British telecoms firm Vodafone has pulled out of a £20million deal to sponsor West Ham’s London Stadium home.
The company has been in talks with the stadium’s owners, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), for at least six months and the decision to walk away is a huge blow to the business plan for what was the centrepiece of the London Olympics.
A spokesman for Vodafone told Press Association Sport he could “confirm there are no plans to sponsor the London Stadium”.
This news comes on the same day Vodafone has announced annual losses of £5.2billion, largely because of problems with its Indian operations, although earnings in the UK also fell 15.8% as a result of falling sales and the pound’s fall in value since the Brexit vote.
It also comes three weeks after officials from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) dramatically raided West Ham’s offices at the stadium as part of a wide investigation, which also involved Newcastle, into allegations of tax evasion.
However, sources at Vodafone and West Ham are dismissing suggestions this played any part in the sponsorship decision, while Vodafone also denies its financial losses are a factor.
PA Sport understands Vodafone has made this decision on marketing grounds, having decided the range of events at the Stratford site is not attractive enough.
The World Athletics Championships will be staged there in August but there are clear limits as to how much benefit a venue sponsor can gain from that, given the International Association of Athletics Federations’ own commercial relationships.
The stadium is also hosting concerts by Depeche Mode, Guns N’ Roses and Robbie Williams this summer but having a Premier League club as an anchor tenant clearly limits the number of different events the venue can stage.
Vodafone’s U-turn will deeply concern LLDC as this is the second time a company has backed out of a naming-rights deal at the 11th hour, following Indian conglomerate Mahindra last year.
The £700million stadium has been dogged by negative headlines about its expense for almost a decade, and last year London mayor Sadiq Khan ordered a review into the spiralling costs of converting it from an athletics arena into a multi-purpose venue with football at its heart.
It had been hoped that Vodafone’s backing would provide the clearest signal the 80,000-seat venue could sustain itself financially.
Because of the terms of tenancy arrangement with LLDC, West Ham were unlikely to see any direct financial benefits from the proposed Vodafone deal, as the owners take the first Â£4million a year from any naming-rights contract.
That said, the deal would have provided an indirect boost after a difficult first season at the Olympic venue for the Premier League club, with bouts of crowd trouble and indifferent form.
Vodafone was also understood to want to showcase its technology by upgrading the stadium’s digital connectivity.