U.S. Billionaire's Wembley Bid Draws Lawmakers' Scrutiny

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(Bloomberg) -- Wembley is one of London’s most iconic venues. The aspiring owner of the soccer stadium considers it “the cradle of English football.” Lawmakers agree it’s a sacred cow and they’re not sure it should be sold.

An influential parliamentary committee -- the same one giving Facebook Inc. a hard time -- is meeting Wednesday to decide whether to launch an investigation into Shahid Khan’s 600 million-pound ($817 million) bid for the home of the English national soccer team and also the site for many a pop concert and sporting event.

The Pakistani-American billionaire is trying to buy Wembley from the Football Association, but his interest has run into all sorts of opposition about giving away the country’s crown jewels at a time when preserving brands in the age of Brexit has become politically key.

Unilever Plc, for example, one of the U.K.’s best-known corporate giants and maker of Marmite, has picked Rotterdam over London for its new headquarters.

Damian Collins -- the chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports committee -- plans to discuss the sale with members at the meeting, according to a person familiar with the situation who declined to be named because the matter is private.

“Wembley is a national icon we need to keep for the people of this country," said Justin Madders, a lawmaker from the Labour opposition party. Madders, who is concerned about ticket pricing and how the stadium is used, is not on the committee.

Meanwhile, Ken Bates, the former chairman of Wembley, says he plans to raise money to make a publicly backed bid for the arena. “I worked my socks off to create Wembley Stadium and it belongs to English football fans,” Bates said by phone from Monaco. “This is their chance to own it for their children and granchildren.”

Labour M.P. Christian Matheson is on the DCMS committee and said he plans to scrutinize the proposed sale in detail: "This massive sale is not just a financial transaction. Wembley belongs to all of football and its sale cannot be allowed to go through without proper scrutiny."

The committee is made up of five lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party; five from Labour and one from the Scottish National Party.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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