In September 2014 Accrington Stanley were served with a winding up order by the tax authorites. This was one of a series of financial demands that the club had had to deal with as it lurched from crisis to crisis. It was saved at the last minute by a local businessman…and in May 2018 was promoted to League One as Champions.
We met Accrington’s owner, Andy Holt, the social media scourge of the Premier League, the EFL and Salford City’s Gary Neville at the National Football Museum recently.
He’s kindly not only given us the club accounts in respect of their League Two winning year for 2017/18, but also the budget for the club’s battles in League One this season.
The figures will be subject to the same level of scrutiny as that of any other club, and comments as always will be independent, but a huge thanks to all at Stanley for sharing the information with us.
At a time when there are public protests from fans at many EFL clubs in respect of owner behaviour, lack of transparency and poor governance, here is one club which has an open-door approach to engagement, and this, in our opinion, is good for the club, the fans and anyone who has an affection for the game. Nothing was hidden from us, we were given totals from everything from gate receipts to how much it costs to hire the portable toilets for the season.
Like all football clubs, Stanley generate money from three main sources, Matchday, Broadcasting and Commercial. Stanley have broken their figures into far more detail, but for comparative purposes it makes more sense to keep to the standard headings, with the one exception of academy grants.
Many clubs in League One and Two take advantage of corporate law that allows companies below a certain size to only submit limited information to the company registrar, and so avoid public (and fan) scrutiny.
Although the Football Supporters Federation and other groups have lobbied the EFL and the FA for this to be changed, claiming clubs are an essential part of many towns and cities, and so belong to the community rather than individual owners, this appeal has fallen upon deaf ears at the EFL and FA.
At the same time credit should be given to those clubs who are prepared to show the full extent of their finances. Stanley have gone one step further in giving us the full breakdown of numbers.
As can be seen, Stanley, even in a promotion year, are towards the bottom end of the income spectrum. This is a function of being a relatively small town (population 35,000) and a place which doesn’t tend to attract too many affluent football tourists.
As can be seen, matchday income has been slowly rising, mainly on the back of increased attendances, but even so the club has a relatively small hard-core support that it is aiming to increase through closer links with local community, and success in winning League Two in 2018.
The importance of a good cup draw to a club of this size is shown by the 2016/17 figures, when Stanley were drawn away to West Ham in one of the first matches at the London Stadium, which drew a crowd of almost 40,000.
The West Ham game was the equivalent of the club earning an extra £200 per fan based on the number who watched the club over the season. It’s issues such as this on the finances of smaller clubs that are ignored by those who want less participation in the earlier rounds of the League Cup and replays banned from the FA Cup.
Stanley have budgeted for a 20% increase in matchday income for their first season in League One. Gates are presently slightly greater than 2,000 so the budget is broadly in line with expectations.
Broadcast income is split into two elements, there are ‘solidarity payments’ from the Premier League (EPL). These were originally given as an act of benevolence by the EPL, but once clubs became accustomed to receiving the sums then strings were attached, such as the much loathed EPPP scheme.
Solidarity payments in League Two are about £450,000, rising to £680,000 in League One and then there is a big jump to £4.54 million in the Championship.
In addition, clubs receive money from the EFL deal with Sky. This is also skewed towards clubs in the Championship, who receive 80% of the total, with 12% going to League One and 8% for League Two.
There are additional sums received when clubs appear on live broadcasts.
Promotion from League Two therefore means that Stanley can expect to earn about an extra £350,000 of broadcast income this season, although the way that Sky and the EFL have agreed to stream all midweek matches (and weekend ones too on international breaks) may have a negative impact on attendances.
Academy grants work out at about £400,000 a year and are used to help subsidise the youth development setup.
Other income is mainly commercial deals with sponsors. Whilst the Premier League elite are regularly able to announce multimillion-pound deals with a variety of companies from despotic regimes, in the lower leagues clubs tend to strike deal with local businesses.
Stanley therefore have granted naming rights and now play at the Wham Stadium, who are also the shirt sponsors. George Michael fans will however be disappointed to find that Wham stands for What More Limited, the plastic box and household accessory company run by Andy Holt.
Whilst the figure has fallen substantially in 2018, this reflects that the club needed a financial injection in 2017 and WhatMore were able to help out that season.
According to the 2017 accounts WhatMore contributed £440,000 in sponsorship in 2017 and £300,000 the previous season.
Whilst Andy Holt likes to present himself as a grumpy Northerner who is not a football fan and only is involved with the club as a stop gap a few years ago to prevent it going bust, the extent of the sponsorship suggests that he’s fallen in love with the relationship between the club and the community and secretly has become a fan.
The advantage to a club of an owner investing money via sponsorship instead of lending is that should the club ever be sold the incoming owner does not have to pay off these debts.
Overall Accrington have managed to survive in League Two in terms of income generated. The budget for League Two this season appears to be based on cautious assumptions.
The Wham stadium has a capacity of just over 5,000, so suspect that when the likes of Sunderland come to play there will be a big scramble for away tickets.
The main costs for a football club are player related, and this is as much an issue for Stanley as it for Barcelona or Liverpool.
Stanley’s total wage bill for 2016/17 for all staff exceeded £2 million for the first time. This will have included promotion bonuses.
The budget for the upcoming season is about 9% higher, but, according to Holt, will be heavily impacted by bonuses again.
Stanley were hauled onto the EFL naughty step last season after an eagle-eyed pen-pushing dullard spotted that the owner was buying Big Macs, fish and chips for the squad on the way home from a successful away owner. Apparently, these ‘bonuses’ had not been agreed in advance in players contracts, which seems to take petty bureaucracy to a new level.
Under EFL Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, now pompously called Profitability and Sustainability regulations, League Two teams can only spend 50% (60% in League One) of income on player wage costs under SCMP rules. Whilst Stanley’s total wage bill exceeds this sum, remember that the wage total in the accounts includes non-playing staff and bonuses, both of which are excluded from the calculations, so are likely to be within the FFP limits.
Having seen Stanley’s playing wage figure, the club is within the 50% and 60% limits for last season and the current one.
To give some context to the wage bill, the average cost of a single Premier League player works out at about £2.9 million a season compared to the total League Two wage cost of £2.2 million at Accrington.
The vast majority of clubs in League Two take advantage of legal loopholes to avoid showing their wage total, but a comparison to the clubs that do show their figure indicates that Stanley were very much towards the bottom of the bunch in this expense area.
Earlier in the summer Holt and Gary Neville were involved in a Twitter spat in relation to Salford City’s signing of Adam Rooney from Aberdeen, on a reported £4,200 a week. For a non-league club with no broadcast income it seems strange that such wages could be paid without huge losses being made. It would be great if Salford City were as transparent in their financial disclosures, over to you Gary!
Stanley will find it tough to compete on wages in 2018/19. Their budget of £2.35 million this season is means the club will have the lowest wage bill in the division by far.
The other main player related cost is that of transfer fee amortisation. This arises when a player is signed for a fee, and this sum is then spread over the contract period.
Like many clubs in League Two, Stanley’s recruitment policy has historically relied on free transfers and loanees, although it appears that some clubs in the Premier League are now seeking prohibitive loan fees for their players which is making this recruitment prohibitive.
The budgeted figure of £26,000 for amortisation in 2019 suggests that manager John Coleman has kept with the majority of his squad and any signings will be for small fees.
Profits and losses
Profit is income less costs. There are a few different profit figures used when commentators talk about the subject, so it is always wise to check which profit definition is being described.
For a club such as Accrington a one-off event such as a good away cup draw or the sale of a player for a fee can have a sizeable impact on profit.
The above graph shows a profit measure called EBIT (earnings before interest and tax). Before taking into account player sales, the club lost about £7,000 a week in 2017/18, a big change on the previous season.
As has already been seen, wages taking up £83 of every £100 of income last season didn’t leave a lot of money to pay for the other running costs of the club so a loss was always likely.
Promotion to League One isn’t going to reverse that, as the anticipated increase in costs is likely to exceed any higher revenues.
The above shows the importance of youth development and scouting to identify players and sell them on for a profit.
The table above shows how profit looks after taking into account player sales. The losses in 2018 and expected losses in 2019 have been reversed.
In 2017/18 the sales of Matty Pearson to Barnsley & Shay McCartan to Bradford were the main fee earners. This summer Ipswich bought Kayden Jackson from Accrington to replace Martyn Waghorn, for a million pound plus fee, which will reverse the expected day to day losses.
Whilst player sales are often the lifeblood of lower league teams they are also never guaranteed and should be taken as bonus income rather than a regular source, and this seems to be the approach taken by Accrington. Player sales can have a huge impact on the club’s ability to pay wages, not only for playing staff, but also all the people behind the scenes.
Losses in League Two in 2017 appear to total over £16 million, with clubs on average losing about £13,000 a week. Accrington were one of a handful to make a profit, benefitting from the player sales already mentioned, as did Grimsby (sale of Omar Bogle for an estimated £1 million) and Wycombe, who earned about £1.8 million as a sell on fee when former player Jordan Ibe was sold to Bournemouth from Liverpool.
Many clubs survive through borrowing money. Most banks are reluctant to advance large sums to businesses that regularly lose money, and so instead borrow from either owners or companies linked to their owners.
Total debts in League Two were over £70 million, with over half of these relating to two clubs, Luton Town and Colchester United.
Accrington’s borrowings are relatively minor in comparison to those of some of their League Two competitors. The above table does show that running a lower league club involves the owner having to dip their hand in the pocket in one way or another, be it either lending, buying shares in the club, sponsoring or… (in case the EFL lawyers are watching) buying fish and chips after a match for the team if they’ve won an away match.
Whilst trying to put together League Two figures is a bit like making a jigsaw when you don’t have the picture on the front of the box, Accrington’s achievement last season in getting promoted is hugely impressive given their lowly income levels and accompanying tight wage budget.
Stanley’s wage budget will be the lowest in League One this season, Good management and a close-knit dressing room can overcome that financial deficit on the park. It’s unlikely that the club will stand in the way of any player who receives a more generous offer from another club too, so everyone stands to win in the present position.
It’s also good to see a local business seeing the impact that a club has on the local community. According to Holt about 15,000 people are directly or indirectly impacted by Stanley being part of the EFL, be they fans, suppliers, sponsors or people involved in schemes run by the club.
A football club is the heartbeat of many towns and cities up and down the country, and it’s great to see this ownership model do so well, especially given the number of scamps and scumbags who are owners who just see a football club as a vanity exercise or a means of extending a brand.