The stadium owner comes in with a bailiff, host club escapes with all trophies, supporters storm the facility and the owner escapes. That's what happened on one morning a few days ago. Since then it has become even more bizarre.
First things first: you may remember that back in 2018 the city of León lost its ownership of Estadio León to businessman Roberto Zermeño. This was almost the final of a then 7-year-long conflict, which saw the court agree that Zermeño owns the city's only professional stadium. The battles continued in 2019 and ended up with Zermeño coming on top.
Zermeño as previously the owner of Club León as well but has since left the football team, only retaining ownership of the ground and 6 hectares of land beneath it. Throughout the process he was reassuring the public that the current tenancy lease with Club León (now owned by Grupo Pachuca) would be respected, allowing the club to use the stadium until 2022.
However, last Friday Zermeño has apparently changed his mind. He arrived at the stadium early in the morning to physically take over control of the facility from Club León. Accompanied by a bailiff, the millionaire eventually had to flee the scene. As it turned out, news of his plans were leaked and Club León supporters began to gather outside the stadium, furiously houting and throwing projectiles at Zermeño. And not just small ones, the vandalism caused some damages to the stadium.
Club León were thus forced to abandon the offices and secure all trophies won by La Fiera. In one moment the club lost the ground used for over half a century, just a few days before one of two remaining Liga MX games for the year. Because the city has no other professional football stadium, the club found refuge over 100 km away, in Aguascalientes. But that's a 1-game solution, then there's the second game, then the entire Clausura in 2021 and then the following seasons.
Why did that happen?
Apparently Zermeño, now perceived as enemy no. 1 by many locals, wanted to increase rent for the stadium. While afterwards he offered to allow Club León to play the next game rent-free, that didn't repair the damage. Especially that he also invited the club to negotiate new terms.
Zermeño was also supposedly engages in talks with the city of León, under which the city tried to acquire the ground. However, the price tag is reported to have been far beyond any reason. Just as a comparison, the real estate was valued in 2018 at MXN 540 million ($25m), while Zermeño supposedly asked for a billion ($47m), an expense hardly justified when COVID-19 is wrecking public spending.
As you may recall, Club León are expected to build a new stadium for their own, in a different location. It was supposed to be under construction already but isn't, because of the coronavirus. Late into September the club assured fans that in 2021 construction will begin. But this means delivery in 2023, which is still 2-3 years away.
It's unclear whether a new contract could be find between the disgraced businessman and the club. At the moment it seems La Fiera would rather play in hell than negotiate with Zermeño. An agreement to sell land to the city is also unlikely, even though Zermeño has invited authorities back to the table.
It went so far that the governor of Guanajuato publicly entertained the thought of expropriation, so that the stadium serves its community and not the interest of one man's wealth. Even more interestingly, the association of private box holders (across Latin America 'palcos' are often sold for generations in advance) is considering a class action lawsuit against Zermeño, which could – by their estimate – mean MN 800 million in damages.
While Zermeño is now sitting on 6 hectares of very well located land, he might not end up victorious here. The land is designated as sports use, which blocks major commercial projects here unless zoning changes. And, let's be honest, Zermeño doesn't seem to have many friends left in the city hall.