Brighton and Hove Albion. Please, please, please, let me get what I want

Brighton and Hove Albion: Please, please, please, let me get what I want.

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Introduction: Bigmouth strikes again

Let’s get the elephant out of the room. We’re both Brighton fans here at the Price of Football, so excuse us a little indulgence in relation to this following report. It won’t impact upon our objectivity though, and we won’t bore you with tales of how the club nearly went out of business after being left homeless in 1997.

This report will focus on the cost of Brighton being promoted to the Premier League in the six years since they’ve moved to the Amex stadium in 2011.

Key figures for 2016/17: Panic

Income £29.2m (up 18.3%).

Wages £31.3m* (up 11.0%) *excludes £9.1million bonus paid to staff upon promotion, would be a 42.9% increase if bonus included.

Losses before player sales £38.9 million (up 50.1%)

Player signings £19.0 million

Player sales £ 0.3 million

Tony Bloom investment £280 million

The Albion just missed out on promotion at the end of 2015/16, first on goal difference to Middlesbrough, and then via the playoffs following a match at Hillsborough in which four players limped off injured in the first hour.

Chairman and professional poker player Tony Bloom was therefore faced with a dilemma at the start of 2016/17. Sell some of their players who were being courted by other teams (Dale Stephens and newly promoted Burnley, Lewis Dunk and small Premier League outfit Crystal Palace, Antony Knockaert and just relegated Newcastle), or stick with them and go all in for one final promotion push.

He knew the latter would be a gamble, as if the club didn’t achieve promotion in 2016/17 it would have had to scale back its investment in the playing squad the following season to comply with financial fair play (FFP).

Bloom’s experience of when to go ‘all in’ worked, he backed Chris Hughton by turning down offers, investing in the squad, and was rewarded with promotion.

Income: Frankly, Mr Shankly

Total income for the season was £29.2 million. To put this in context, the three clubs relegated from the Premier League, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Norwich, each earned about £50 million in parachute payments. The sum is also four times the amount the Albion were generating when playing at the Withdean stadium prior to the move to the Amex in 2011.

Whilst we don’t have figures for most of the clubs for 2016/17, as the Albion are one of the first to announce their results, the table below, based on 2015/16 data, gives a rough indication of just how difficult it is to compete for those clubs without parachute payments.

Football clubs generate cash from three main sources, matchday, broadcasting and commercial.

Matchday income from ticket sales rose 14% to £10.7 million. This was due to attendances at the Amex increasing to 27,966 from 25,583.

Broadcasting income rose 48% to 8.1million. This was due to the ‘solidarity payment’ paid by the Premier League to the English Football League increasing from £2.3 million to £4.3 million as a result of a new domestic TV deal for 2016/19 secured by Sky and BT Sport. In addition, the club is estimated to earn £100,000 for each home game and £10,000 for every away game broadcast live on Sky. With the Albion being in the two top all season, they were regulars on television too.

Other income, mainly commercial and retail, rose by a modest 7%.

Promotion to the Premier League will have a major impact on those figures. Benchmarking against Stoke City, the only club of a similar size who have published their 2016/17 figures to date, we would anticipate matchday income to rise by about 10%, commercial/other income to double, and broadcasting income to be somewhere between £95-£120 million in 2017/18, depending upon how often the club appears on TV, and the final league position.

To get a rough idea of the increments involved, if a club appears on live TV more than ten times they get about £1 million for each additional appearance, and there is prize money for finishing in every position in the Premier League that increases by just under £2 million for each place up the table, so the difference between finishing 11th and 16th is therefore about £10 million.

Costs: Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before

The main costs for a club are in relation to players, and come in the form of wages and player amortisation.

Wages in total rose by 43% to £40.3 million. Included in this figure is a £9.1 million promotion bonus paid to all 288 staff members, both playing and operational, by Tony Bloom. Excluding the bonus wages would have risen by a more modest, but still challenging 10.6%.

This means that wages (excluding bonuses) were 107% of income, or to put it in more simple terms, Brighton paid out £107 in wages for every £100 they generated from revenue.

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In the Championship as a whole, this puts the club at slightly more than average wage payers, compared to 101% for the division as a whole.

Whilst the increase in wages was substantial, it is still significantly less than those of relegated Norwich, who paid out £55.1 million in 2016/17.

This may explain why Alex Pritchard, who had apparently had agreed to sign for Brighton in summer 2016 for a then record fee of up to £8 million, mysteriously made a last-minute decision to sign for Norwich as he headed back up the motorway to his then host club Spurs.

Pritchard then took on the role of pantomime villain for the 2016/17 season in the eyes of many Brighton fans, for making exactly the same decision they would have made themselves under the circumstances.

The wages paid also perhaps put paid to the claims made by former manager Gus Poyet, who said the club had ‘hit the ceiling’ in terms of wages in 2013.

In recent years it has been an expensive business in terms of wages for clubs to fund promotion. Neither Newcastle nor Huddersfield have as yet published their accounts for 2016/17, so not possible to compare the Albion to the other promoted teams.

The other player related expense is that of player amortisation. This is the cost of signing a player spread over the length of his contract. Brighton broke their transfer record in summer 2016 in signing Shane Duffy from Blackburn, for a fee rumoured to be £3.5 million, on a four-year contract. This gives an annual amortisation charge of £875,000 (£3.5m/4).

The advantage of focussing on amortisation instead of just looking at transfer fees is that it removes some of the volatility from making one big signing in a single year.

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Albion’s amortisation increased significantly in 2011/12 with the then record signings on Will Hoskins, Will Buckley and Craig Mackail-Smith as the club was promoted and moved to the new stadium.

In then plateaued for the next three years before Tony Bloom backed Chris Hughton and sanctioned a modest increase in 2015/16, then making an extra commitment in the summer 2016 window.

Other costs: Well I wonder

The club has significant other costs operating from the Amex stadium. Land and buildings have a balance sheet value of £134 million. This includes £2.5 million spent during the year, which is probably in respect of property close to the training facilities at Lancing.

The stadium and other property costs are being written off over 50 years, but to this is added the costs of depreciating shorter life assets such as office equipment. This gives an overall depreciation charge of £4.4 million, down 10% on the previous year, but still higher than many other clubs in older stadia, constructed at a much lower cost. (Norwich’s was less than half that of the Albion, at £1.9 million, for example).

The Albion have a unique cost in terms of transport. Because of the sustainable transport policy that was a condition of planning permission being granted, the club has to contribute significantly to the local train and bus companies to provide free transport to and from home games. This cost is unknown but is estimated to be in the region of £2.5 million.

Director Pay: Barberism begins at home

One expense that will perhaps result in comment is the remuneration of chief executive Paul Barber, who joined the club over five years ago.

Barber’s pay more than doubled to over £1.2 million. Part of this was performance and bonus related, part of it was to prevent other clubs headhunting him. It was publicised in The Times that PB was on Liverpool’s radar when they were looking to replace Ian Ayre, their chief executive. Ayre’s package at Liverpool was…£1.2 million

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We’ve had some dealings with PB here at the Price of Football, and our view is he’s worth every penny. There can be few chief executives of what is now a £140 million a year business who will reply to every email they receive, and engage in fan debate to the degree that Barber has done during his time at the club.

Ultimately if Tony Bloom thinks Paul Barber is worth the money then that’s more than good enough for us. We don’t always agree with the decisions made, but then I don’t always agree with decisions made by my wife either, and still manage to think she’s wonderful.

For some reason PB generates a hysterical reaction from the Mavis Reilly element of the fanbase, who use any excuse to give him stick. We find such behaviour bewildering.

Losses: Hand in glove

Losses are income less costs, and were £38.9 million last season. This was an increase of £13 million from 2015/16. The losses were underwritten by Tony Bloom, to the tune to £107,000 a day.

Since moving to the Amex the Albion have racked up total losses of £118 million in trying to achieve promotion to the Premier League.

Some of you may by querying how the club has complies with financial fair play (FFP), which restricts losses to £39 million over three seasons, so it must average £13 million a season.

FFP is calculated using a different formula to the accounting losses, and some expenses, such as infrastructure, promotion, women’s and academy football, community schemes and so on are excluded.

Whilst the Albion don’t detail all of these costs, they have stated that they were FFP compliant in 2016/17. We’ve asked around some of our chums in football, and have calculated the following FFP loss for 2016/17.

The above suggests that the Albion were probably at their limit in terms of complying with the FFP rules in 2016/17, and would probably have had to make some player sales in 2017/18 in order to ensure they satisfied the three year figure of £39 million.

FFP in the Premier League is more relaxed, and of more concern to the club will be satisfying the wage control limits of STCC (Short term cost control) that only allow a Premier League club to increase the wage bill by £7 million a season, plus any rises in non-broadcast income

Player trading: Never had no one ever

According to the accounts the Albion paid out £19 million in 2016/17 on player additions.

On the face of it these seems much higher than the sums being quoted in the press, as the main signings were Shane Duffy (quoted at the time as going for a then record £3.5 million), Glenn Murray (£3 million), and Oliver Norwood, (£2m), although the club, as one would perhaps expect from a business owned by a professional poker player, keep their cards close to their chest and don’t disclose actual numbers.

We suspect the discrepancy is because many signings came with conditions in which extra fees kicked in should the Albion be promoted, and these payouts therefore became due at the end of 2016/17.

£19 million is a record sum for the Albion, more than double of any previous season, it’s a reasonably high figure for a Championship club, but not if compared to the amounts spent last season by clubs relegated from the Premier League in Aston Villa (£76 million) Newcastle (£57 million) and Norwich (£20 million).

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The club did appear to retrench in 2013 and 2014, partly due to tighter FFP rules, but as these were relaxed in 2015/16 spending has been modest, but perhaps more importantly, of mainly high quality. Previous years signings in the likes of Knockaert, Stephens, Murphy, Baldock, Hemed, Stockdale and so on can all be considered to be bargains.

Spending during the 2017 summer window has resulted in the club transfer record being broken three times. Most Premier League clubs do disclose in the accounts the amount spent (sometimes gross, sometimes net) in the window, in what is called the ‘post balance sheet events’ note, and we’re disappointed (actually probably just nosey) in that the Albion have not followed suit here.

The club have also spent £15.7 million in respect of buying land for development next to the training ground in Lancing. Once this is converted into retail and housing stock this could be a very useful additional source of income for the club. The hotel once proposed for the Amex site seems to presently be on the back burner.

The Owner: Handsome Devil

Tony Bloom’s total investment increased further in 2016/17 as he lent the club £28.2 million in the year. He underwrote the losses incurred, which was the equivalent of subsidising every ticket sold at the Amex in the Championship by £60 per match.

This takes his total investment to just over £280 million, in the form of shares and interest free loans. In addition to Bloom’s loans, the club also had racked up an overdraft of over £16 million by the end of May 2017, probably to pay out the staff bonuses as a result of promotion.

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Some fans are muttering about him selling out at a profit to a mythical Chinese or Middle Eastern investor. There’s no evidence to support this as (a) he’s a local lad (who just so happened to be a billionaire through his mathematical genius mind) who clearly loves the club, and travels to matches by train with the fans, and (b) he wouldn’t get his money back, as the club is worth less than the sum he invested.

Premier League status should allow him to stop having to subsidise the club as the extra monies of the Premier League should enable the club to break even (Stoke, for example, a club of similar size, made a profit of just £3 million in 2016/17).

Bloom remains the club’s biggest asset, as his devotion and decision making have proven to date have been exemplary. That also makes him the biggest risk, as if anything were to happen to him then the status of the club’s loans, for example, is unknown.

As a fan, all I can say is thank you Tony Bloom for bringing me some of the most memorable days of my life, and long many you continue to be in charge.

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