When London was awarded the 2012 Olympics in 2005, it was with a plan that the organization of the Games would be financially responsible and not leave the city in the financial bind that has plagued past Olympics. The central piece of any Olympics is the Olympic Stadium and London's bid made sure that the Olympic Stadium would be financially responsible and would never be a white elephant by making it a largely temporary stadium that would be reduced to a 25,000 capacity after the Games. That plan has all but died though and it looks as if it will become a football stadium after the Games and a Premier League stadium at that, but it will only be home to one club and there are two bidding to play there.
West Ham United was the first club to show interest in taking over the Olympic Stadium after the Olympics. It seemed like a natural fit for the East London club to make the short move from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium. When new owners David Sullivan and David Gold bought the club in January of 2010, they made their intent to change the financial makeup of the club clear with a move to the more profitable Olympic Stadium the centerpiece of their makeover.
With a plan to keep the track to maintain the "Olympic legacy" and reduce the stadium's capacity from 80,000 during the Olympics to 60,000 after the Games, West Ham's plan had the support of many in England. The country would still have a showcase athletics facility, which would allow them to bid on the 2017 World Athletics Championships. The stadium would have a permanent tenant in West Ham and the storied club would get the type of financial stability that the outdated Upton Park does not offer them.
When it came time to submit bids to the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) for the contract to run the stadium after the Games, West Ham's bid was submitted as expected. However, when the deadline to submit bids came up, there was another Premier League club to submit their bid, Tottenham Hotspur.
For the better part of the decade, Tottenham has been exploring a stadium improvement. Originally, that improvement was going to be an expansion of White Hart Lane, but that fell through. Then what had been rumored was proven to be true as Tottenham revealed their plans to build a new stadium right next door to White Hart Lane as part of a development that would include a supermarket, hotel, homes and offices for the club in addition to a 56,000 seat stadium. Getting permission to build the stadium took some work and hand wringing, but in September of 2010, the club got the permission they needed from the Haringey Council to go ahead on the stadium. Even so, the club continued to pursue the Olympic Stadium.
All of this has led to a showdown between West Ham and Tottenham for the right to move to the Olympic Stadium. West Ham seems to have the support of most because they are a East London club. The move to the Olympic Stadium makes sense geographically. Meanwhile, Tottenham would be moving away from North London to the Stratford site of the Olympic Stadium, a prospect that has angered some Spurs supporters enough that they vow to end their allegiance to the club and investigate a start up club that would represent Tottenham.
The benefits for West Ham are clear. Upton Park is outdated and the Olympic Stadium would allow them to stay local with a stadium that would allow them to maximize revenue. For a club that was in massive debt just 18 months ago, such financial stability is of the utmost importance and being a historically big club, moving into the Olympic Stadium would not be completely out of place. The Hammers' plan to keep the track has also garnered support from many, including the chairman of the London Organizing Committee, Sebastian Coe. Coe has thrown his support behind West Ham's bid because it would maintain the track, something he insists is vital for the legacy of the 2012 Games and for the sport in England, while also keeping the promise that the bid team made to the International Olympic Committee when they bid on the Games.
There are a handful of issues with the West Ham bid, though. First of all, many wonder whether the club has the support necessary to jump from a 35,000 seat Upton Park to a 60,000 seat Olympic Stadium and not have scores of empty seats. Second, while keeping the track at the Olympic Stadium may be well and good for athletics, it would make for a sub-par stadium to watch football.
Taking a look at Tottenham's bid, the negatives are much more obvious. First of all, they plan to demolish the Olympic Stadium and build a stadium that more suits their needs on the site. This means the entire legacy that the Olympic Stadium could have had is out the window just months after the Games. Of course, Spurs would also be leaving North London for East London, something that will not go over well with many supporters. The club's impetus for building a bigger stadium is to increase revenue and the crux of the argument is not just that White Hart Lane is sold out on season tickets, but there are over 30,000 people on the waiting list. If the club leaves North London and alienates some of their fan base, will they still have over 60,000 people who want season tickets anymore? Unlikely.
Part of Tottenham's plan is to make the most revenue possible from the stadium by partnering with AEG a worldwide leader in sports and entertainment management who owns the Los Angeles Kings, several arenas worldwide, manages dozens of stadiums and has a history in London with their management of the O2 Arena. AEG would handle much of the concerts and other events at the stadium to maximize the revenue generated by the stadium. It is highly unlikely that West Ham could generate the revenue from the Olympic Stadium that Spurs could.
In an effort to mitigate the effects of removing the track at the Olympic Stadium, Spurs plan to build the Crystal Palace athletics stadium up to 20,000 with the ability to expand to 40,000 for major events. That plan has not satisfied the athletics constituents in the country though, who say the plan is inadequate and others have said that for the city to spend £537 million on the Olympic Stadium just to tear it down after a month is unthinkable.
Should Tottenham's bid succeed, West Ham would have to return to the possibility of expanding Upton Park. Two years ago they received planning permission to expand the ground to over 40,000, however some have speculated that is as far as the club would be able to expand the stadium and it would still lack some of the hospitality boxes of more modern stadiums.
Spurs would find themselves in what appears to be a financial goldmine should their bid succeed as they estimate that rebuilding the Olympic Stadium and the Crystal Palace athletics stadium would cost £250 million as opposed to the £450 million that their proposed stadium next to White Hart Lane would cost.
On the other hand, if West Ham's bid succeeds, the club would be able to sell Upton Park for an estimated £40 million and get another £40 million in bonds to make their slight renovations to the Olympic Stadium. The Hammers would have their modern ground and the athletics supporters would be pleased.
Spurs would return to Tottenham with their planning permission on their new stadium, although the costs of building it would be well above what their plans for the Olympic Stadium are. Nonetheless, with the planning permission and land secured, as well as anticipated financing, the club could start construction before long and be playing in their new 56,000 seat stadium within a few years.
For those who abhor the influence of money in modern football, they will find themselves squarely in West Ham's corner. They would keep their home in East London and Tottenham would remain in North London, where they have been since the club was established in 1882. The athletics folks would be happy to boot. On the flip side, those who value revenue maximization and have no interest in watching football from 45 meters away at the closest, they will find themselves rooting for Tottenham to succeed.
The OPLC will announce the winning bid by March and either West Ham or Tottenham will be in the clear to move to Stratford following the 2012 Olympics and whatever renovations or rebuild they have planned. Whatever the OPLC decides, there are gigantic financial ramifications for two of London's biggest clubs and a possible change in over 100 years of London football location, history and support.