West Ham Are Losing, and It’s The Government’s Fault
West Ham United are losing. On Saturday, the team suffered an agonising 5-0 defeat to Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup, but this is hardly an atypical result in which has been a disappointing season so far.
Last season, under charismatic coach Slavn Bilic, they finished in a very decent 7th position, above giants such as Liverpool and Chelsea. This season they sit in a lame 13th, and out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle.
There has been one reason put forward by all for this drastic dip in form; it’s not the players, not the manager, not the tactics nor even the weather: it’s the stadium’s fault.
The one significantly changed variable from last season is that they have now moved to a new stadium, the former London Olympic Stadium, from their iconic historic ground Upton Park.
There are plenty of reasons why a club might want to move stadium. First of all, the Olympic Stadium seats considerably more spectators, 60,000, from Upton Park’s 36,000. This represents an almost doubling of ticket revenue.
There were a number of fans that welcomed the move, imagining that it would be a big step in the growth of the club, allowing them to create more revenue and push forward up the table accordingly. But one must ask: at what price would you be willing to see this?
In a normal market situation, every decision West Ham’s board of directors would make would be an extension of its fans’ demands. Moving to a new stadium may be one of many fan demands in a long ordinal list. Then of course meeting these demands are subject to scarce resources. Therefore, the board must prioritise. Given all the capital they actually have, moving to a new stadium would probably be very, very low on their priorities.
How do I know this? Well, consider the fact that out of the entire budget for the reconfiguration of the stadium to a football stadium, the club only had to contribute £15 million, with Newham Council contributing £40 million and the rest being made up by the London Legacy Development Corporation (the bureaucracy in charge of the Olympic Park after the games finished) and the government, amounting to £25 million. So nearly 80% of the budget was actually on the taxpayers shoulders.
Oh, and that was only the starting budget.
Of course, this price is probably inflated further simply because the Olympics themselves were a massive government spending project. The stadium was not primarily built by private companies out of desire to fulfil consumer demand, but by the government to cultivate nation-state religion worship and enrich specific special interests. There would have been inefficiencies by its very nature.
Without such support from state institutions, West Ham would simply not have enough money to make the move. Sure, the club and the fans may want a new stadium, but if all of that cost was born on the club, and in turn the fans, they’d probably forget about it. How many fans would welcome a doubling of their season ticket price in the hope of moving to some flashy stadium?
The whole process is not made with the fans’ interest in mind, but out of personal enrichment and just plain vanity.
The result? Fans complain of lack of atmosphere in the new stadium. With a considerably larger space, it is difficult to generate the noise that characterised the old Upton Park. It has zapped the energy of what were exciting match days, where fans made short trips from their houses to the stadium compound, singing passionately. Now fans are packed on to tube trains, and shepherded through a shiny shopping mall to a bland hipster food court. ‘Where are the pies?’ the fans lament.
Plus there has been poor security planning, resulting in massive safety concerns. Poor segregation has exacerbated fan tensions, and in one match there was almost an outright brawl after coins where thrown.
All of this negativity is trickling down to the team, adversely affecting their performances. Where away teams used to dread visiting West Ham, they are now delighting in the space and freedom the stadium affords them.
Despite all that, it’s only partially West Ham’s owners that are at fault. Let’s look at the root of the problem.
Out of fear of having an Athens scenario, where billions worth of architecture is left rotting in the wake of Olympic games, the state has impulsively sold the building on, but with extensive intervention to make sure the new owners do the ‘right thing’ with it.
Part of the bidding process was for bidders to sufficiently persuade the LLDC that there will be a ‘lasting legacy’ with whatever is finally done with the building. It’s resulted in a 99-year lease; and I’m talking about a 99-year lease for West Ham. Who says that the right thing to do would be to using it as a parking lot for 5 years, and then something else after? It’s a totally arbitrary decision.
If the state really did have the taxpayers in mind, and were hellbent on damage limitation, they would simply sell off the land outright and then leave the new owners to decide what to do with it. It didn’t need input from any state institution or individual, including Mayor Boris Johnson that wanted the stadium to be used for football, presumably because he liked football. It’s much more practical to let market demand decide. It might have been a better allocation of resources to knock down the thing and build housing, we will never know.
If we could re-wind time, we could have had an entirely privately funded Olympic Games and removed all of this moral hazard. The games would have produced infrastructure and buildings that had to have a legacy. There may have been capital available for West Ham to commission their own stadium with fans’ interests in mind, or simply extended the stands. We would have seen something truly organic.
As it is, the state intervenes, and then the state intervenes to ‘fix’ the effects of the previous intervention, and so on seemingly until the end of civilisation. And that will be the government’s fault too.
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