Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of Scoop.it! Football Finance

Posts Tagged ‘Financial doping’

Why I shall be especially grumpy this Saturday afternoon

Posted by John Beech on April 3, 2012

Football clubs ‘in poor financial health’” a headline on the BBC News website has just screamed (1).  Apparently “many clubs are continuing to spend too much, principally on players’ wages, as they always have done”.  What?  Surely not?  Well, OK, the said headline was in the Business section of the BBC website rather than their Sports section.

Begbies Traynor, who over the years have been Administrators of Chester City, Kingstonian, Lincoln City, Huddersfield Town, Northwich Victoria, Wrexham, Farnborough Town, Crawley Town, Scarborough, Bournemouth, Halifax Town, Southampton, and now Port Vale, have just completed a survey looking at the finances of Football League clubs.

Beneath the trite headline, there was some detail of interest.

Of 68 teams surveyed in those divisions, 13 have signs of distress such as serious court actions against them, including winding-up petitions, late filing of accounts and “serious” negative balances on their balance sheets.

That 19% compares to just 1% in the wider economy, the firm said.

In particular “the financially distressed clubs include three in the Championship, six in League One and four in League Two.”  Obviously the survey had been completed under conditions of confidentiality, so we can only speculate on which these thirteen clubs might be that are under short-term financial pressure, a temptation which I will resist, at least publically.

There are also the clubs which, to me, have potentially longer-term pressures because they operate on business models which may not be sustainable.  Two which have caught my eye with their recent publication of financial results are one likely to be relegated to the Championship, Wigan, and one about to be promoted out of the Football League, Southampton.

At Wigan (2), turnover was reported as up 16% on the previous year, although this, it was conceded, was “mainly due to the increased Premier League broadcasting rights contract”.   Worryingly though, net losses had risen from £4m to £7.2m.

Wigan fans might take some comfort from the fact that:

Net debt including bank borrowings and loans from David Whelan and his family remained virtually unchanged at £72.2m compared with £72.6m in the previous year Since the year end £48m of debt was converted to equity which significantly reduces the Club’s long term liabilities.

Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson commented:

This position would not have been possible without the continued financial support of Chairman, David Whelan. The post year end conversion of debt to equity has significantly strengthened the Club’s financial position and has, to a very significant extent, written off the debt owed to Mr Whelan.  The club cannot continue to make losses every year and we are continuing to shape all aspects of the Club to ensure the long term future remains positive both on and off the pitch.

Perhaps just a hint there that Mr Whelan’s pockets are not bottomless.  It was he who has called for control on players’ wages (3).  It was Wigan that managed to hit a wages/revenues ratio of an utterly unsustainable 208.3% in 2004/05 (posting passim).

Meanwhile over at Southampton another ‘debt for equity’ conversion was reported last Thursday (4).  The estate of former owner Markus Liebherr had ‘invested’ £33m over two seasons but had now converted these loans into shares.  (My reason for putting single quotes around ‘invested’ is that I do not see loans as investments.  If I had pushed my credit cards to their spending limits, would I talk in terms of MasterCard and Visa investing heavily in me?).

This conversion certainly takes the financial pressure off a club which last season made a net loss of £11m in gaining promotion from League 1.

The Liebherr family seem to be in that rare group of benefactors which includes Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough – those prepared to dig into their pockets deep and for the long term.  At Middlesbrough the club is “now free from debt owed to external providers” (5).

Looking along the South Coast from the perspective of a long-suffering Pompey fan (but who is number 1 a football fan rather than a club fan), a club in deep, deep trouble not least because it is still paying some players Premier League wages as it faces the drop, my eye caught on the wages/revenues ratio at Southampton, a very high 93%.

This counter-evidence in the discourse over the financial strengths and weakness of clubs is hardly typical.  While few clubs, correction, no English clubs, are as financially distressed as Portsmouth, the Begbies Traynor report paints a more typical picture.

As Portsmouth head for Southampton this Saturday, to be ‘entertained’ as the media like to phrase it, I’ll not be building my hopes up for a surprise Pompey victory.  The earlier derby this season may have been a draw, but Portsmouth now have a depleted squad, forced upon them by their financial circumstances (and as one might well argue, not before time).  No, I’ll be quietly fuming on the absurdity that the outcome on the pitch will have been determined ultimately by the lottery of how rich and how committed your club’s benefactor has been.  It may be a football match, but it certainly is being played in a context of competitive balance.  One club has been the subject of heavy financial doping, and is paying the price, and one is the subject of financial doping, but has so far kept the ‘habit’ under control.  One is a savage indictment of the failings of the benefactor model, and the other is fortunate enough to be able to say ‘OK so far’.

If any good at all is to come out of the ‘basket case’ circumstances Portsmouth finds itself in, it will be through a new and more sustainable financial model, which is why I fully support the community share offer from the Pompey Supporters Trust.  Post-commercial era football has totally lost it way.  Clubs have become the playthings of sugar daddies, and have, as in the cases of Portsmouth and Southampton, sugar daddies with no local connection.  Ownership has become a lottery, and fans have been betrayed as a consequence.  Football governance looks as it will receive only light-touch reform, but that is insufficient to set it back on a road where the results of games are determined in a context of competitive balance.  Financial Fair Play, whatever the extent to which it will actually prove successful, is a no brainer.  And fan ownership is the only way to ensure clubs are a part of the community whose name they are happy, and proud, to identify themselves by.

This posting is, for the moment, open to comments, but please bear in mind that this is not a fans’ forum – it is a personal blog, which is happy to encourage serious debate.  Trolls will have their comments deleted, as will those who favour the so-called banter of ‘scummers’ and ‘skates’.

Posted in Benefactors, Community, Debts, Financial doping, Governance, Insolvency, Ownership, Wages | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

That feeling of déjà vu at Pompey, all over again

Posted by John Beech on February 17, 2012

Portsmouth’s return to Administration today (1) for the second time in a smidgen under two years speaks volumes, especially coming in the week that Rangers, a rather more iconic club, suffered the ignominy of Administration too (2).  High profile those these events are, the phenomenon of financial problems is not confined to te top clubs.  This season so far we have also seen Darlington go into Administration, as have Rothwell Town way down the pyramid.  Prescot Cables have returned to amateur status mid-season, and poor Croydon Athletic have disappeared, at least for the moment.  (A full listing of English football clubs’ insolvency events in the modern era is available here; a warning, it does not make pleasant reading)

It would be easy to dismiss the case of Portsmouth as a special case (especially bad, that is).  The ‘club as company‘ has a long and shameful tradition.  It was formed in 1898 to replace the previous club, Royal Artillery, who were disbanded because of that delightful euphemism ‘financial irregularities’ – payments to players which were blatantly undermining their supposed amateur status.  Funny how history can return to haunt you.

By 1912 the owners were already in deep financial trouble, and the company was voluntarily wound up and promptly reformed, thus wiping out its debts (3), a procedure which is no longer legal, but was far from rare in those days.  The mind boggles at how football clubs today would behave if it were still a legal option like this open to them.  To use a ‘Partridgeism’, the club ‘bounced back’, entering the Football League in 1920, winning the FA Cup in 1939, and the old First Division title in 1949 and 1950.

The road was only downhill after that, obviously excepting the recent relatively spell in the Premier League and FA Cup win.  Sporting decline was followed by financial decline.  A series of owner/benefactors who failed in various degrees is a familiar mantra to Pompey fans – since 1973 the list reads John Deacon, Jim Gregory, Terry Venables, Martin Gregory, Milan Mandric, Sacha Gaydamak, Sulaiman Al Fahim, Ali Al Faraj, Balram Chainrai, and Vladimir Antonov.  Whatever criticisms can be made about them individually, the lack of any continuity has hardly been good for the club.  And there will doubtless be further criticism to come as the unravelling enquiries of both this period of Administration, and the previous one, tease more and more uncomfortable detail out of the wood work.

Of the 200+ files I have on English football clubs, Portsmouth’s is the biggest.  It would be convenient to say that this is because I am Pompey fan.  That would not  though be honest.  It’s because they have a spectacularly aberrant history of ownership and mismanagement.  ‘Spectacularly aberrant’ from normal business, that is.  Merely ‘worse than most’ with respect to other football clubs.

The themes which have dogged Portsmouth occur throughout my files, and all over this blog:

  • Owners who did not have deep enough pockets, and yet push clubs further into unsustainable financial positions
  • Owners unlikely to win ‘Ethical Businessman of the Year’ competitions
  • Owners who have clearly not read the dictum of Mr Micawber in David Copperfield (Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, so the reference is particularly appropriate)
  • Repeated failure to pay HMRC on time

Portsmouth’s latest ‘misadventure’ should provide a wake-up call.  But then so so should their one two years ago.  Will the governing bodies just hit ‘snooze’ again?  I like to think not, but, would you believe it, I’m not optimistic.

I can’t argue that the imposition of the Financial Fair Play protocol, or effective club licensing ,or an effective Fit and Proper Person Test would necessarily have avoided Pompey’s current discomfort.  Without them though, another round of insolvency events is inevitable.  It doesn’t have to be that way and nor should it be.

Surely the football world must finally wake up to sorting out, as its highest priority, its financial messes, by attacking the causes rather than the symptoms  rather than stressing over the number of English clubs left in European competition or who the next England manager should be.

Posted in Benefactors, Ethics, Financial doping, Fit and Proper Person tests, Globetrotterisation, Governance, History, Insolvency, Ownership | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Wages and the distortion of the pyramid

Posted by John Beech on October 30, 2011

The data just published by Sporting Intelligence (sourced from internal PFA files) adds more fuel to my argument that the football pyramid is becoming utterly distorted in the sense that the scale of finance in the different tiers is being ludicrously stretched.  In a recent public lecture as part of the  Coventry Sporting Conversation series (a podcast is available here beginning at 02:05 mins.), I put the case that the lifting of the maximum wage started to stretch the level of financial activity across the tiers, and that when the Premier League broke away and negotiated its own broadcasting rights this process accelerated dramatically.

While the Sporting Intelligence data in its tabular form excited me, it was when I put into Excel and produced some graphs that I got really excited.  The full set of data on average players’ basic wages , together with UK average wages as a benchmark is shown here:


(All graphs can be enlarged by double-clicking on them)

At first glance it is obvious that things started to change with the appearance of the Premier League, but if we plot pre-Premier League and post-Premier League separately, the change can be seen as an acceleration of the existing trend:


The most striking features of the data emerge when you compare the average basic wages over time in each tier with the average UK wages.  The Premier League data confirms the stereotype of the ability to live the Ferrari-driving playboy lifestyle:

In 1984/85 the average Premier League player was earning two-and-a-half times the average UK wage, but by 2009/10 this had grown to 34 times the average OK wage, with no sign of slowing down.

On the other hand, life for a player in today’s League 2 is rather different from this stereotype:

Starting from a position in 1984/85 of below the average UK wage, things did slowly get better until the dawn of the Premier League.  Apart from a strange positive blip in 2003/04 (and no, I can’t explain it either), his lot has been scarcely different from the average UK worker’s wage.  Given that a footballer has a limited career, I wonder how a League 2 player ever manages to get a mortgage and buy a house, especially if he’s a goalkeeper – other data I have shows that goalkeepers are the worst-paid players.

This distortion in wages up and down the pyramid is simply a reflection of the disparity in revenues.  Of course higher levels deserve higher broadcasting rights and should be able to pay higher wages to attract the best talent, but when the size of the difference between tiers has become so vast, the traditional view of a club having some ambition and a local businessman to back them has long gone.  The only way upwards to the top is with an Arab prince or a Russian oligarch.  This is of course hardly news, but the data above makes abundantly clear that unless 92 Arab princes or Russian oligarchs come along, performance on the pitch will continue to be grossly distorted by the richness or otherwise of a club’s benefactor.  That is, unless change in governance takes place, and Financial Fair Play is imposed rigorously up and down the pyramid, financial doping is stopped, and a measure of sporting competitive balance returns to the game.

Posted in Benefactors, Financial doping, Wages | Tagged: , , | 18 Comments »

Trouble at Rossendale United and Rothwell Town

Posted by John Beech on March 1, 2011

Those who are ‘fleet of ear’ will have picked up on Sunday’s 5 Live Investigates that Rossendale United and Rothwell Town (and, to pick up on Kevin Rye’s well-placed pass, not Runcorn Linnets!) have serious cause for concern.  Clubs in crisis as you go further down the pyramid tend to be less well reported.  These two clubs have come across my laptop screen this last week, but I would certainly not claim to have full knowledge of what is happening, and would welcome any corrections, updates or amplifications.

First up is Rossendale United.  The club faces expulsion from the  League for non-fulfillment of matches (1).  The immediate problem is that the club’s water supply has been turned off (2), which proved to be the last straw for the three fans who in effect had become the management team struggling to keep the club going (see also here, posting by David Hancock).

The club is suffering from a classic case of BWS - ‘Benefactor’ Withdrawal Syndrome.  The club had been ‘saved from financial ruin’ in 1999 by local ‘benefactor’ Andrew Connolly, who ironically is a demolition expert.  His long-term goal was – and here the dreaded ‘A’ word. ‘ambition’ inevitably creeps in – to take the club to the Conference (3).  As he put it at the time, “If it’s good enough for Manchester United, it’s good enough for Dale“.

Initially things went relatively well, with a grant for new floodlights (4) and the appointment of a Commercial Manager (5).  By 2003 Connolly and his wife Sandra were beginning to feel the pressure though, and a new Board was appointed (6).  Managers came and went (nothing out of the ordinary there then!), but in 2006 the Chairman, Declan Callan, who had been “hailed as the man who turned the club around” resigned (7).  Connolly expressed his continuing committment to the club, and pointed out “I have personally invested £370,000 into the club which has put enormous strain on my main business” (8).  Many a fan would have doubtless seen this as Rossendale United’s good fortune, but I would see it as the setting up of a business model that would clearly be unsustainable if Connolly was either unwilling or unable to continue this funding.  It would also see it as financial doping, the deliberate attempt to buy success and upset the competitive balance within the league.

By the end of that year, Connolly was becoming understandably exasperated.  He said he would pay the bills “for the very last time” (9).  This is how he saw the situation:

I am lost for ideas for the club. No local businesses want to get involved but we are now probably in the highest position that we have ever been.

‘My company has put £40,000 in since January and I am totally disillusioned. There are around 67,000 people in Rossendale and we get around 0.05 per cent of them watching the football. Nobody is bothered. I cannot force people to watch or get involved and I will probably be putting the club up for sale. Few other businesses have supported the club and close friends have asked me what I am doing? I am not going to cut the wage bill but I am doing a lot of soul-searching and something has to change rapidly.”

By March 2007, the wage bill had been planned for a cut of probably 70% (10), and in April there were reports of unpaid wages (11). The following month a supporters group was reported as having taken over the running of the club (12), and Connolly had agreed nonetheless to settle the clubs debts. Sponsorship deals were negotiated (13 and 14), and the following summer the club acquired a major new sponsor (15).

In November 2009 Connolly announced the club was up for sale (16). He was “seeking a new investor to take the club forward“. Connolly announced “Any investor who wants to come here can invest straight into the club and not worry about any debts, because it’s all paid off” (17). No investor seems to have rushed forward, and in February 2010 Connolly brought in Nolan Redshaw to market the sale of the club (18).

The resignation of the then volunteer management committee (19) seems to have marked the beginning of the present crisis, although this appears to have been much more an outcome of the situation rather than a cause. The true extent of the crisis was revealed in a statement at the end of February (20). Connolly made a statement which was published on 25 February in the Manchester Evening News (I can’t find it on their website, but I have it from a newspaper database) in which he said:

“After taking stock of the situation at Rossendale United it is now clear that the club has been left in a perilous financial situation.

Over two years ago the club was debt free, it is now in considerable debt.

After 12 years of being involved and ploughing a considerable amount of personal monies, time and effort in it now seems the club is exactly where it was then.

This I believe is due to lack of support and generally a total lack of interest from the Valley.

I now feel that without this interest or investment the club will cease to exist.”

Latest news from the North West Counties Football League is that the club will be suspended if they fail to play their next home game, due on 5th March (21). Their away games at Squires Gate last Saturday and at Ramsbottom United this evening had already been cancelled. The end, it would seem, is nigh.

Rossendale United are of course far from being alone as sufferers from BWS. At Weymouth (see postings passim) ‘benefactor’ George Rolls has just announced that he has quit (22).

At Rothwell Town there is a less clear picture of events.  There is a report that the club has sold its ground, that the money raised is insufficient to cover its debts, and that the club has gone into Administration (23).  I blogged on Rothwell last May, when Imraan Ladack of Kettering Town had flirted, unsuccessfully, with them over a possible groundshare.  Anyone closer to the club who has more (sourceable) information is invited to add it in the comments section.

Posted in Benefactors, Cashflow, Debts, Financial doping, Ownership | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The scarf your mum knitted and competitive balance

Posted by John Beech on February 22, 2011

I haven’t been enjoying lunch lately.  Nothing to do with the food in the university canteen; it’s my daily read of The Guardian I blame.  That Matt Scott in particular had me choking today (1) over my vegetarian shepherds pie, although the oxymoron itself hadn’t put me in the best of moods.  I was so bothered that I’ve created a new tag (‘financial doping’) as a result, and will apply it retrospectively as time permits.

To be fair, Matt is an excellent writer, and its was the implications of what he wrote that vexed me, rather than the content per se.  His lead story was about a new Sport+Markt report on European Football Merchandising (2), a snip, I would imagine at 5,831 euros (no, I kid you not, such is the price of valuable market research in the football sector these days).

Matt reported:

The key finding of the European Football Merchandising Report, a survey of 182 clubs and 10,000 fans, was that United’s global revenues (excluding television income) have fallen by 10% in 12 months. The report’s author, Dr Peter Rohlmann, told Digger this was attributable to the “green-and-gold” campaign against the club’s owners.

“Our data show the club has lost retail revenue from the year 2009 to 2010 by around 10%,” Rohlmann said. “This is due to the fact that all the circumstances about the ownership and the behaviour of the Glazer family were not positive in the minds of Manchester United fans. This has had a direct impact on their merchandising spend.”

Rohlmann did not disclose the figures relating to United’s merchandising income because all disclosures made to Sport+Markt by clubs are on a confidential basis. However, he stated that the report analyses all of United’s self-generated merchandising revenues, along with those of their licensing partners such as Nike.

As United reportedly seek a 50% improvement on their £302.9m, 13-year Nike shirt deal, which expires in 2015, the demonstration of a decline in revenues comes at a bad time for the club. The Premier League leaders’ share of the merchandising market, which is worth €1.2bn for the 10 highest-earning clubs across Europe, has also slipped. They are now ranked sixth, down one place from 2008.

A spokesman for the club disputed Sport+Markt’s findings, saying royalties from the profit-share arrangement with Nike had risen in each of the past four years.

Now let’s just stop and put that into its real perspective.  That’s €1.2bn, or a smidgen over £1bn, or a £100m per club, that the fans of just ten clubs have spent in one year on merchandising.  Rather a far cry from the days when you got your mum to knit you a scarf in your club’s colours, and perhaps splashed out on a rosette on Cup day.

As I said, it’s the implications of this that bother.  Such enormous sums spent on the merchandising of a few clubs results in ensuring that the rich and strong clubs just get richer and stronger.  In other words, it distorts the competitive balance in the respective leagues.  It’s not a million miles from financial doping – the attempt to buy success by distorting the balance of competition.  This is normally in the form of ‘benefactors’ pouring money into clubs à la Manchester City or Chelsea, or, at a different level, Crawley Town.  What’s particularly insidious here is that it’s the fans who are being drawn in to pay for the club’s habit.

There is at least one up-side to this though – the Green and Gold campaign is having the desired impact.  As for me, I’ll stick to wearing my favourite footie T-shirt (available from WSC – who still won’t reciprocate a link on their links page, incidentally).

As this was The Digger column that was provoking this reaction, I should have guessed there would be more to incense me.  Matt also reported:

Any defence whose last line consists of Sébastien Squillaci and Manuel Almunia is vulnerable to the attentions of a journeyman striker picked up from the French fourth division. And Jonathan Téhoué, left, proved it in the FA Cup fifth round against Arsenal. Now Digger can reveal just how valuable the Frenchman’s equaliser is expected to be for Leyton Orient. Arsenal turn over £3m for every home game and under the terms of the FA Cup revenue-sharing agreement Orient will be due 42.5% of the net gate receipts that the Emirates Stadium replay generates.

Although the Gunners have yet to announce ticket prices for the 2 March match, the profit is expected to be in the region of £1.6m, raising £700,000 for the League One club. If the match is televised, it will make close to £1m for Barry Hearn’s club – not bad for one game, considering Orient’s total turnover of £3.3m in the 2008-9 season.

Here there is at least an income to the club related to their performance on the pitch.  Orient certainly deserve some good news after their shabby treatment by the Premier League.  My gripe is not with Orient but rather with the fact that in general the distribution of broadcasting rights has the same result – making the rich clubs even richer and distorting the balance of competition.  And who’s feeding the habit?  It’s the fans again.

Have we really lost all sense of the sporting ethic?  Sadly I think I know the answer to that one.

Posted in Benefactors, Broadcasting rights, Ethics, Financial doping, Merchandising, Revenues | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers

%d bloggers like this: