The Olympic Stadium has been touted as a possible venue for cricket
By David Bond
BBC Sports Editor
AEG, the owner of the O2 arena, has emerged as a contender to take over the Olympic Stadium after the London Games.
The American sports and entertainment company is one of 106 parties to have expressed an interest in assuming control of the venue after 2012.
Potential bidders have until 17 May to register their interest in the 80,000-seater stadium at Stratford.
A shortlist of about 30 is expected to be drawn up, with a final decision to be announced in March 2011.
With West Ham's new owners declaring their interest in converting the venue into a football arena two months ago, it was thought the Premier League club offered the only viable plan for the future of the stadium that would prevent it from becoming an expensive white elephant.
But AEG, which has turned the failing Dome into a successful sport and concert venue, could offer a real alternative if it decides to go ahead with a bid to become the operating company for the £547m stadium.
Details of how AEG, which owns a number of big stadiums and venues in the United States, including the Staples Center in Los Angeles, plans to use the venue are not yet clear.
Talks with the Olympic Park Legacy Company are at a very early stage but an AEG spokesperson told the BBC: "AEG has expressed an initial interest in the future of the Olympic Park and, as the world's leading sports venue owner and operator, it makes total sense for us to explore potential ideas for its future success.
"At this time, we are reviewing the information about the venues to properly assess the legacy opportunities for all stakeholders, current and future."
AEG's declaration of interest is believed to have come last week and will be a boost to Baroness Margaret Ford, the chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, who brokered the sale of the Dome to AEG while working as a government adviser.
The O2 arena is now a successful sports and entertainment venue
The future use of the Olympic Stadium has been one of the most controversial and difficult issues for London Olympic organisers to handle.
Officials had originally planned to reduce London's 'flat-pack' stadium from its 80,000-capacity configuration at Games time to a 25,000-seater arena for athletics.
But the need to retain the running track and accommodate a warm-up facility next to the stadium has put off potential tenants.
Not only would they be expected to foot the bill for converting and downsizing the arena but they would need to maintain London's commitment to athletics - such a crucial part in Lord Coe's successful pitch to the International Olympic Committee in 2005.
A deal with West Ham looked to have slipped away until the appointment of Baroness Ford, who announced a review of the process in July 2009, insisting all options remained open.
In March, West Ham announced they had teamed up with Newham Council to launch a bid to turn the stadium into a 60,000-capacity venue during the winter, with which could then be used for athletics meetings in the summer.
As part of the proposal, there would also be provision for a school and an NHS walk-in centre within the stadium, while the Hammers would look to expand their community schemes.
Avoiding relegation to the Championship will undoubtedly ensure West Ham remain favourites to take control of the venue.
West Ham's owners will need around £100m to convert the stadium
But there remain serious questions over how club owners David Sullivan and David Gold will raise the estimated £100m needed to convert the stadium, which will have no corporate boxes or hospitality facilities in Games mode.
Essex County Cricket Club have also expressed an interest in playing some of their Twenty20 matches at the arena, while the NFL told the BBC they would be willing to look at the potential for playing American Football games there.
The 106 expressions of interest will be seen by the Government as vindication of their handling of the search for a legacy tenant, although sources stress that many of that number will not be considered serious potential bidders.
Tessa Jowell, Olympics Minister, said: "This confirms that we are not going to have white elephants in the Olympic Park.
"There is a lot of commercial interest in the park and that is very encouraging three or so years out from the moment when someone will actually have to take over the running of the venues."