Why are WWFC supporters angry?
Although on the surface this proposal looks like a win-win for Wycombe Wanderers FC – a brand new stadium far greater than they could finance themselves – scratch below the surface and you will find this scheme is a carefully disguised asset stripping exercise that will rob the club of its main assets (Adams Park and its training facilities on B482 Marlow Rd) and many of the revenue streams that it currently enjoys.
What’s wrong with Adams Park?
Wycombe Wanderers (WWFC) currently play at Adams Park, a modern 10,000 capacity stadium the majority of clubs in the 3rd and 4th tiers of professional football would be proud to call their own.
Apart from access issues resulting from the location of the stadium at the end of an industrial estate cul-de-sac, there is very little wrong with the stadium at present. Indeed, during Grant Thornton’s assessment of the site, two new Park and Ride sites off Lane End Road and the A40 in West Wycombe were identified as providing sufficient access to increase capacity to 17,500. Although such a development would not be an ideal for WWFC at this moment in time, this would not be as disasterous for the club as a move to the proposed Booker stadium.
Wouldn’t a new 20,000 super-stadium benefit the club financially?
Adams Park is a facility that they own 100%, an arrangement that ensures that all gate receipts, rent from tenant clubs (i.e. London Wasps RUFC), other matchday income as well as revenue generated at other off-the-field facilities (e.g. function rooms and conference facilities) all go directly to the club without going through a 3rd party stadium company.
As a precondition to Wycombe District Council (WDC) giving their backing to the stadium project, WWFC will have to direct all revenue derived from selling Adams Park and the training facilities to the new stadium project, where they will be tenants to the WDSL stadium management company. This will therefore strip WWFC of its two most valuable assets without the club seeing a penny of their value.
In addition, it is hard to see how WWFC will actually be able to increase their turnover at this new stadium. As they will no longer have 100% ownership of revenue generating facilities such as the function rooms, conferencing facilities and hotel planned for the proposed stadium at Booker, the amount of revenue from these activities going to the club is likely to be a small fraction of the total generated. Additionally it is unclear as to whether WWFC will have to pay WDSC a percentage of their gate receipts on top of their rent, whether WWFC will get revenue from catering facilities on matchdays and other revenue streams associated with the football club.
Steve Hayes, owner of WWFC and London Wasps, refuses to give concerned fans any sort projection of what sort of revenue the club could expect to generate at the new ground, and how this will be an improvement on the £4.5m turnover (one of the larger turnovers in the 3rd and 4th tiers) that WWFC currently record at Adams Park.
Although this project makes sense for Wasps who are looking to play at a larger stadium, WWFC’s attendances are currently struggling to get over the 4,000 mark and at their height have never averages above 6,500. Moving to this new ground makes no sense for the club as they will be placed even further into debt and face having a reduced turnover unless the fanbase can be doubled.
But Wycombe Wanderers are losing money hand-over-fist, surely Hayes is right when he says they have to move?
The losses are not necessarily down to a lack of commercial facilities at Adams Park. Since Steve Hayes was installed as managing director (100% sole owner of WWFC since 2009), WWFC has recorded record losses (largely through excessive playing stuff budgets and hiring more staff than was necessary for a club in the 4th tier) which have been covered by his loans to the club. Although a small layer of the supporters could see that this was unsustainable and possibly also a conflict of interest of an MD (with the associated fiduciary duties to the club) running up debts in the club’s name to himself, the board of directors allowed this to continue, deriding concerned supporters as ‘negative’ and ‘unambitious’. Hayes himself has also denigrated supporters asking searching and perfectly valid questions about the sustainability of his loss-making business model at the club as being “happy to see the club playing in the non-league, that’s a fact” (BFP – 28.9.10).
Notobooker.com believes that the club’s best interests would be best served making a greater effort to break even at Adams Park. Clubs such as Exeter, Lincoln and Yeovil have shown that it is possible to stay in the black even with turnovers nearer the £3m mark, considerably smaller than Wycombe’s current £4.5m turnover.
There is also the prospect of Steve Hayes ditching WWFC after Wasps have got what they want and have settled into a stadium built at Booker, something that will prove disastrous for the WWFC as they are currently propped up by his loans covering losses incurred under his management. Again, despite requests from supporters for reassurances that he will not leave the club in the lurch should his proposed stadium be built, Hayes has not confirmed that this will not be his course of action.
But what about the ‘new stadium effect’? Won’t WWFC soar up the leagues?
Although some clubs (most notably Reading) have used the building of a new stadium as a catalyst for increasing attendances and improving on-the-pitch performances, this was usually in the context of moving from decaying outmoded pre-Taylor Report stadia without the off-the-field revenue generating facilities needed for football clubs in the 21st century. In fact, Reading’s move from their small and ramshackle Elm Park ground to the modern and far larger Madejski Stadium bears a greater resemblance to WWFC’s move from Loakes Park to Adams Park in 1990, a move that was the catalyst to WWFC’s promotion to the Football League and the club’s purple patch under Martin O’Neill’s management.
By contrast, Steve Hayes’s proposal to move WWFC to his stadium in Booker will strip WWFC of facilities that are current ideally suited to a club of their stature and potential. In this sense, this move will bear more resemblance to Darlington’s 25,000-seater Reynolds Arena, which was at best barely a quarter full. These days the club is struggling to survive in the non-league with crowds of barely 2,000, crippled by the costs of maintaining a patently overambitious stadium. Although WWFC wouldn’t be paying for maintenance directly as a tenant of the Booker stadium, the losses in other revenue streams as a result of no longer owning their own stadium are likely to far outweigh this.
Therefore, Wycombe Wanderers supporters concerned about these proposals as well as being conscientious residents of the High Wycombe area, are organising various protests, selling protest scarves and assisting GASP wherever we can to help build as broad a base of support for our common aim – preventing Steve Hayes’s ‘white elephant’ stadium being built at Booker.
What are those black and white scarves that Wycombe fans are wearing?
The ‘Black and White’ campaign set up by Wycombe Wanderers fans (based on the original colours of North Town Wanderers, a forerunner of the club before WWFC was founded in 1887) aims to get answers from the club as to how this project will benefit WWFC. We want the club to tell us whether WWFC will
- Continue in Steve Hayes’ ownership after any move to a new Community Stadium
- Own any part of a new Community Stadium
- Pay rent in a new Community Stadium
- Replace income lost from tenants London Wasps
- Still receive all income from advertising, sponsorship, hospitality, conferencing and catering in a new Community Stadium
- Keep receipts from the sale of Adams Park and the training ground
- Be able to repay its debts currently standing at circa £6m
- Significantly reduce the current annual losses of circa £1m
- Receive income from related non-footballing activities at new Community Stadium and associated Sports Village
Without this information we are not able to make an informed decision, are not able to judge whether the Club can be sustainable in the proposed new stadium and seriously doubt that moving would be in the best interests of the Club.
You can support the supporters’ campaign by buying a black and white scarf for just £5, not to mention wearing it with pride at WWFC matches and GASP demonstrations!