The chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), responsible for the management and development of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, has said she is “very confident” and “hopeful” of selling naming rights for the loss-making London Stadium during 2023, and therefore of reducing its operating deficit in the future.
Speaking to a meeting of the full London Assembly at City Hall yesterday, Lyn Garner (pictured) struck an upbeat note, saying “we now have a number of sponsors engaged at quite a high level” to discuss a sponsorship deal encompassing the stadium and the park “which we are doing together”, and confirmed that Sadiq Khan is “very willing to get involved in the search for a stadium sponsor” at an appropriate time.
Previous attempts to sell naming rights for the stadium, which was substantially rebuilt from the bespoke Olympic Stadium constructed for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and is now the home ground of West Ham United, have run aground, including a potential deal with Vodafone which fell through in May 2017.
The terms of the contract agreed in March 2013 between West Ham and E20 Stadium LLP, the body set up by the LLDC to own the venue, are that the first £4 million of any annual sponsorship fee go to E20 with anything above that to be shared equally with the football club.
In October Garner, who was appointed chief executive in December 2017, told Assembly members (AMs) she would be willing to discuss transferring the naming rights from the public body to West Ham if the club was prepared to offer £4 million a year in return. However, West Ham vice chair, the Conservative peer Karren Brady, who runs the club, has responded that the rights are worth only £2 million and claimed “the prospect of naming rights revenue for West Ham United is dwindling to zero”.
Relationships between the LLDC and West Ham have long been tense and Garner reiterated to AMs yesterday her view that at present it is “inappropriate to discuss transferring control or stadium naming rights to the club” until “a continuing, significant financial and legal dispute that we currently have with the club” is over, perhaps later in the spring. Garner added: “But I continue, regularly, to ask for a proposal from the club, which we’ve never had.”
Conservative AM Keith Prince, who represents the east London Havering & Redbridge constituency, told Garner, “My understanding is that all the club really want to do is have a sort of very good relationship with you” and he asked “What is the blockage, what’s the hurdle to this wonderful relationship blossoming?” Garner replied that “the major hurdle just now is around this particular dispute,” the nature of which was not disclosed.
Prince also asked Garner if she had yet shared with West Ham, in line with a previous commitment, “the details and high level principles” discussed with the the PIA Capital property consortium which has expressed an interest in buying West Ham and has a deal with the LLDC to take ownership of the stadium should a sale occur. Garner said she has not yet done so for the same reason.
Garner, who was accompanied at City Hall by LLDC chair Lord Peter Hendy, said substantial stadium running costs have been saved in recent years, notably by reducing the expense of moving the seats during the summer months to enable its use for athletics and concerts, from £11 million to £3 million and bringing down electricity use by 18 per cent.
She acknowledged that, despite this, if the stadium is to remain in public ownership “we are going to see year-on-year operational deficits” but argued that “the upside is the stadium is hugely successful, particularly in recent years” and that this brings benefits “to London in the round.”
Major League Baseball is to return to the stadium in the summer as part of a three-year deal the Mayor helped negotiate, and Garner said the last time this happened “over £37 million” went into the capital’s economy as a result. “If we look at it in those terms, owning and running the stadium does bring a huge return to London as long as we can get enough events in that help us drive that through the summer,” she said.
Another potential financial problem for E20 and the LLDC is that West Ham are in danger of being relegated from the Premier League at the end of this season – they are presently fractionally above the drop zone – which would bring about a reduction in the rent they pay.
Ownership stakes in the club have changed in recent years, with a 27 per cent share bought in November 2021 by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky. He is reportedly interested in becoming the majority shareholder by buying up the shares of late co-owner David Gold, who died in January, though the situation appears to be unclear.
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