Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

Fans-turned-shareholders vote down initial plan to sell their stock for a larger stadium

Fans of the Chelsea Football Club saved it back in the 1990s, when they teamed up as shareholders and purchased the financially strapped team’s London stadium, the 106-year-old Stamford Bridge. Now they don’t want to let their historic home go.

The team’s finances have dramatically reversed their downward trend, and now the club’s also-rich owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, would like to buy back the stadium. Abramovich has dreams of building the team a newer, larger stadium elsewhere to boost its profitability. But he and other management within the organization claim they would need the expected $640 million in profits from selling the stadium and its land in order to build a new stadium in another part of town.

As The London Evening Standard reports, shareholders recently voted down a plan to sell the stadium and its land back to the club. A 75 percent share of voters was needed, but only 61.6 percent of voters were in support.

Despite the stadium’s history, Chelsea Pitch Owners, the group that now collectively owns Stamford Bridge and the land on which is sits, has claimed that it’s not opposed to the idea of selling the stadium and building anew. But like many of the clubs in England’s football league, much of the history of Chelsea FC is tied to the stadium and its location.

The Daily Mail observes that in the week leading up to the vote, more than 2,500 additional shares were purchased by fans. A total of nearly 18,000 shares have been purchased.

In a Q&A on the group’s website, CPO Chairman Richard King expressed mixed thoughts on the sale proposal:

Like many shareholders, I have been watching Chelsea for years. Chelsea, to me, means Stamford Bridge and I have spent thousands of hours at the ground. It is like a second home. On the other hand, I do understand that, because of its location, the stadium can't be extended.

But shareholders, as a whole, are more concerned with preserving the team than its location. CPO has been in existence since 1997, and is a company, as the Evening Standard notes, “which exists for the very purpose of preventing the club falling into the hands of property developers.”

Stamford Bridge has a capacity of just 42,000. The team’s management has been forced to watch its rivals with larger stadiums bring in much higher revenues in recent years. Reuters notes that rival Arsenal doubled revenue when it recently upgraded from a 38,000-seater to a new stadium with room for 60,000. For now, Chelsea will remain at Stamford Bridge. But it’s likely that the team’s historic stadium could soon be abandoned for newer and more profitable grounds.

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