    This would require closing and re-siting Gwladys Street school, acquiring 98 houses on Muriel and Diana Streets, together with the garage on the corner of Gwladys Street, which strangely got a mention. We would also be playing on a three-sided Goodison whilst the redevelopment took place. (Something we did in the nineties when we built the Park End.) This option was also rejected.

    While the plan sounds feasible (interesting concession) the costs to the club are in stark contrast to those of the Kirkby project, Elstone said “…we would lose £3m a year and it would be a phenomenally expensive development at an estimated £230m excluding land acquisition” Where did that estimate come from?
  • Option 3: Utilising the funds currently available for Kirkby to develop the current stadium.
    This is the cheapest alternative but apparently still poses huge problems for the club. The quoted opposition to this appears to be the weakest. Alan Bowen this time “You have to demolish one of the existing stands and begin building work while you are still in the football season….. you lose income from the 10k or so seats while you are rebuilding”. The article focussed on redeveloping Bullens Road, which would increase capacity to 44k but “…a basic stand would be £50m, if we want to put hospitality in it will cost £71m” said Elstone. Does anyone know how he has got to these figures?
The rejection of all 3 options centred on the costs when compared to Kirkby. The article understandably focussed on construction issues with not even a passing glance at the intangible softer issues that exercise most of those opposed to the move.

So, going in to the public enquiry, not surprisingly, the club are still hell bent on Plan A, because there is no Plan B. Wyness may have gone but his legacy lives on with the acting CEO. At the risk of going over old ground, there are contributors a lot closer to the fundamentals of this issue than I am and it would be interesting to know if the figures quoted by the club's spokesmen stand scrutiny.

I told myself that I wouldn’t get involved in the stadium debate; damn the post man and damn the mailing list that PanStadia got my name from. Here’s to an open and transparent public enquiry.

Viva democracy!

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