It has been quite a time both on and off the pitch recently for Peterborough United.
A managerial change has coincided with accelerated negotiations to buy back the ABAX Stadium and London Road grounds from Peterborough City Council, with both parties signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in October to complete the deal within the following six months.
Posh co-owner Jason Neale also revealed recently that the club either wants to re-develop the current ground or build a new stadium in Peterborough. Both would be owned by the club’s three co-owners - Dr Neale, Darragh MacAnthony and Stewart Thompson - separately from the club.
The PT was due to interview Dr Neale about the plans but he had to cancel due to flight delays.
However, he has supplied answers to the questions that the PT submitted to him.
The interview reveals that the club has asked for a slight extension to complete the deal to buy back the stadium, that restrictions at the ABAX have led to the loss of a well-known international band playing there, and potential plans for a conference centre, small hotel, pub and dining venues:
Why buy back the stadium to then build another?
Our first choice would be to stay at London Road full stop. That being said we must make a fully informed decision and weigh all options. That analysis is ongoing but one potential outcome is that the economics of the renovation required at London Road preclude us from remaining. We don’t know the answer yet.
Should our analysis reveal that a new build is the best option, that is a project with a 10-year horizon. To continue to play at London Road for potentially the next decade while paying the highest rent in League One and investing our money in maintaining and improving facilities that we don’t own would be economically irresponsible.
The current situation with the ground is like hiring a car and then spending a bunch of money replacing the engine and upgrading the wheels even though you don’t own it. So, in either case, the ground returning to club control is critical to the club’s economic wellbeing. If we do move, the club will have benefitted from vastly improved underlying economics over the period of our ownership.
What is the timeframe for a new stadium?
Again, our first choice is to stay at London Road. We continue to analyse both options.
We want to make a clear decision expeditiously, but it is far more important that we make the right decision as opposed to a quick decision. As owners we want to keep tension in the process to move it along, but it will take as long as it takes. A new build, as already referenced, would be up to a 10-year project.
Location is also a hot topic. If London Road can’t be economically refurbished to an appropriate standard, then we would love to see a ground that is within walking distance from city centre. That being said we will investigate all options. We are limited to those few sites in Peterborough that could house a new stadium and we’ll consider all of them.
I grew up watching football on the terraces of The Dell. When it became evident that Southampton would relocate to St Mary’s it was difficult for all supporters. The Dell had been our spiritual home. Despite that, the move to St. Mary’s has been a major boost for the club and was easily the right decision in the end.
How would a new stadium differ from the ABAX?
The issues with London Road are not ones of capacity. In its current state the site has a number of challenges including access and egress (exit), inadequate facilities, expansion restrictions and aging infrastructure.
One of our three key objectives as a club is enduring Championship football and the Posh community deserves a ground that supports that aspiration. In a new build scenario we would initially target a football capacity of 15,000 with the built-in ability to add second tiers should we achieve the ultimate dream of playing in the Premiership.
As owners we are also interested in expansion beyond just football. Both the MOU and my subsequent blog referenced an accelerator and supporting angel investment group. We envision office and meeting space at the ground for these purposes.
We are also investigating concepts such as a conference centre, small hotel, a pub and dining venues. In either scenario one of the things we’d really like to see is an update of The Venue. We envision a great facility and community gathering place that has functionality for both football and non-football purposes.
We are also actively working to draw major acts and events to Peterborough. Sadly, as a result of the current state of the London Road ground, we have lost out on two major opportunities in the past six months. One of those was a well-known international band and the other was becoming a host ground and city for the Women’s Euro 2021.
Major A-list music acts look to attract more than 20,000 as a workable capacity for concerts. While London Road can hold 20,000 for a concert, unfortunately the exits don’t meet evacuation standards for crowds of this size. There is no simple work-around for this. With the Women’s Euro 2021, we were a shortlisted finalist but UEFA excluded us at the last minute because of stadium infrastructure issues.
Whatever decision we come to, the ground must be able to accommodate these kinds of activities. It’s not only the right thing for the club, but also for the community.
I would also like to ask about some of the concerns raised by the Posh Supporters Trust, including the ownership of the stadium, and the wish of some supporters to not see the stadium move away from the city centre.
I must say we have been taken aback by concerns about the likelihood of holding the stadium and the club separately. This is actually quite common. There was a study completed in 2017 on stadium ownership structures in the Premiership and a number of those clubs have a structure consistent to what we are proposing.
Again, the advantages are that as co-owners we will have far greater access to financing options for the whole slate of ideas we’d like to implement. At the same time we would be protecting the club from risk exposure.
If we move to a new stadium a similar covenant will be in place on the new ground as existed at London Road. So football will continue and as owners it’s football that we love.
How would the ownership of the stadium work? Would it be split a third between all three co-owners?
It will be split evenly three ways.
What is the current status of buying back the ground?
Since the MOU was signed much of the activity has been on hold, pending the expiry of the Posh Supporters Trust’s right of first refusal on buying the ground.
We have actively worked with the Posh Supporters Trust and we welcome and respect their views and opinions, just like we welcome all supporters’ views.
Unfortunately, the delay which was probably longer than we expected has put us back a couple of months and therefore we plan to ask for a slight extension from the council, who I will go on record have been nothing but a model government organisation to deal with.
Notwithstanding, we still anticipate completing the purchase in time for the 2019-2020 season, hopefully in the Championship!