London Olympic officials say they are convinced that Totteham Hotspur are “dead serious” about their bid to take over the Olympic stadium after 2012 and that the club is in a genuine two-horse race with fellow Premier League rivals West Ham United.
The two clubs make up the shortlist announced last week by the Olympic Park Legacy Company, the government agency responsible for what will happen to Olympic venues post-2012, to be anchor tenant of the £550m stadium.
Tottenham, bidding with Los Angeles-based entertainments group AEG, which operates the O2 Centre, were last-minute entrants when the deadline for applications closed in September.
Their bid was viewed in some quarters as a back-up plan in case its planned redevelopment of the club’s White Hart Lane stadium in Haringey came unstuck. West Ham, whose Boleyn Ground is a short distance from the Olympic stadium, was regarded as favourites to become anchor tenant, in spite of debts running at £80m.
But with the club’s redevelopment costs increasing, there is a growing sense among Olympic officials that both options for the club now carry equal weight.
One London Olympic insider said: “Tottenham are dead serious about this,” adding that the financial benefits of moving to the Olympic stadium were looking more attractive than they had initially realised.
Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham, said: “I have every reason to believe they are serious.”
West Ham has the backing of Newham Council and events operator Live Nation, as well as UK Athletics because unlike Tottenham it is willing to retain the stadium running track in order to fulfil the OPLC’s athletics legacy requirement.
Tottenham, which is being advised by Goldman Sachs, is working on delivering the athletics legacy at an alternative site. It declined to comment. Both clubs are planning to convert the 80,000-seater Olympics stadium into 60,000-seater venues.
Ms Brady added: “I think that in the next few weeks, [Tottenham] will have to decide and put their cards on the table. They are trying to run a two-horse race and I think at some point they will have to decide which horse their jockey sits on.
“But we take it seriously. Newham Council takes it seriously becasue they don’t want someone from Haringey moving into their borough.”
She added that she expected bank debt to fall to £25m by 2013. “For a business that will be turning over £100m, that‘s a perfectly acceptable level of both overdraft and long-term debt,” said Ms Brady.
The OPLC will engage in negotiations with both bidders in the coming weeks, and hopes to find a preferred bidder by the end of the year.