Odds Against Wembley

Various U.K. politicians have voiced concerns about the London stadium’s completion and soccer chiefs have hedged their bets by putting Cardiff Millennium on standby, but the surest sign the new Wembley stadium won’t be ready in time for the FA Cup Final comes with the news that bookies William Hill have pushed the odds from 6/5 to 2/1.

Punters who still fancy trebling their money by backing Australian developers Multiplex to have Wembley ready in time for the May 13th football feast should check the Sydney Morning Herald reports that say the company is in even worse financial shape than previously thought.

On January 30th, the paper quoted Macquarie Equities analyst Toby Carroll saying Multiplex’s annual returns will be worse than current expectations.

“Basically, we have factored in further downside,” he explained.

The broker’s construction analysts have reviewed satellite photographs of the stadium to judge its progress and concluded that further cost blowouts are likely and construction will take longer.

Multiplex has issued five profit downgrades since February last year due to delays and cost overruns at Wembley.

Last month, the troubled company admitted the stadium might not be finished in time for the FA Cup and said the worst-case scenario would be a A$205 million (US$154.4 million) loss on the project for the current financial year.

Should that scenario play out, the company’s overall profit for the year to June 30th could be as low as $10 million (US$7.5 million).

Multiplex has lost nearly half its market capitalization since its shares reached an A$6.07 (US$4.6) high last February, due almost entirely to troubles rebuilding the stadium and turning it into a 90,000-seat amphitheatre.

Subcontractor and union disputes have dogged the project and Multiplex is still engaged in long-running litigation with engineering firm Cleveland Bridge U.K., which began after it walked away from the job in August 2004 following design difficulties with the stadium’s arch.

On the live music front, fans who bought tickets for the new stadium’s first show received an apology from the promoters, who have added an earlier date. It was originally announced that Bon Jovi – the last act to play the old stadium in 2000 – would play the first new Wembley show June 11th, but promoter AEG has added an additional June 10th date.

AEG Senior Vice President Rob Hallett told BBC’s online news, “We took the view, given the band’s massive popularity, that it was better to please all their true fans that couldn’t get tickets than disappoint a tiny minority who just wanted to be able to say they had been to the first show at Wembley.”

Among the other acts already booked to play the new stadium are the newly reformed Take That June 24, The Rolling Stones in August and Robbie Williams in September.