After UEFA reveals how much cash each club received for the group stages of this season’s Champions League, Kevin and Kieran find out who came out on top. Plus, with talk again of a European Super League in the future, they ask whether these figures effectively mean we have one already. They also look at the implications of Macclesfield’s latest points deduction and the mysterious case of Craig Dawson and the £2m fee.
In this episode we look at why Stoke City’s, owned by £65 billion a year in wagers Bet365 want FFP to be changed. We look at the price of opening your mouth, as Mesut Ozil upsets the Chinese state broadcaster who pay a lot of money for Premier League TV rights, Sunderland director Charlie Methven calls the club’s fans uneducated and a fan gets a ban from his own club for complaining about Manchester City’s owner’s human rights record.
Kevin and Kieran answer a load listeners’ questions, including where the fine paid by Leeds over ‘spygate’ ended up, whether Premier League clubs’ revenue is anywhere near its peak, and why the away club’s ticket money s often paid to the home club five days after the match. They also hand out the Price of Football podcast’s end-of-season awards and Kevin gives his tip for perfect Brussels sprouts on the big day.
Glasgow’s big two teams have good starts to both domestic and Europa Cup campaigns so far this season and both have just announced their financial results for 2018/19.
Everyone know that the rivalry between the clubs and especially their fans is intense, but do the accounts give the likes of @BearNecessities1872 and @PopeAndGlory on Twitter more point scoring opportunities against each other?
Revenue for clubs is generated from three sources, matchday, broadcasting and commercial.
Relative to the rest of Scottish football, where many clubs are so small, they are not legally obliged to show income and expenses in their accounts, Celtic and Rangers dominate as would be expected.
All clubs have committed fanbases but this is especially reflected in the big two in ticket sales with Celtic averaging nearly 58,000 every match at home last season and Rangers well over 49,000.
Revenue from matchday is calculated as number of tickets sold per match x average ticket price x number of home matches played.
Due to both clubs nearly selling out every match and fans being resistant to significant ticket price increases matchday revenue growth is only achieved via clubs increasing the number of matches played.
An impressive increase in Rangers matchday income was due to the club reaching the group stage of the Europa League whereas Celtic reached the last 32 of that competition.
Note that the two Glasgow clubs are significantly ahead of the Hearts, who have the third highest matchday income in the Scottish Premiership with just over £5 million.
Due to the level of support from fans that both Glasgow clubs would only be behind the ‘Big Six’ clubs in terms of Premier League matchday income.
Love it or loath it broadcast income is a big discriminator in terms of club earnings.
European cup participation makes a big difference to overall earnings.
Nevertheless, Scottish clubs both benefit and suffer from the complex distribution methods used to distribute money from UEFA.
Not many realise that Because BT pay the largest sum for Champions and Europa League rights in Europe, Scottish and English clubs benefit from this being distributed via what is called the market pool.
Only Scottish clubs relatively poor performance in UEFA competitions in recent years resulted in a low UEFA coefficient (which measures historical success by national teams in the Champions and Europa League) and therefore their share of this pot of money is far lower than that of England, Germany, Italy, Spain etc.
Not that fans will like it but paradoxically Rangers and Celtic both stand to benefit indirectly from all Scottish clubs progressing in Europe as this will increase their UEFA ranking, where being in the top 15 nations could have significant implications in future competitions.
Seeing Celtic’s broadcast income higher than that of Rangers needs further investigation and this was because Celtic made more progress in the domestic cups and in Europe.
Due to another one of UEFA’s pots of cash, which is linked to overall performance over the last decade in Europe, Celtic earned more broadcast revenue.
European participation for Rangers wasn’t the case when they were in the lower leagues of Scottish football for some of the last decade.
Broadcasting income in England is the major driver for the gap between Celtic and Rangers and Premier League clubs, but what is perhaps more alarming for their fans is that they are also behind many teams in the English Championship who are earning parachute payments.
Universally impressive for both clubs is the level of commercial income generated from sponsorship, advertising, kit manufacturing, merchandise and hospitality.
The impact of Steven Gerrard was a driver of Rangers increase in this income stream last season as sponsors are willing to pay more to be associated with such a high-profile individual
Sales from retail activities increased substantially at Ibrox last season but are still not maximising their potential due to an ongoing legal dispute with other parties including Mike Ashley, the Newcastle owner, which has restricted sales and had some fans boycotting products.
In the case of Celtic the club has had the benefit of European competition access including some Champions League participation in recent years to help them improve commercial income.
Numbers from the three revenue sources added together resulted in Celtic generating revenue of over a quarter of a billion pounds more than Rangers over the last six years but both clubs income still dwarfs that of Aberdeen, the club with the next largest income.
Gaps of that size are difficult to eliminate but last year was the narrowest for some time, yet Celtic still had a thirty-million-pound advantage over Rangers and that’s before considering player sales, although a Premiership win and participation in the group stages in the Champions League could change things for Rangers..
Looking at the profit and loss account in more detail showed that Celtic also had ‘other income’ of £8.8 million as compensation from Leicester City for headhunting Brendan Rodgers and his backroom team part way through the season.
Every club’s main costs are in respect of players via wages and transfer fee amortisation.
In the case of the two big Glasgow clubs their wage bills are far in excess of other Scottish clubs and Celtic’s higher income in turn allows them to pay higher wages than Rangers.
Steven Gerrard’s wages plus those of the players he signed resulted in Rangers wage bill increasing by over a third, whereas a lack of Champions League participation meant that Celtic’s wages falling slightly.
Player transfer fee amortisation is the amount paid spread over the length of the contract.
Estimating transfer fees is difficult as so many transfer fees are ‘undisclosed, but if Rangers signed Conor Goldson from Premier League Brighton for about £1.5 million on a four-year deal this would result in an amortisation cost of £375,000 per annum.
Rangers spending on the squad has increased noticeably since they returned to the top division and this is shown by the rise in their amortisation charge.
Success on the field for Celtic has resulted in a far bigger amortisation charge in recent years partly due to winning eight Premiership titles in a row.
Obviously, the income that such success brings domestically and in European competition has then been invested in player signings.
Notes to the accounts reveal that In addition to amortisation, both Rangers and Celtic reported ‘impairment’ costs of £1.6 million and £2 million respectively in relation to players whom they had signed whose poor performances meant their values were reduced.
A lot of fans will point their fingers at the likely individuals who suffered this ignominy but the clubs themselves are tight lipped on the matter.
Looking at Rangers ‘other costs’ these increased by 70% to over £21 million in 2018/19.
Just part of this is due to extra stewarding and policing in respect of Europa League matches at Ibrox but also an alarming £3.6 million increase in legal costs as Rangers disputes with Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct rumbled on throughout the year.
Every club sells as well as buys players and In recent years Celtic have made impressive profits selling one or two high profile players each year.
Selling Moussa Dembele to Lyon for about £20 million generated a big profit as the player cost the club a fraction of that sum from Fulham.
Upping profits for next season for Celtic will be the sale of Kieran Tierney which took place after the accounting year ended and that will contribute £25 million.
Selling player by Rangers has not been such a contribution to the bottom line, although the prolific Alfredo Morelos is likely to command a high price should he leave the club in the next year or so.
Buying into Steven Gerrard’s vision for the club last season meant Rangers outspent Celtic for the first time in many years in terms of player signings.
Profits and Losses
Yearly profits are total income less costs and whilst Celtic’s fell significantly in 2018/19 they were still substantially ahead of Rangers.
Desperate times can arise If a club is losing money, as the only way to survive is to sell off assets or have funding from lenders or shareholders.
Even though Rangers didn’t sell any players for large fees they generated £2 million from share issues and £8 million from loans in 2018/19 to plug the gap from day to day losses, whereas Celtic needed no such funding.
Predictably given their respective finances Celtic and Rangers finished in the top two positions in the Premiership in 2018/19.
Exploiting the financial gap between these two clubs and the rest of the division, means that it will be difficult for other Premiership clubs to make a challenge for the top positions in the league, especially with their relative success to date in the Europa League in 2019/20.
Celtic have a noticeable advantage over Rangers in terms of income generation and profitability, partly due to their ability to buy low and sell high in terms of player trading, and this has allowed them to pay higher wages, which is usually, but not always, reflected on the pitch.
Having this advantage gives Celtic a greater, but not guaranteed, chance of success in terms of trophies.
Even so, Rangers is potentially going to continue to lose money unless a more successful player trading policy and a resolution to ongoing legal disputes is achieved.
Most concerning is that in the accounts are the comments from Rangers auditors highlighting the club’s ability to trade as a going concern.
Only investment by Dave King and other investor plugged the gaps in Rangers finances last season and £16.6 million of shareholder loans were effectively written off by being converted into shares, diluting other shareholdings in the process, and King has been subject to criticism by the Takeover Panel for some of his actions.
Due to Rangers finances being precarious if investors are unable or unwilling to cover the losses indefinitely then Rangers would face substantial cost cutting or what Sir Alex Ferguson would call ‘squeaky bum time’.
Every Rangers fan will be asking themselves, given the clubs recent history, whether or not they are willing to take this risk if it stops Celtic winning ten titles in a row?
Life in the Championship is tough, and Bristol City’s latest financial results are testament to that as playoff hopes were dashed and the club lost a lot of money on a day to day basis.
Every cloud has a silver lining and City’s impressive player recruitment and talent spotting allowed the club to reverse these losses due to player sales that generated £38 million profits.
Even so, the club needed the benevolence of owner Stephen Lansdown to keep its head above water as he continued to pump money into City.
Key figures for year to 31 May 2019: Bristol City Holdings Ltd
Income £30.3 million (up 20%).
Wages £30.6 million (up 12%) .
Losses before player sales £26.3 million (up 9%)
Player sale profits £38.2 million (2018 £0.3 million)
Player signings £10.2 million (2018 £12 million)
Player sales £39.7 million (2018 £1.8 million)
Steve Lansdown investment £137 million (up £10 million).
Justifying such a huge investment is difficult but City are fortunately owned by Pula Sports Limited, a company based in Guernsey.
Owner of Pula Sports is in turn Steve Lansdown, half of Hargreaves Lansdown, the £8 billion plus valued financial services company.
How most clubs generate money does vary but for most is split between matchday, broadcasting and commercial sources.
Nowadays some clubs in the Championship also have the benefit of parachute payments following relegation from the Premier League (EPL).
Stoke, Swansea and West Bromwich Albion will all have generated more money from parachute payments in 2018/19 (about £41 million) than City will have made from all their regular income sources.
One thing that is always good about City is that they are always one of the earliest clubs to publish their finances each season, but this does mean that many comparative figures for other clubs are from 2017/18.
Nudging their way into the top ten revenue earners in the Championship is an achievement given that City start so far behind the recipients of parachute payments.
Strip out the parachute payments (and their quasi-equivalent for other clubs in the Championship from the Premier League called solidarity payments) and City rise to 4th in the income table, which suggests that the club’s investment in Ashton Gate recently is paying off.
Football fans pay money through the turnstiles via season ticket purchases, which tend to be relatively constant, and matchday tickets, which are more volatile as clubs dependent upon promotion and cup runs.
Ashton Gate’s attendances were very similar to those of the previous season, at just over 20,000, but City’s impressive League Cup run in 2017/18 was not replicated, reducing income from one off matches.
Very few clubs in the Championship have matchday income increasing every year as clubs’ fortunes vary, and City had a 10% decrease in 2018/19.
Overall City’s matchday income was mid table for the Championship and this is intuitively where you would expect to see them in a division that does generate from some large attendances at other clubs.
Under Steve Lansdown’s ownership recently Ashton Gate has been transformed and this is reflected in the growth in commercial income.
Relative to other income sources commercial income is now the biggest earner for City, generating over half of the club’s revenues compared to a quarter in 2013.
Infrastructure spending by City at Ashton Gate and the consequent surge in banqueting, conference hosting and other similar activities has resulted in the club having the second largest commercial income stream in the Championship.
The split of broadcasting income in the Championship is very much a two-tier scenario, with parachute payments distorting numbers significantly.
Every club in the Championship receives broadcast income from both the Premier League and the EFL.
Distribution of broadcast money to clubs such as City comes in the form of solidarity payments (which is an agreed percentage of the Premier League fixed broadcasting pay-outs) which were £4.5 million and their share of the EFL TV deal at £2.9 million.
Income overall therefore for City was a record £30.3 million, five times that of 2013/14, but was it enough to allow the club to make a profit?
Success in football is down to players, and player costs are the most significant for a club.
Nowadays players and their agents are fully aware of their value and this means that clubs must pay substantial wages to attract and keep talent.
Every club has two forms of player costs, wages and transfer fee amortisation.
Year on year wages in the Championship have risen in recent years and between 2014 and 2018 they increased by over £284 million, more than the change in revenue during the same period.
For City the wage change has been equally alarming as the wages increased by over 12% and the average is now £13,700 a week as the club tried to keep up with the Joneses in the Championship salary league table.
Investing to this extent has resulted in City spending £96 million in wages since returning to the Championship in 2015/16, during which total income has been £91 million leaving nothing to pay any of the other running costs, unless these are bankrolled by Steve Lansdown.
Life in the Championship is hard as clubs paid out £107 in wages for every £100 of income, but City also had similar issues when they were in League One a few years ago.
Most clubs in the Championship are paying wages that are unsustainable in the long run but the relaxation of FFP rules (or Profitability and Sustainability, which is ironic as clubs are neither profitable nor sustainable under the rules) a few years ago has resulted in wage growth being significant.
Investment in players also comes via transfer fee amortisation, which is where the sum paid for the player’s registration is spread over the length of the contract signed.
Signing the excellent Adam Webster from Ipswich at the start of 2018/19 for £3 million on a four-year contract therefore resulted in an amortisation charge of £750,000 (£3m/4) in the profit and loss account for 2018/19.
The total amortisation charge for the last season was £7.9 million, an increase of 16% over the previous season and six times the amount of when City were in League One.
Having been only the second club in the Championship to publish accounts for 2018/19 means that a perfect comparison isn’t possible with other clubs, but City are about mid table in terms of their amortisation cost.
Every business has other operating costs too and City’s increased by over 20% to £15.2 million, perhaps due to the increased expense of running the expanded conferencing and hospitality activities.
Profits (or perhaps more appropriately Losses?)
Losing money in the Championship is pretty much a given and City’s underlying operating losses from day to day activities were £26.3 million last season, or £506,000 a week.
It therefore means that total losses since 2013 exceed £100 million and means either player sale profits or owner investment are required to reduce these losses.
The sales of Reid, Bryan, Flint and Kelly during the year to 31 May 2019, as well as a promotion clause kicking in from Villa in respect of the sale of Kodija resulted in City having player sale profits of £38.2 million in 2018/19.
This level of profit is very high by both City’s own standards and those of the Championship but is also very volatile and can’t be relied upon to take place every season.
Losses following player sales have therefore been reduced to ‘just’ £69 million since, but Steve Lansdown still has effectively had to find £200,000 each and every week for six years.
EFL FFP rules restricts losses to £39 million over three seasons, but the player profit sales from last season mean that City’s losses are an estimated £7 million so the club will have plenty of wiggle room at present.
Manipulating club finances to satisfy FFP is a contentious issue at present with some clubs having unusual transactions with companies controlled by the club owner to boost income, but there is no evidence of such behaviour at City.
Every club can exclude academy, infrastructure, women’s and community scheme costs from FFP calculations, and this has created additional loopholes exploited by those clubs whose owners are used to getting their way.
Reliable figures for individual transfers aren’t available as these days (Transfermarkt numbers are usually just guesses) as most transactions are for ‘undisclosed’ sums but overall City spent just over £10 million on players in 2018/19.
Mid table in the spending charts is where £10 million gets you in the Championship although most of the figures in the table are from 2017/18 and we expect the total of £310 million that season to fall as clubs have reduced spending to comply with FFP.
As already mentioned, City had substantial player sales in 2018/19 which brought in a total of £40 million but many of the sales were on instalment terms and only £18 million of this was received in the form of cash.
In the footnotes to the accounts it shows that City earned a net £3 million after the year end from player trading, which presumably includes the sale of Webster to Brighton for £15-20 million so must include a lot of purchases too.
Funding the club
Director and owner Steve Lansdown’s total investment increased further in 2018/19 as he invested a further £10 million in the club via holding company Pula Sports and a share issue. Pula also guarantee a £50 million bank loan for the club. Lansdown’s total investment is therefore about £130 million in City.
Realistically, Lansdown will have to subsidise the club by a minimum of £10-20 million a year for the foreseeable future, unless promotion to the Premier League is achieved or there are substantial player sales.
Bristol City are a classic example of life in the Championship finances, loss making, reliant on a benevolent owner and occasional player sales and unable to keep wages under control.
If promotion is achieved fans will take the view that all of this is worth it, but until then it’s a hard slog of 46 league matches on a Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday cycle and thanking their lucky stars they have an owner prepared to cover the weekly losses.
The company has taken advantage of legislation for small businesses to avoid publishing full financial statements. This means that there is no profit and loss account or income/wage details.
No accounts have been published for the year ended 31 May 2018, in breach of company law, making the directors guilty of a criminal offence.
Losses accelerated for the company from 2013 onwards, following the acquisition of the club by Stewart Day.
In the two years when the club did publish fuller sets of accounts, wages exceeded income.
Bury’s income increased in 2015/6 and 2016/7 when the club was in League One. This is partially due to increased broadcasting revenues which are 50% higher for clubs in League One compared to League Two.
Compared to other League One teams Bury generated low levels of income. Detailed breakdown of income is not given, but clubs in the division earn about £1.4 million a year from broadcasting and the balance is from matchday and commercial sources.
Bury’s wage bill has only been published twice, but there was a 29% increase in 2015/16 following promotion. In 2014/15 Bury paid £129 in wages for every £100 of income in League Two in 2014/15 and were still paying £100 in wages the following season despite the boost to income following promotion.
Compared to other clubs in the division Bury’s wage bill was moderate. There is a commonly held view that Stewart Day was trying to ‘buy’ promotion via paying unsustainable wages, and this some merit on a proportion of income basis but not on in terms of the total wage bill.
Bury have been losing about £50,000 a week in the last few years, although figures for the period since 2016/17 are not available.
The deterioration in Bury’s profitability started when Stewart Day acquired the club, with losses exceeding £50,000 a week in the last three years.
Bury had the fourth highest losses in League One in 2016/17.
Investors can either lend money to a business or buy shares. In the case of Stewart Day and Mederco there has been a combination of both. Day has historically said that loans would be converted into shares where necessary and this appears to have been the case. There were of course other loans from lenders with a less benevolent attitude to the club.
Bury’s level of borrowing was modest by League One standards, however the key issue in respect of debt is the ability of the borrower to repay sums due to lenders.
Bury’s financial performance and position deteriorated under Stewart Day. His ambition to make Bury a competitive team at the top of League One with the aim of promotion was based on having the ability to underwrite the losses. Once Day’s other businesses, which were the means by which the losses were covered, went into administration then the excess spending meant the club was no longer viable.
As Day needed to sell the club to relinquish responsibilities for the £50,000 a week losses, he didn’t/couldn’t take too much notice of the background of Steve Dale, to whom he sold the club for £1.
Dale displays characteristics of a sociopathic narcissist, similar traits to those of Ken Anderson at Bolton. Combine those character traits with a history of asset stripping and it was sadly no surprise that Bury’s financial problems multiplied under his ownership to date.
Out of 92 football clubs in the Premier League and the EFL, 61 made a net loss in their most recent accounts. The total losses made by those clubs came to £589 million and that’s after some, especially those in the Premier League, receiving the riches of bumper TV and sponsorship deals as well as player sales.
Manchester United’s losses are distorted by Trump related tax changes in the US, where the company’s shares are traded, but it’s noticeable that all three clubs relegated that season lost money too.
In the Championship loss making is the norm, with the three promoted clubs in 2017/18 being in the top five loss making.
Promotion bonuses contribute to those losses, but also suggests that owners are prepared to gamble on trying to buy promotion via big transfer fees and wages. Remember those losses are AFTER the receipt of £250 million of parachute payments and Derby and Sheffield Wednesday selling their stadia to themselves at huge profits to ensure compliance with FFP.
In League One there’s still a gambling mentality. There is a £7 million difference in broadcast income between this division and the Championship, so some owners will do the equivalent of twisting on 19 in relation to getting promoted. The Venkys at Blackburn, initially reviled by fans, have been very generous in their financial support, though fans will point out that money has been spent poorly, with a series of ‘advisors’ seemingly more interested in lining their own pockets than recruiting players who will improve things on the pitch.
Budgets are tight in the bottom two divisions and this does mean that there are a few more clubs who have broken even, but overall this is a loss making division. Notts County’s implosion, partly due to owner Alan Hardy’s social media todger related antics, has meant they still have not published their 2018 accounts.
Recent events at Bury and Bolton, the former expelled from the league and the latter rescued at the eleventh hour, have focussed attention on other clubs who are also struggling to survive. Whilst Bury and Bolton’s troubles more to do with sociopathic asset-stripping owners than inherent financial issues, there are clubs whose balance sheets are showing signs of distress. Here are five examples of the types of stresses impacting upon individual clubs.
Club: Coventry City
Loss for 2017/18: £2,480,000
Reason for concern: Homeless and owners not football fans
Playing this season at Birmingham City’s ground after a dispute between hedge fund owner Sisu Capital and stadium landlords Wasps rugby club. Sisu’s motives for buying Coventry are no clearer than when they acquired the club in 2007 the club has lost £64 million.
Sisu have spent a lot of time and money trying to buy the Ricoh Arena where the club started playing matches when in opened in 2005. Sisu and a similar mysterious organisation based in the Cayman Islands called the Arvo master fund have lent the club £37 million but there seems to be little chance of repayment. If either Sisu or Arvo decide to demand their loans back, then the club has no assets from which they can be repaid. Coventry have been successful in developing stars in recent years who now play in the Premier League such as James Maddison and Callum Wilson, but this is a hit and miss way of generating cash.
Club: Scunthorpe United
Loss for 2017/18: £3,605,000
Reason for concern: Wages far exceeding income
Currently at the bottom of League Two, Scunthorpe United’s finances are as concerning as their form on the pitch.
In recent years the club has paid out substantially more in wages than it has generated in income.
With wages exceeding income there is nothing left to pay for the day to day running costs and so the club has incurred losses averaging £50,000 a week over the last six years.
Scunthorpe’s owner Peter Swann has underwritten these losses to date but the clubs outstanding borrowings have ballooned. Should relegation occur then there would be a substantial fall in income as it would lose solidarity payments from the Premier League as well as the EFL broadcasting monies halving as the club only receives parachute payments for a short period.
Club: Macclesfield Town
Loss for 2017/18: £250,000
Reason for concern: Winding up order
Sol Campbell performed a minor miracle last season in helping Macclesfield avoid relegation to the National League from League Two, but the club’s financial problems are more pressing. The club failed to pay wages more than once occasions in 2018/19. It is now facing a winding up order due on 11 September due to former players suing The Silkmen for unpaid wages. This dispute is now settled but HMRC have taken over the winding up order as Macc lurch from pillar to post.
Macclesfield’s losses might seem relatively low at an average of £4,000 a week in recent years compared to the millions elsewhere, but the club is a classic case of any losses are too much if you can’t afford to cover them.
Loss in 2017/18: £10,450,000
Reason for concern: Owner threats
Charlton’s Belgian owner Roland Duchatelet has been trying to sell the club for some time, but to date no one has come near his asking price. Duchatelet has even demanded that the EFL itself buy the club from him as his relationship with fans has deteriorated since be bought Charlton in January 2014.
Charlton lost money both before and since Duchatelet’s arrival at The Valley, but the extent of the losses has been significant, with only the sales of Lookman, Gudmunnson & Pope in 2016/17 allowing the club to break even. Under Lee Bowyer Charlton have made an excellent start to the present season and will be hoping for promotion and access to the riches of the Premier League, but with debts exceeding £60 million there could be problems if the owner gets fed up and tries to recoup his investment, which is the stumbling block with prospective buyers at present.
The owner has invested significantly in the player wages, but if Charlton fail to make progress from the Championship how long he will continue to underwrite the losses is uncertain.
Losses in 2017/18: £452,000
Reason for concern: Losing money despite lowest wage bill in English football
Many football fans would struggle to name any Morecambe player, the colour of their home shirt or the name of their stadium. The club had the lowest wage bill in League Two in 2018 of those clubs who reported such details (many clubs use legal loopholes to reduce their transparency in this regard).
Even with a wage bill so low it has failed to pay them on time at least four times in recent years, the last time being November 2018.
The average wage paid by The Shrimps is less than £1,000 a week, but with crowds averaging only 2,000 per home match they still lose money on a regular basis.
Clubs such as Morecambe are reliant on the goodwill of owners and with new owners in place and Jim Bentley being the longest serving manager in all four divisions, they hopefully can put such issues behind them.
Whilst we’ve chosen five clubs the list could be easily have been added to by that number again. The likes of Oldham, Reading, Oxford and Southend have also were late with wage payments last season and whilst this is a feature they share with Bury and Bolton hopefully they will not end up getting so close to ceasing to exist at those two historic clubs.
Summer 1976 and I’m gathered around a bed with my mum and my eleven-year-old sister, watching my dad, full of tubes, breath slower and slower.
The priest has just given him the last rites, the consultant has just explained he’s done all he can, my mum is weeping, I’m holding my sister’s hand.
Even then I was obsessed with numbers and I’m staring at the heart rate monitor, watching it count down and hoping for a miracle*.
Very sad you might say, but why the melodrama, and what the Dickens has this got to do with Bury football club?
Emotional blackmail this isn’t though, Bury fans are watching their own life support machine run down as the EFL have set a final, final, final, final deadline of 5pm on Friday in terms of the club’s existence.
Down at Gigg Lane fans have been consuming rumours, counter-rumours and website pronouncements as owner Steve Dale has blamed everyone (apart from himself) for the potential demise of the club.
A look at the club’s accounts in recent years shows that Bury have been living beyond their means for some time, but that doesn’t give the full explanation as to why they, and not one of perhaps a dozen or more clubs in the lower leagues, are facing extinction.
Losses in recent years accelerated following previous owner Stewart Day’s ambition being based on his other businesses being successful and underwriting Bury’s day to day losses.
Except those other businesses weren’t successful and Day’s Mederco, which, depending on your viewpoint was either a daydreamer’s folly or a Ponzi scheme, went into administration with Bury owing Mederco nearly £4.3 million according to the most recent published accounts dated 31 May 2017.
In the most recent administrator’s report Mederco’s debt from Bury had ballooned to £7.1 million and may have allowed Steve Dale to force through the Creditors Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) that allows him to still run the club on a day to day basis.
Strictly Bury’s biggest creditor per the CVA is due to a company called RCR Holdings, which was formed on 16 July 2019, but apparently was owed £7.1 million by Bury on 18 July 2019, when the CVA proposal was forced through.
A minimum of 75% of all creditors in terms of the value of the sums due must vote in favour for a CVA for it to be accepted, and with RCR Holdings debt being so large it meant that 84% of all creditors were in favour.
Who is in charge of RCR is a mystery, the director is listed as Kris Richards an identical creditor claim of £7.1 million from Steve Dale has been conveniently ignored by Steven Wiseglass, the person in charge of the CVA, RCR paid £70,000 for the £7.1 million debt.
An adjustment is made in terms of approving a CVA if a connected party to the business ownership is a creditor to them, and if these debts are excluded there still must be at least 50% of creditors in favour of the CVA.
Not voting for the CVA was HMRC, due over £1 million by Bury, who had been petitioning for the club to be wound up due to Steve Dale’s refusal to pay PAYE and NI contributions, as well as failing to pay the wages of players and staff on a regular basis since February.
Kind words are few and far between for Dale, who bought Bury for £1 in December 2018 and has had a string of former companies dissolved in recent years, leading to accusations of being an asset stripper.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of Dale comes from his running of the company Terrapin Limited where workers went unpaid and Steve Dale washed his hands of any responsibility.
Under Dale’s reign at Bury two new companies were created in the first few days as Bury FC Leisure Limited and Bury FC Heritage Limited.
Fearing bailiffs acting on behalf of creditor taking Bury’s assets is the reason that Dale has given for the creation of these companies, who apparently have had some of the football club’s assets transferred to them.
Football clubs aren’t attractive to regular banks as they rarely make profits, which perhaps explains why Bury took out a loan from Broad oak Finance Limited recently
In addition, The Guardian’s football finance sleuth David Conn uncovered the club had borrowed money whilst Stuart Day was in charge and interest was clocking up at 138% a year.
No one seems to have much knowledge of Capital Bridging Finance Solutions although a look at its accounts reveals that it owns a property development subsidiary company…and now has a loan secured on Gigg Lane.
Where does this leave Bury? The club was poorly run by Stewart Day originally, with wages exceeding income as he tried to buy success for the club.
Steve Dale inherited a mess, but unlike Andy Holt at Accrington and Mark and Nicola at Tranmere, took the club backwards rather than forwards.
His beratement of the EFL, staff at the club, fans and others who have queried his decisions has alienated the whole of the fanbase and anyone who had goodwill towards him.
The EFL, whose reputation plummeted during the leadership of Shaun Harvey, is under resourced and unable to do much apart from implore Steve Dale to show he has the means to fund the club, which to date he claims to have done but this is at odds with the EFL’s reading of the situation.
Using a disgraced insolvency practitioner to conduct Bury’s CVA has not helped Dale’s cause either. Steven Wiseglass has twice been found guilty of misconduct in recent years by his governing bodies, who usually are reluctant to discipline their members. This allows critics to claim that the insolvency practitioner is in Steve Dale’s pocket, although there is no hard evidence to support this viewpoint.
The representative of RCR Holdings at the CVA meeting, has also been before the beak in relation to prior behaviour and has appeared with Tommy Robinson in the past. Again there is nothing wrong in employing whoever you choose to represent you, but given the high profile nature of Bury’s current position it opens people to criticism.
Back to 1976 and my old man miraculously survived that summer. He had no interest in football, but knowing I was mad on the subject the last thing we did together as dad and lad was to go to a match at the Goldstone Ground. I still cherish that day, and for many families football provides a bond and memories that cover generations.
Steve Dale also has no interest in football but has the power to allow similar memories and bonds to take place between families friends and generations for the regulars of Gigg Lane.
For the sake of those good people and the sake of our national game, do the right thing Steve and let the club live.
Sale and leaseback is the latest buzz phrase in the world of football finance, as Derby County, Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday have used this mechanism to avoid points deductions in the EFL Championship.
How does it work, is it legitimate and what the benefits to the clubs involved (and their owners) in terms of FFP ‘compliance’ will be covered in this article?
What is sale and leaseback?
Accountants have used sale and leaseback for a long time to help companies raise money and it is usually a transaction arranged with a bank or other lender effectively mortgaging an existing property owned by a business.
Under present accounting rules when a company sells a property it can book a profit, calculated as the difference between the sale proceeds and the book (not market) value of the asset.
New owners of the stadium (which in the case of both Derby and Villa (and probably Wednesday too) is a new company set up by club owner) pays an agreed amount for the stadium then agrees a rental agreement with the ‘tenant’ (i.e. the football club).
How the price in relation to the sale of the stadium is agreed has provoked some raised eyebrows from other Championship club chairmen as there is a suspicion this has been inflated to maximise the profit on the disposal.
Applying the rules
As the ultimate ownership of the stadium is unchanged then what is effectively happening is that Mel Morris (in the case of Derby), Wes Eadons and Nassef Sawiris (at Villa) and Dejphon Chansiri (at Wednesday) have simply shifted large amounts of money from one of their bank accounts to another, but their respective clubs have had a FFP boost as a result.
Referring to the Derby accounts for the three years ending 30 June 2018 shows the club had an accumulated loss before tax of £23.7 million, seemingly well within the Profitability and Sustainability limit of £39 million.
Viewing the accounts of parent company SevCo5112 Ltd revealed that the loss of £1.1 million in 2018 was partly due to the sale of Pride Park at a price of £81.1 million, which generated a profit of £39.9 million as a result.
Every Derby fan will claim that the transaction was within the rules and based on the pre-tax figures in the accounts the three-year loss was ‘just’ £23.7 million.
Yet these losses can be reduced further by clubs spending money on ‘good’ activities, such as infrastructure, academy, women’s football and community schemes as these are excluded from FFP calculations.
If these costs are included then Derby would have had a P&S loss of £11.1 million, well within the allowable limit.
Should the profit on the sale of the stadium have been disallowed (as per the original FFP rules) then the loss would have been £39.1 million higher at £50.2 million and a probable eight-point deduction in 2018/19 meaning Middlesbrough, rather than Derby, would have made the playoffs.
Aston Villa had a much lower ‘sale’ price of Villa Park, which initially seems odd given that the stadium site is much larger, but this allowed the club to state that it complied with FFP for 2018/19, although based on our calculations there would probably have been only a three point deduction and Villa would still have made the playoff.
Compliance is very much the watchword in relation to P&S rules and the use of such creative accounting is surely more to do with the appallingly lax set of rules created by the EFL rather than clubs cheating, as has been accused by fans of other clubs.
Over at Hillsborough the stadium was ‘sold’ for £60 million and a £38.1 million profit booked although this is further confused by Land Registry still showing in July 2019 that it still belonged to the club even though the accounts in which the sale is shown are for 2017/18.
Have they done anything wrong?
Middlesbrough owner Steve Gibson has been the most vocal critic of the sale and leaseback transactions and has threatened legal action but whilst the actions of the Derby et al aren’t cricket we don’t think they have broken any rules.
Potential legal action by Gibson is therefore unlikely to succeed, although it will make for another tense meeting of club chairmen when they have their next EFL meet up.
Less clear is whether Gibson’s suspicion that the sale price of the stadia ‘sold’ has been at an inflated price.
Each club who has made such a sale has presumably used a firm of surveyors to determine the value although critics will point out that given the club chairmen are effectively paying the surveyors’ fees there will be a conflict of interest.
Those of you who watch daytime TV will have seen the likes of Dion Dublin take about a yield on properties which are bought to let, and this principle could be applied in relation to the three clubs involved.
Every company that has a rental agreement should in theory show the rents due in future years in the footnotes to the accounts.
Buried away in the Derby footnotes on page 33 is a note showing that Derby’s rent for the following year was increasing by about £1.05 million and the club appears to be committed to paying a total extra rent of £23 million in future years, far less than the £80 million sale proceeds.
Entering those numbers into our big calculator gives the new owner of Pride Park a 1.3% yield, which is unlikely to be given a thumbs up from Dion Dublin and co.
Looking at the accounts for Sheffield Wednesday gives equal confusion as the club does not appear to have any rental cost for Hillsborough in future years despite selling the ground for £60 million and so the new owner could have a zero yield.
Leasing football grounds, it must be stressed, is perfectly legitimate (Manchester City have such an arrangement with the local council for the Etihad, West Ham similar with the London stadium).
Each Championship club that has taken such an approach in the last couple of years has benefitted in terms of their ability to compete on the pitch as a result of these transactions and this has caused resentment from other club owners who have not used such mechanisms.
No one seemed to notice the change to the P&S Rules initially in 2016 and this is where the crux of the problem lies, as someone should take responsibility and explain whether the change was simply a cock up or a deliberate dilution of P&S.
Don’t expect anyone at the EFL to hold their hands up though, given the record of the organisation claiming to be ‘only a competition organiser’ whenever the flak starts flying.
Under the old EFL FFP rules profits on sales of tangible fixed assets, such as stadia, were specifically excluded from the calculations, which would have had a huge impact upon the ability of the clubs involved to trade. Derby, for example, spent over £15 million in 2017/18 on new players and a further £18.5 million in 2018/19, albeit with sales of players bringing in £16 million over that period too. Sheffield Wednesday were able to spend £168 on wages in 2017/18 for every £100 of income and Villa kept the superb Jack Grealish at Villa Park on the back of a lucrative new contract and were rewarded with promotion to the Premier League.
The new P&S rules make no reference to profits on asset sales and therefore they are legitimately included in the calculations. Why the change was allowed to go through has never been explained, although we have heard on the grapevine that the EFL simply cut and pasted the Premier League P&S rules (which have always allowed asset sales) without looking at the small print for any changes, unlike the accountants and lawyers at Derby.
The overall lesson learnt, as some are finding out with the present FaceApp photo ageing application, is that if you don’t read the small print someone else will, and they can make you look fairly stupid as a result, as the EFL is probably privately conceding at present.
Our view from day one of FFP is that it’s an artificial construct that has earned large sums for accountants and lawyers (the EFL’s legal costs for the QPR ruling are estimated to be £3 million and presumably QPR’s silks didn’t do it for free either) and looking at Bolton, Bury, Notts County, Oldham, Macclesfield etc hasn’t achieved much in the way of financial restraint.
To attempt promotion to the Premier League is an expensive business as revealed when Middlesbrough submit their accounts to the government registrar for the 2017/18 season and reported a £20.2 million operating loss
Only the receipt of parachute payments and some player sales prevented these losses from being too damaging for Boro, who are fortunate to have a benevolent owner in Steve Gibson to fund the club’s operations.
Key Financial Highlights for year ended 30 June 2018
Turnover £62 million (down 49%)
Wages £49 million (down 25%)
Pre-player sale losses £20.2 million (2016/17 profit £10.3 million)
Player sale profits £15.3 million (up from £11.3 million)
Player signings £66 million (up from £48 million)
Nearly every club in its accounts splits income into three categories to comply with EFL League recommendations, matchday, broadcasting and commercial.
Year on year Middlesbrough’s matchday income fell by 18% last season to £7.1 million.
Premier League attendances averaged 30,499 and this fell to 25,544 in the Championship despite Boro having a relatively successful season and reaching the playoffs before losing to Villa.
Until parachute payments run out Middlesbrough are not hugely dependent upon matchday as an income source, as it only represents one pound out of every nine generated by the club last season.
Losing its Premier League status was a blow for the club and the town last season and being relegated in the first season after promotion means that Boro only are entitled to parachute payments for two seasons instead of three as would have been the case had they avoided relegation.
Income for clubs in the Championship from matchday varies depending upon ticket prices, attendances and the number of corporate seats each club is able to sell, with the likes of Villa and Leeds having an advantage in the latter two categories.
Such is the magnitude of the Premier League TV deal that Middlesbrough received over £41 million from parachute payments out of total broadcast income of £46.3 million in 2017/18.
Having another parachute payment this season will generate about £35 million, but Boro are promoted they will then revert to the EFL deal with Sky, which is worth about £2.3 million a year plus a £4.3 million ‘solidarity’ payment from the Premier League, this can then be topped up by £100,000 for each home fixture and £10,000 if the club are playing away if chosen for live broadcast.
A lot of clubs in the Premier League are reliant on the BT/Sky deal for the majority of their income and Boro are no exception, even in 2017/18 TV was still providing three-quarters of their revenue.
So, looking at the Championship as a whole it appears that parachute payments have created a two or three tier division, with those clubs who have just come down earning the most and then this tapers for those who have been relegated for two or three seasons.
Getting commercial partners to sign up for deals is more difficult in the Championship than the Premier League as sponsors prefer to see the names of their products when a team is playing Liverpool or Manchester United compared to Barnsley or Burton.
In Boro’s case commercial income fell nearly 30% to £8.6 million, which is less than two seasons previously when the club was promoted to the Premier League, although there may have been promotion bonuses paid that season.
Nevertheless, commercial deals can be significant and Boro are earning over £170,000 a week from such arrangements, which puts them into the top half of the table in the Championship sponsor-wise.
Growing commercial income is the best way for a club to increase overall income as broadcast income is negotiated centrally and matchday income can only go up if prices are raised (not popular with fans) or ground capacity increased (time consuming and expensive).
Earnings overall halved last season to £62 million and will fall by about a further £10 million in 2018/19 as parachute payments decrease, before returning to the £20m a year level unless ‘Boro are successful in being promoted by May.
Running a football club is an expensive business and Middlesbrough’s main costs, like those of nearly all clubs, were in relation to players, in two forms, wages and amortisation.
Paying players a competitive wage is a challenge as owners and fans want promotion and to achieve that means acquiring top talent in an industry where small improvements in the quality of players doesn’t come cheap.
Usually when clubs are promoted they give players improved contracts with relegation clauses should the worse happen and Middlesbrough appear to have applied this principle to a degree as wages fell by a quarter in 2017/18.
Boro players still earned an average of £23,000 a week from our formula (we have no inside knowledge so this is an educated guess) as the club invested heavily in new signings as owner Steve Gibson tried to recruit players to help the club bounce straight back to the Premier League.
Earning so much from parachute payments meant that Middlesbrough ‘only’ paid out £79 in wages from every £100 of income last season, which is low by Championship standards, although this could rise substantially in 2019/20 should they fail to be promoted, unless there is a major clear out of highly paid players.
Sanity is in short supply in the Championship when it comes to wage control, with the division overall paying out £101 in wages for every £100 of income and Birmingham last season under I’m A Celebrity favourite Harry Redknapp somehow paying out twice that sum.
This is how a club deals with player transfers in the profit and loss account by spreading the cost over the contract period. For example, when Middlesbrough signed Britt Assombalonga from Forest in the summer of 2017 for £15 million on a four-year deal, this works out as an annual amortisation cost of £3.75 million (£15m/4). The amortisation cost in the profit and loss account represents the total for all players signed for fees in previous seasons.
Middlesbrough’s total amortisation surprisingly increased in 2017/18 compared to their season in the Premier League due to the club investing heavily in buying players in a bid to achieve owner Steve Gibson’s desire to ‘smash the league’ and ‘go up as champions’.
Consequently ‘Boro have the highest amortisation total of any club in the Championship for last season, although this could be overtaken when Villa eventually publish their results. Even so it is clear that Gibson has backed his managers in the transfer market.
Adding amortisation and depreciation together gives total player costs for Boro of £118 for every £100 of income.
Profit is income less costs, but it contains lots of layers and estimated figures. Middlesbrough, like all clubs, show a variety of profit measures in their accounts, so they need a bit of explanation.
Operating profit is income less all the running costs of the club except loan interest. It is a ‘dirty’ profit measure in that it includes one-off non-recurring costs that are a bit bobbins when trying to work out long term sustainable profitability.
Despite the benefits of parachute payments Middlesbrough lost nearly £100,000 a week last season using this measure, although it is far lower than when the club previously was in the Championship.
Total operating losses in the Championship in 2016/17 were £260 million, so Middlesbrough’s finances appear to be far healthier than those of their competitors.
If these profits were invested wisely in the playing squad then the club should have been in a strong position to compete this season, but this does not appear to be the case.
A bit driver of Middlesbrough’s financial success here is profits from player sales. The likes of de Roon, Rhodes and Ramirez were sold and this helped to reduce the losses to tolerable levels for Steve Gibson.
Stripping out player sale profits and other non-recurring items (redundancies, legal cases, debt write offs etc.) gives a more valid profit measure called EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Tax).
For Middlesbrough this was a loss of nearly £400,000 a week in 2017/18, despite the benefits of parachute payments.
Nearly every club in the Championship has significant EBIT losses, which were £392 million in 2017, as many owners gambled on spending big to try to secure promotion to ‘the promised land’ of the Premier League, which in reality is a series of severe spankings by big clubs interspersed with celebrating like a loon when beating the likes of Swansea and Bournemouth.
If non-cash costs such as amortisation and depreciation (depreciation is the same as amortisation except this is how a club expenses other long-term asset such as office equipment and properties over time) then another profit figure called EBITDA (Earnings Before Income Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation) is created. This is liked by professional analysts as it is the nearest thing to a cash profit figure.
Middlesbrough’s EBITDA profit was £7.1 million which shows that the club is generating cash from its day to day activities, although as said before, this is mainly driven by parachute payments. This suggests the club was making money which could then be invested in player transfers.
Once trading costs have been paid, many clubs also have to pay interest on their borrowings, which cost Boro £30,000 a week in 2017/18.
Middlesbrough spent £66 million on new players in the year to 30 June 2018 as the club recruited Assombalonga, Braithwaite, Fletcher, Howson, Randolph, Shotton, Christie and Johnson in multi-million pound deals.
The large spend on players is why the amortisation charge in the profit and loss account is so high. Fans often point out that clubs also sell players and that net spend is a better measure of a club’s investment in talent.
Steve Gibson did bankroll a net spend of over £20 million which showed his faith in the managers, although Boro fans might question the quality, if not the quantity, of the recruitment.
The player recruitment does seem to have been funded on credit though, as amounts owing to other clubs increased to over £56 million, compared to just £1.5 million in 2013.
In the footnotes to the accounts it shows that the big spending on 2017/18 has subsequently been reversed as the club had net income of £27.7 million in summer 2018 from selling Traore and Gibson.
Clubs can obtain funding in three ways, bank lending, owner loans (which may be interest free) or issuing shares to investors. Historically Steve Gibson has lent ‘Boro over £93 million as well as about £90 million in shares, although this did not increase during 2017/18. Instead it looks as if the club bought most of its signings during the season on extended credit terms, which will result in significant payments being made for them over subsequent years.
Middlesbrough went for broke in 2017/18 in trying to immediately return to the Premier League. The failure to achieve this objective has resulted in cost cutting in the present season but if the club is not promoted this season there will be a tough challenge ahead as income will halve again likely to lead to a player exodus to balance the books unless Steve Gibson is willing to invest substantial amounts of cash once more.