Although the club insisted on Monday that there was nothing “active” in terms of leaving the Bridge for a new stadium, chairman Bruce Buck said: “We have to be prepared for a move if something right comes along for Chelsea.”
CPO acquired the freehold for £10 million in 1997, with £8.5 million of the total coming from a loan secured from Chelsea's then-holding company as well as £1.5 million from investors. According to various reports, the club has offered to clear the outstanding loan amount and pay the organisation £1.5 million, and shareholders will be asked to approve the proposal at an extraordinary general meeting on October 27.
Each share cost £100 and Chelsea are hopeful they would not be held to ransom, insisting there was no room for negotiation.
Buck said shareholders were getting back far more than the land was worth when the 199-year lease on Stamford Bridge was taken into account.
He said: "Bear in mind that no-one bought these shares as a financial investment.
"Everyone bought these shares as a way of helping the club and they also bought them as mementoes and souvenirs.
"We think we're paying well over the odds."
The incentives for selling include a guarantee that Chelsea would only relocate within a three-mile radius of Stamford Bridge if the club did decide to move before 2020.
“Chelsea should always be grateful to those who invested in CPO,” Buck told The Guardian. “We know only too well how close the club came to losing our home prior to the formation of CPO, but that threat has now gone under Mr (Roman) Abramovich's ownership and with the CPO structure in place we cannot plan with certainty for the future.”
Buck added: “Some shareholders will not react positively, and there will be a group of fans who consider this to be a precursor to Chelsea moving, and they will not want Chelsea to move. At the moment we have no discussions ongoing with any developer, and we still have not made the decision that, yes, Chelsea definitely want to move. But, just like any business, we have at least to be prepared for a move if something right comes along.”
Chelsea CEO Ron Gourlay confirmed that the club is continuing “to look at options for expanding the Bridge”. He added: “I should be clear that we have not identified a site for a new stadium elsewhere.”
Buck and chief executive Ron Gourlay have appealed to the 12,000 shareholders, who are mostly fans, to sell their 15,000 shares to the club for the price they paid in return for various incentives at any new stadium.
There are six possible sites in London, should the club decide to move, with the three favourites being Earls Court, White City and Nine Elms.
But first Chelsea have to convince shareholders of Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) to vote in favour of selling the freehold of the pitch and four stands at Stamford Bridge back to the club at a meeting on October 27. Only then, will it be clear just how many fans will support the club y selling their shares back.