Peter Swann, the Scunthorpe United owner, recently claimed “we are probably one of the best-run clubs in the Football League” so it’s time to take a look at the finances of the Lincolnshire team, presently sat at the bottom of League Two.
EFL chairmen may have to decide soon in terms of Bury’s appeal to be reinstated to the league and if so, there will be two rather than one sides relegated to the National League.
The chances of a club in a position similar to that of Scunthorpe voting for reinstatement are remote as it could be the difference between survival or demotion to the National League.
Every football club has three main sources of income, matchday, broadcasting and commercial.
Relying on crowds of just over 4,000 is not going to be sufficient for a club to survive and these have brought in around £1 million per season in recent years.
Some clubs in League One have average attendances three or four times those of Scunthorpe which shows that the club was at a disadvantage in terms of this income source.
We would like to show matchday income for more clubs but sadly many take advantage of a legal loophole for small businesses that allows them to avoid showing many types of income and costs.
A club in the EFL receives two types of broadcast income, solidarity payments from the Premier League (about £900k for a L1 club) and a share of the EFL’s own TV deal with Sky (£500k for a L1 club).
New rules introduced by the Premier League will result in solidarity payments falling as the owners of the elite clubs think they are subsidising smaller clubs too much.
Nervous owners of clubs in League One and Two will also be concerned at the noises coming from some Championship club owners too who want to renegotiate the EFL deal and it’s unlikely these owners will be wanting to give smaller clubs a bigger share of the pie.
How the money is split at present is 80% to Championship, 12% to League One and 8% to League Two so Scunthorpe realistically can expect about £950k this season from broadcasting.
A form of parachute payment is made when clubs are relegated to the National League, where clubs would get 100% of the EFL money in the first season and half of this sum in the second.
Sponsorship, advertising, commercial, hospitality and academy revenue in the admirably detailed Scunthorpe accounts amounted to £1.7 million in 2017/18, more than doubling in the last five years.
The importance of such income streams is critical to a club the size of Scunthorpe especially with relatively modest attendances so credit should be given to whoever is negotiating sponsor and commercial deals.
Having commercial income as the biggest income contributor, as Scunthorpe have managed recently, does give the club more control issues that the off-field team can’t control, such as broadcast money splits and relegation.
Regardless of which division it plays in, the main costs for a football club are player related, in the form of wages and transfer fee amortisation.
Every fan wants to see their team have a competitive squad and all the research shows unsurprisingly that there is a positive link between player wages and league position.
Each of the last six years shows that Scunthorpe paid out more in wages than they generated in income, with the total over the period being £19.9 million income and £27.9 million in wages.
Not all clubs publish wage data, which is disappointing but unsurprising given the lack of governance & transparency at the EFL.
In paying just over £3k a week Scunthorpe’s wages are highly competitive with the rest of the division, although noticeably lower than those of clubs recently relegated from the Championship.
Peter Swann has clearly backed managers here in terms of giving them a wage budget that in theory should allow them to recruit players who could help the club challenge for promotion to the Championship.
Paying competitive wages allowed Scunthorpe to make the playoffs in 2017/18 with an impressive fifth place finish.
Losing to Rotherham in the playoffs was a hammer blow and the club struggled the following season.
EFL rules do in theory limit player wages to 60% of income, but if the owner puts money into the club this is also taken into consideration and Peter Swann’s financial commitment allowed Scunthorpe to pay wages that otherwise would have been prohibited.
Scunthorpe’s investment in players has also resulted in the amortisation charge increasing. Amortisation is the transfer fee cost spread over the contract signed by the player. So, if Scunthorpe signed Cameron Burgess from Fulham for (say) £45,000 in 2017 on a three-year deal, this results in an annual amortisation charge of £15,000 (£45,000/3).
One person who has benefitted well at Glanford Park is the highest paid director. Directors were previously unpaid at Scunthorpe but there is now one person who is receiving about £190,000 a year at the club.
Profits are income less costs and given that Scunthorpe spend more on wages than they generate in revenue clearly the club is loss making.
Scunthorpe’s losses were magnified in 2017 and 2018 due to a £1.3 million write-down of an asset under construction. What this is isn’t clear from the accounts, but its value fell from just over £1.3 million to just £12,000.
Losses have trebled since 2013/14 as a result of the increased spend on players. Losing nearly £90,000 a week does result in challenges for those running the club. There are a variety of ways to reduce these losses, with player sales being the main ‘football’ approach.
Over the past six years Scunthorpe have generated nearly £1.5 million in profits in player sales, which is some way short of the £18.6 million of losses in the same period.
Scunthorpe have therefore had to rely on the club owner to cover the losses. Part of Peter Swann’s investment has been in the form of loans from his company Coolsilk, but these loans have been interest bearing and the club was paying over £4,000 a week in interest as a result in 2017/18.
With the club losing so much money there is little likelihood of it having to pay corporation tax, which are related to profits. In the last three years Scunthorpe have sold their tax losses to Peter Swann’s Coolsilk which has reduced losses by about £4 million over the period.
This is apparently something to do with a tax avoidance (and therefore totally legitimate) scheme called ‘Group Relief’. I did try to Google what this meant but when I typed it into the search engine is took me to a website called Pornhub, which I suspect is nothing to do with tax, but another three-letter word ending in ‘x’.
As a result of the above shenanigans Scunthorpe’s total losses stand at £15 million at 30 June 2018.
Peter Swann has also supported the club financially by buying shares in Scunthorpe. The advantage of this approach is that shares pay dividends rather than interest, and only if the club has an overall profit (which the above total of £15 million losses suggests is unlikely for some time).
Many clubs in the lower leagues have very tight player recruitment budgets and Scunthorpe are no exception. Over the past six years the club has spent £1.3 million buying players and generated nearly £1.7 million from sales.
Spending just £10,000 on players in 2017/18 meant that Scunthorpe were near the bottom of the recruitment table, perhaps a little more investment would have given the club the extra boost to get closer to promotion and kept Graham Alexander in a job.
As a result of the Coolsilk loans Scunthorpe’s debts have nearly quadruped to over £9 million since 2013.
These loans are not huge by League One/Two standards, but as has been seen in the case of both Bolton and Bury all loans come at a risk. (Note in the table below Bradford have not disclosed their loans as the club’s hierarchy are so contemptuous of the fans that they won’t even reveal the figures).
Summary and conclusion
Scunthorpe have lived beyond their means under Peter Swann since he acquired the club. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does increase risk if for whatever reason he can’t (Stewart Day at Bury, Tony Xia at Villa) or won’t (Steve Day at Bury, Ken Anderson at Bolton, Ellis Short at Sunderland) underwrite the losses.
Peter Swann has been generous to the club and should be given credit for that, but unlike many other owners who have lent their clubs money interest free (Coates family at Stoke, Matthew Benham at Brentford, Tony Bloom at Brighton, Dean Hoyle at Huddersfield etc.) has charged interest. The transfer of tax losses makes sense but also leaves a slightly uneasy taste in the mouth as to what is driving the investment.
Back to back playoff appearances are a testament to how a generous owner can elevate a club up the table, but unfortunately Scunthorpe didn’t get over the line.
Does the above analysis suggest that Peter Swann’s support his “we are probably one of the best-run clubs in the Football League” comment? That’s for others to decide rather than us.