Bristol City 2018/19: Empty Skies

Call us free by a promise torn, you said I’ll meet you there

Introduction:

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.

Income:

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.

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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?

Costs:

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.

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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.

Player trading:

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.

Conclusion

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.

Bristol City 2017/18: Mezzanine

Introduction:

The insanity of life in the Championship chasing a place in ‘The Promised Land’ ((c) Alan Green and all other unimaginative commentators) is highlighted in Bristol City’s latest financial results.

City were 2nd in the table on 26th December 2017 but were slid to mid table by the end of the season, and with that had to disassemble the squad as the vultures came picking off their best players.

Key figures for year to 30 June 18: Bristol City Holdings Ltd

Income £25.2 million (up 19%).

Wages £27.3 million (up 30%) .

Losses before player sales £24.2 million (up 26%)

Player signings £12 million

Player sales £1.8 million

Steve Lansdown investment £137 million (up £19 million).

The club are owned by Pula Sports Limited, a company based in the tax haven of Guernsey. Pula Sports Limited also own Bristol Rugby club and Bristol Flyers basketball team.

Pula are owned by Steve Lansdown, a very successful accountant and businessman, half of Hargreaves Lansdown, the £8 billion plus valued financial services company.

Income:

All clubs generate money from three sources, matchday, broadcasting and commercial. What separates out the Championship from other league is the impact of parachute payments from clubs who were previously members of the Premier League (EPL).

Total income for the season was £25.2 million. To put this in context, the three clubs relegated from the Premier League, Hull, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, each earned over £40 million in parachute payments.

City are one of the earliest clubs to publish their finances for 2017/18, so the figures in the Championship table are from 2016/17 unless labelled 2018.

As far as Championship clubs go, Bristol City are competitive with other clubs not in receipt of parachute payments.

Strip out the parachute payments and City rise to 7th in the income table.

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

Since 2013/14 City’s income has quadrupled, but this hasn’t been enough to stem the losses.

Matchday income from ticket sales rose a third to £6.6 million. This was due to attendances at Ashton Gate increasing 9% from 19,256 to 20,953, but a good cup run added some lucrative fixtures. .

Broadcasting income rose 14% to 6.8million. This was due to the ‘solidarity payment’ paid by the Premier League to the English Football League increasing from £4.3 million to £4.5 million as well as some of the cup matches being shown live on Sky.

Other income, mainly commercial and retail, rose by an impressive 15%. This is mainly due to the completed development of Ashton Gate, the stadium that City share with Bristol Rugby Club.

Additional facilities allow the club to generate extra money from hospitality, conferences, catering etc, and allows the club to be open for more than the 25-30 days a year when home fixtures take place.

Costs:

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 30% to £27.3 million and have more than doubled since promotion in 2015. The wage/income ratio for City rose to 108%. This means Bristol City paid out £108 in wages for every £100 they generated from revenue, leaving nothing to pay any of the other running costs, unless these are bankrolled by the owner, Steve Lansdown.

This of course leaves effectively nothing to pay for all the other overheads of the club, such as ground maintenance, heat and light, HR, finance and so on.

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In the Championship as a whole, this puts the club slightly lower than the average wage level for 2016/17 of £29.8 million, and a wage/income level of 100% for the division as a whole.

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. So, when City signed Famara Diedhiou for £5 million on a four-year contract this works out as an annual amortisation charge of £1.25 million a year (£5m/4yrs).

City’s amortisation charge rose by 160% to £5.2 million compared to the previous season.

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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 and shows the impact of the club’s long-term player signing strategy. It’s clear that Bristol City’s board have backed the manager to ‘go for it’ to an extent over the last two years, as the amortisation charge is now five times the sum of when the club was in League One.

Other costs:

After spending a lot of money in recent years redeveloping Ashton Gate, the club cut back on capital spending in 2017/18. It does appear to have started work though on new training facilities, (classified here as ‘assets under construction’) for which formal planning permission was granted in September 2018.

Directors pay

Bristol City seem to have a fairly tight policy in relation to director pay. It could be that the costs are borne by holding company Pula Sport in Guernsey, but at £109,000 the amount is fairly low compared to other clubs, in an industry where there appears to be no ‘going rate’ as salaries vary between zero and £1.2 million.

Profits (or perhaps more appropriately Losses?)

Profits/losses are income less costs, and were £24.2 million last season, or £465,000 a week. The previous season the losses had been £19.2 million but the sale of Jonathan Kodjia to Aston Villa, for £15 million help offset these. There were no significantly profitable player sales in the year to June 2018.

Over the last six years City have racked up losses before player sales of £94 million, and the highest position during that period was last season’s 11th in the Championship (plus the wonderful League Cup run).

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Player sales have reduced these losses to ‘just’ £77 million, but Steve Lansdown still has effectively had to find a quarter of a million pounds each and every week for six years.

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. Over the last three years City have had losses before tax of £47 million, so on the face of things would be subject to FFP sanction, but help is to hand.

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.

Some rough calculations suggest the FFP loss for City was therefore about £35 million over the three seasons, leaving some, but not a lot, of breathing space.

Player trading:

According to the accounts City paid out £12 million in 2017/18 on player additions, just short of the sum paid in the previous season.

This puts City mid-table in terms of the Championship, a division where you probably need to spend £10 million if you want to stand still in terms of maintaining the league position. It is also a division in which striking lucky with loan signings can make all the difference, as was experienced by Huddersfield when they had Mooy and Izzy Brown in 2016/17.

With the club failing to be promoted, it did mean that there were interested parties looking at some of City’s players, and this resulted in net player sales since 30 June of over £13 million as the impressive Flint, Bryan and Reid all departed and Webster, Watkins, Hunt & Eisa arrived.

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Funding the club

Steve Lansdown’s total investment increased further in 2017/18 as he invested a further £19 million in the club via Pula Sports. These loans were then converted into shares, which means relatively little to fans except that shareholders, unlike lenders, cannot ask for their money back.

This takes his total investment to £137 million, in the form of shares and interest free loans.

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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.

Whilst £53 million of the debt is technically due to banks it is Lansdown’s wealth and the guarantee given by Pula Sports Ltd that is the reason why the money was advanced by lenders in the first place. Under normal circumstances there’s no way a financial institution would lend to a business that loses £10-25m a year.

Conclusion

Bristol City are a textbook example of everything that is right and wrong with the Championship. Investment in the playing squad showed that the team could compete, on a single match basis at least, with clubs from the Premier League.

At the same time that level of investment cannot be funded from being a Championship club in its own right, and having a benevolent owner is essential to compete in the top half of the table.

The investment in the stadium at Ashton Gate will help generate extra income, but this will not make a serious dent in the operational losses, especially with no sign of wages slowing down in the Championship.

The good news for City fans is that there’s no sign of Steve’s affection for the club in the city where he made his fortune, or sport in Bristol, waning.

He’s invested in rugby and other sports in the city and region and is an excellent example of philanthropy (which I used to think meant he was a stamp collector).

He remains the club’s biggest asset in terms of his generosity but also its biggest risk should anything happen to him, and that’s always an issue for any business which is over reliant upon one individual.

Bristol City: Unfinished sympathy

Introduction:

Bristol City showed the challenge that exists for clubs trying to survive, let alone compete, in the Championship after racking up a recurring loss of £19.2 million before player sales last season. This is for a club that finished 17th in the division. The previous season similar losses were £14.4 million for finishing one place lower in the division.

The continued development of Ashton Gate should give City a better base on which to generate income.

The Championship remains the most frightening division in European football in terms of the financial gamble that exists there, as club owners decide whether to fund a promotion push with the potential £100 million a season that brings in terms of Premier League TV monies.

City are one of the earliest teams to report their results for 2016/17, but we maintain our estimate of sustainable pre-player disposal losses for the Championship exceeding £400 million for the season (compared to £361 million in 2015/16).

Key figures for 2016/17:

Income £21.2 million (up 49.3%).

Wages £20.9 million (up 19.9%) .

Losses before player sales £19.2 million (up 33.3%)

Player signings £13.6 million

Player sales £16.7 million

Steve Lansdown investment £118 million (up £14.9 million).

City had a wobbly season, early contention for the playoffs evaporated and they ended up needing good results in the last month to avoid relegation.

The club are owned by Pula Sports Limited, a company based in the tax haven of Guernsey. Pula Sports Limited also own Bristol Rugby club and Bristol Flyers basketball team.

Pula are owned by Steve Lansdown, a very successful accountant and businessman, half of Hargreaves Lansdown, the £8 billion plus valued financial services company.

Income:

All clubs generate money from three sources, matchday, broadcasting and commercial. What separates out the Championship from other league is the impact of parachute payments from clubs who were previously members of the Premier League (EPL).

Total income for the season was £21.2 million. To put this in context, the three clubs relegated from the Premier League, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Norwich, each earned over £40 million in parachute payments.

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Whilst we don’t have figures for most of the clubs for 2016/17, as City 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.

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Matchday income from ticket sales rose 28% to £5 million. This was due to attendances at Ashton Gate increasing 26% from 15,292 to 19,256.

Broadcasting income rose 42% to 6.8million. 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 gets a share of the EFL TV deal with Sky, and is estimated to earn £100,000 for each home game and £10,000 for every away game broadcast live on Sky.

Other income, mainly commercial and retail, rose by an impressive 71%. This is mainly due to the completed development of Ashton Gate, the stadium that City share with Bristol Rugby Club. Having more modern facilities allows the club to generate extra money from hospitality, hosting conferences, restaurants etc, and allows the club to be open for more than the 25-30 days a year in which football matches are taking place.

Even with these significant increases in income City cannot hope to compete with those clubs in receipt of parachute payments, and so will be in the bottom half of earners in the Championship for the foreseeable future, unless attendances rise to the 25,000 plus level, which will only come if there is a sustained promotion campaign.

Costs:

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 20% to £20.9 million. This is quite a frightening figure in many regards, as if a club in the bottom third of the division has to increase wages by 20% to tread water, it bodes poorly for the sustainability of teams in this division unless they are bankrolled by owners.

The wage/income ratio for City was the lowest for a number of years at 99%. This still means that wages were 99% of income, or to put it in more simple terms, Bristol City paid out £99 in wages for every £100 they generated from revenue. This of course leaves effectively nothing to pay for all the other overheads of the club, such as ground maintenance, heat and light, HR, finance and so on.

In the Championship as a whole, this puts the club slightly lower than the average wage level for 2015/16 of £23.1 million, and a wage/income level of 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, and promoted Brighton, with £31.3 million plus a further £9 million in promotion bonuses.

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. In the directors’ report City said that the club was heavily reliant on loan players for the season, most noticeably Tammy Abraham from Chelsea, who scored 23 goals in 2016/17.

Despite the use of the loan system, City also spent £13.6 million on signings during the season. The biggest signing was probably Lee Tomlin for about £3 million on a three year contract. This works out as £1 million of amortisation per year.

City’s amortisation charge rose by 160% to £5.2 million compared to the previous season.

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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.

We would expect the amortisation charge to continue at these levels at least for 2017/18. Despite selling tubby convicted felon Lee Tomlin to Cardiff in the summer of 2017, City still spent a net £9.5 million on players during the transfer window.

Other costs:

The club has significant other costs operating from the redeveloped Ashton Gate. Total expenditure on the stadium in 2016/17 was £11 million, bringing the total for the last few years to approximately £45 million.

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 £2.5 million, significantly up from £0.6 million the previous season, when the stadium improvements were not still a work in progress. This means that the deprecation charge was higher than for clubs with other stadia (Norwich’s was £1.9 million, for example).

Directors pay

Bristol City seem to have a fairly tight policy in relation to director pay. It could be that the costs are borne by holding company Pula Sports in Guernsey, but at £115,000 the amount is fairly low compared to other clubs, with seven clubs paying over £200,000. The Brighton CEO was paid £1.2 million in 2016/17 as the club was promoted.

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Losses:

Losses are income less costs, and were £19.2 million last season, or £370,000 a week,before taking into account the sale of Jonathan Kodjia to Aston Villa, for £15 million. This sale was the main driving force behind gains on player disposals of £13.6 million.

Over the last five years City have racked up losses before player sales of £70 million, and the highest positon during that period was last season’s 17th in the Championship.

Player sales have reduced these losses by over £16.7 million, but it is still a substantial level of commitment required from owner Steve Lansdown to underwrite these losses.

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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 City don’t detail all of these costs, they appear to be easily FFP compliant last season. We’ve asked around some of our chums in football, and have calculated the following FFP loss for 2016/17.

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The sale of Kodjia ensured that the FFP losses were not an issue for the club, and this effectively means that they can incur losses of £39 million over two rather than three seasons and stay compliant.

Player trading:

As previously mentiond, according to the accounts CIty paid out £13.6 million in 2016/17 on player additions.

£13.6 million is a record sum for City, more than triple the amount of the previous season. There is a noticeable discrepancy between this figure and the amount of cash spent on players of £8.9 million. This suggests that a number of signings were made on credit.

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), and promoted Brighton (£19 million).

Similarly, although Kodjia was sold to Villa for £15 million, the amount of cash received from player sales was £6.6 million. Again this is due to the deal being based on instalments rather than a single cash sum. This is borne out by looking at City’s debtors footnote, which reveals that the club is now owed over £10 million from other clubs, comparted to just £250,000 at the end of the previous season.

Spending during the 2017 summer window has resulted in the club transfer record being broken with the signing of Famara Diedhiou from Angers for £6 million.

The Owner

Steve Lansdown’s total investment increased further in 2016/17 as he invested a further £15 million in the club via a new share issue.

This takes his total investment to just over £118 million, in the form of shares and interest free loans.

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Realistically, Lansdown will have to subsidise the club by a minimum of £10 million a year for the foreseeable future, unless promotion to the Premier League is achieved. The investment in the stadium at Ashton Gate will help to generate extra income, but this will not make a serious dent in the operational losses, especially with no sign of wage growth slowing down in the Championship.

The good news for City fans is that there’s no sign of his affection for the club in the city where he made his fortune, or sport in Bristol, waning, despite him moving to Guernsey for tax reasons. He remains the club’s biggest asset, but also it’s biggest risk should anything happen to him and he can no longer underwrite the losses.

Lansdown appears to have adopted the Brighton model of improving the infrastructure first to lay down the foundations of being able to compete in the Championship, and then using this as the basis for a promotion push.

More nights such as the recent defeat of Manchester United in the League Cup are likely to continue to cement Lansdown’s love affair with the city and the club.

The numbers