Leeds United: Hotels and oyster bars point way as football cashes in

IN the days when a rundown Elland Road was still to feel the benefit of Leeds United's emergence as a major power in English football, Don Revie took his son Duncan out on to the pitch and pointed towards the empty stands.

A venue that started life as home to Holbeck rugby league club had clearly seen better days but the United manager had a vision that he wanted to explain to the teenager.

Of that afternoon in the late Sixties, Duncan recalls: "Elland Road was not in the best of conditions with the old Scratching Shed still at the end where the South Stand can now be found.

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"But dad turned to me and said, 'A time will come when fans will get here at lunchtime to enjoy hospitality before a game'. He also said there would be shops and bars for fans to enjoy.

"I looked around at what was, basically, a dump and thought, 'My dad has finally gone mad'. The directors didn't even get

to Elland Road until 2.30pm in those days so why would anyone else?"

Revie senior, of course, correctly predicted the direction football was heading.

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However, even a figure as visionary as United's most decorated manager could not have foreseen just how rampant the drive towards commercialism would become.

Certainly, in those far-off days it would be difficult to imagine an oyster bar being found at one end of a ground as happened at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge in the Nineties.

Nor could it have been predicted during a decade when the word 'swinging' had a rather different connotation to today just how prevalent hotels would one day become at football stadia with Chelsea's example having been followed in recent years by Norwich City, Reading and Bolton Wanderers.

Keen to add their own club's name to that list are Leeds chairman Ken Bates and chief executive Shaun Harvey, the pair's blueprint for the redevelopment of Elland Road boasting a hotel at its core with both two- and four-star facilities.

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The thinking, as Harvey explains, is simple – for United to function to its full potential as a football club and bring in the players Simon Grayson wants, the generation of income from all areas is crucial.

"As a club, we have to maximise income generation 365 days a year and not just for home games," said United's chief executive.

"Banqueting and conference drives decent revenue into the football club, which helps fund our activities on the pitch. We operate our non-match-day elements to support Simon Grayson.

"For example, we were able to retain Luciano (Becchio) before Christmas when the vast majority of fans thought he would leave.

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"Since the transfer window opened, we have also been able to bring (Bolton's) Andy O'Brien in from the Premier League.

"We have been able to do that due to trading profitably and being self-sufficient at all times. The income generated from non-football avenues is crucial to that."

A feature of United's approach in recent years has been a desire to create facilities that help generate income both when the team are playing at home and on non-match-days.

Billy's Bar was built in the South Stand a couple of years after Bates took charge in January, 2005, and has since been followed by the opening of Howard's restaurant and the Centenary Pavilion, the latter being used by up to 3,000 supporters every home match.

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On a non match-day, all three facilities remain open with the Pavilion, in particular, adding to the club's capacity to host conferences and dinners – which brought in 3.5m to the club in the last financial year.

As part of that drive to maximise income, United are now keen to press on with the redevelopment of the East Stand.

Work on phase one – the creation of 22 new executive boxes, six new lounges and a new concourse in the upper tier – is due to get underway before the end of this season.

England's failure to land the 2018 World Cup has been a setback but Harvey is determined to press on and is hoping Leeds City Council share the club's vision.

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He said: "Right from the start of the bidding process (for the World Cup), we said the intention was to create a stadium that worked and not create a white elephant.

"The East Stand development stands up to scrutiny in its own right. Yes, we have to raise the money to do that but we believe the business case is a bankable proposition."

In terms of Council support, Harvey added: "The thing about phase one is that it can be completed on land that is within our control.

"But for phases two to four, we are going to need to use land that is in the ownership of the Council.

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"The issue of Lowfields Road (which runs behind the towering East Stand) needs to be urgently addressed by the Council. It needs to be either realigned or taken out – as, more importantly, do the services underneath.

"There is also a plan in place whereby a new road would be created that runs round the back of Elland Road (the stadium) to supply access. We need to know if that is still going to happen."

Also part of the plans for the World Cup was a raising of the Elland Road capacity to almost 50,000.

Again, Harvey insists this remains part of the club's blueprint. He said: "The aim is to get Leeds back on the worldwide football stage as soon as possible and part of that would be increasing the capacity to what is an economically viable number.

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"For the World Cup, to be FIFA-compliant we would have had to have 40,000 seats with uninterrupted viewing for general admission and a further 8,000 seats for corporates.

"That is why we were aiming for 50,000 and there were many ways to get to that figure.

"It would certainly have included the North Stand.

"Now the World Cup is not coming to England, we don't have a target capacity. We just want to grow sensibly.

"As we stand today, there is no value in putting extra seats in. That will only be the case when we get into the Premier League."

Planning for Elland Rd future

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The plans that won the backing of Leeds City Councillors in April, 2009, include:

A 347-bed hotel situated behind the south-east corner of the stadium that will include two- and four-star facilities. This will replace the existing club shop.

Shops, bars and restaurants in a covered arcade running behind the existing East Stand and on land that is currently a pavement bordering Lowfields Road.

Relocation of the Billy Bremner statue to the front of the new Centenary Pavilion that faces the East Stand.

New offices for club staff along with a new ticket office, to be housed behind the north-east corner.

Creation of extra hospitality areas in the space currently used as offices by the staff.