West Ham United – now a good proposition

ONE of the most enjoyable aspects of the 2021-22 season has been the form of West Ham United and their positive momentum under manager David Moyes. They are currently in the Champions League slots, but such has been the unpredictable nature of West Ham’s history that nobody is getting too carried away about the immediate prospects of the east London club. The Hammers, despite their colourful history, have a relatively empty trophy cabinet – three FA Cups (1964, 1975 and 1980) and a European Cup-Winners’ Cup triumph in 1965. It has been over 40 years since their last success.

When the club moved to the former Olympic stadium, there were mixed feelings. It was easy to agree with the club’s grandees that the relocation could prove to be the catalyst for success, but many of their fans didn’t necessarily agree. They liked the homely, outdated and very urban Boleyn Ground, a football ground that had a certain kind of atmosphere and ticked all the boxes in terms of the image of the traditional stadium. But the Boleyn Ground was limited and would never have allowed the club to become the sort of modern institution that some of their London rivals had evolved into.

Naturally, change wasn’t accepted by everyone, especially legacy fans that felt comfortable among the intimate, back streets around Upton Park. From day one, the audience was split, but West Ham also had around 25,000 extra fans watching them, many of whom were new generation supporters. There’s no doubt the stadium was not the ideal venue, but it would surely gradually become more like home for the club’s fans, would it not?

While the fans were less than happy with the club’s owners for disposing of the family treasure, the Sullivan-Gold regime, in 2020-21, West Ham seemed to find some stability and their final placing of sixth was their best top flight finish since 1998-99, thus qualifying for the UEFA Europa League, their ninth European campaign.

The ability to draw almost 60,000 to the London stadium and the club’s proximity now to central London and the City of London, makes West Ham a much more attractive club to investors and businesses than they were a decade ago. The pandemic has hit West Ham worse than some of their peers. In 2019-20, their turnover, at £ 140 million, was 27% down and their net loss more than. Doubled to £ 65.3 million. The club curbed expenses by more than £ 3 million, including a 6% cut in wages. Despite this, West Ham’s wage-to-income ratio was an alarming 91%, some 20 percentage points up on 2018-19 and the highest in the Premier League. However, bearing in mind the damage caused by the pandemic, the ratio would have been 73% in normal circumstances. 

David Sullivan and David Gold have been looking for fresh investment in the club and they may have found it in the form of Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky. He’s a dispassionate businessman who has stakes in Sparta Prague, French newspaper Le Monde and Sainsbury. His hard-nosed approach has earned him the nickname of the “Czech Sphinx”. 

There’s talk of Kretinsky paying £ 150 million for a 27% stake in West Ham, a deal that would effectively value the club at between £ 600 and £ 700 million. Sullivan and Gold have already rejected would-be buyers, notably the private equity firm PAI Capital. Whether a partial sale would herald the start of the current board exiting remains to be seen, but this may not come until 2023, the expiry of the clause demanding any profit from selling a stake in the club has to be shared with the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Should the sale of 27% take place, it will introduce a fresh dynamic to the ownership of West Ham. Sullivan and Gold own 51.5% and 35% respectively, with Tripp Smith, a director of Blackstone, owning 10%. 

On the pitch, West Ham moved into the bracket that is now confronting the so-called “big six”, although both Arsenal and Tottenham are now clinging on to the shirt-tails of the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Liverpool. West Ham and Leicester are the challenger clubs and are enjoying European football this season, while Tottenham have had to settle for Conference League football and Arsenal are completely out of the picture.

West Ham have the potential to be a regular European contender and can also leverage their position in London to grow their financial platform. Any club with almost 60,000 people coming through the gate on a regular basis has to have a chance. The future could be very bright in Stratford.

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