West Ham United: Why Olympic Stadium Move Can't Transform West Ham's Fortunes

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West Ham United: Why Olympic Stadium Move Can't Transform West Ham's Fortunes
Tom Shaw/Getty Images

I do not mean to sound pessimistic, nor do I wish to preface this piece like that of a Hollywood film trailer for World War Z, but West Ham's future move to the Olympic Stadium in East London has all the traits of a disaster waiting to happen.

West Ham United signed a 99-year lease to move to the Olympic Stadium on 22 March 2013. And that day could well by earmarked as "The Day That Destroyed West Ham United."

Okay that was a bit Hollywood. But here is why.

As reported by the BBC, West Ham's new stadium will increase their capacity from 35,000 to an estimated 60,000. But despite filling 97.3% of their stadium on average last season (via ITV), there are no guarantees that the East London club will magically find 25,000 extra fans in order to sell out their new home.

One of the aims of moving to a bigger stadium was to allow more people to watch the East End club, and "lock that world-renowned atmosphere in" (via Daily Telegraph). Which is a good idea in principle, and was one of the major factors for the Hammers to move to this new stadium.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
David James thought this hairstyle was a good idea. But doesn't agree with the Olympic Stadium plans.

However, if a club can only just fill their 35,000-seat-stadium on a weekly basis, will these extra seats mean extra fans?

Common sense would say not. And that in turn presents a concern over money.

Ticket revenue is a huge part of any football club, and if all the seats can be filled when West Ham move in 2016, then yes, as a business idea, that move would be deemed the correct one.

However, as former West Ham goalkeeper David James wrote in The Guardian:

The Olympic Stadium looks a cheap option when you consider that Arsenal's Emirates Stadium cost the club a whopping £390m while West Ham will pay £15m upfront for the Olympic Stadium and then £2.5m per year in rent thereafter. A steal, no? Unfortunately, those figures only stack up as value for money if the club can attract enough supporters to fill a 60,000-seat stadium.

And West Ham do not currently inspire hoards of new supporters to flock to the Olympic Stadium.

They do not have an Asian superstar such as Ji-Sung Park at Queens Park Rangers who brought thousands of Korean fans to West London.

They do not have the ability to attract the world's best players to the club, considering their recent purchases are Razvan Rat, Daniel Whitehead and Adrian.

You would be forgiven if you used the word "who?" with all three.

Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Andy Carroll is West Ham's only major signing of the summer so far

Oh, and they have Andy Carroll.

Ignoring their current squad, West Ham also do not have the most consistent form, having spent three of the last 10 seasons in the Championship. And that is not an attractive prospect for potential world-class signings which, in turn, would bring supporters.

Since becoming a yo-yo club in the more recent future, there could well be a chance that come 2016, West Ham will not be in the Premier League. And if that is the case, then 60,000 people are not going to want to pay to watch Championship football.

Which will leave empty seats, and therefore empty pockets.

However, more worryingly for Hammers' fans is the latest news that the club's vice-chairperson Karren Brady has announced that they have been told they will have to pay off all of their bank debt before their move to the Olympic Stadium (via The Guardian).

The same story reported that West Ham have debts totaling close to £70 million, with half of that tied up in their current ground Upton Park, which has to be cleared when the ground is sold ahead of the move to the Olympic Stadium in 2016.

Trying to clear £70 million in three years will not be an easy task, especially since Karren Brady has admitted that she expects income projections for the sale to be down 50 percent from 2010, and the potential buyer they had lined up to take over Upton Park has fallen through (via The Guardian).

Stu Forster/Getty Images
West Ham's owners have a lot of work to do even before the stadium move takes place

If you take into account the next few years, when the club has to try and reduce their debt in any way they can (whether that be in wages, transfers or cutting other budgets), coupled with the fact that West Ham are not major players in the Premier League or transfer market and the fact that they are counting on up to 60,000 fans to attend come 2016 to make their money back, it does not bode well for the East London side.

Of course, if the chairmen do good business, and if the club continues to grow in the Premier League to attract top quality signings, and if they do not drop a division again, then maybe, just maybe, this stadium move will be a great step forward for the club.

But that is a lot of ifs. And West Ham's fortunes will have to change prior to the stadium move, not because of it.

Otherwise, there will just be a lot of empty seats painted claret and blue, and the club could see itself in both financial and football decline.

 

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