Manchester City and Etihad Airways: Economy plus?

History

The 2007/8 Premier League season could not finish fast enough for Manchester City. The final match under Sven-Göran Eriksson was a nine-goal thriller at Middlesbrough, where unfortunately City conceded eight of them.

The club’s reputation at the time was that of the Keystone Cops of English football, a bunch of mavericks in blue where the wheels were always on the brink of falling off.

In those days their hated local rivals at Old Trafford looked upon City with mocking contempt rather than as an enemy, saving their true loathing for Liverpool and Leeds United.

Behind the scenes things were even worse. Whilst City fans were excited at the start of 2007/08 at the prospect of new Thai owner Thaksin Shiniwatra’s promises of big spending and success, an investment in the likes of Rolando Bianchi, Felipe Caicedo and Elano didn’t prove to be successful, and the money from the new owner came from unreliable sources.

City borrowed £46 million in the one year of Shiniwatra’s ownership. Whilst borrowing money has some benefits, these loans came at a price, as City’s interest costs more than doubled to £10.7 million.

The acquisition of the club by Sheik Mansour in September 2008 saved City in more ways than one, as by this stage Shiniwatra had more pressing issues to deal with in the form of corruption charges from his homeland, and he disappeared from the scene with few regrets from City fans.

Mansour transformed City, with an initial scattergun spending policy on marquee signings such as Robinho and an audacious attempt to sign Kaka. At this time transfer fees and wages were an irrelevance to the owners.

This impacted upon City’s financial performance, which moved from a profit of £17 million in 2006 to a loss of £190 million in 2011.

These losses were sustainable because Sheik Mansour was willing to underwrite the losses through a combination of interest free loans and shares. Had FFP rules been in existence at the time then the investment would not have been possible. This allowed the Abu Dhabi owners to pump nearly £1.2 billion of cash into the club.

The threat to the Elite

The owner’s huge investment startled the existing elite of European football, who now saw City as a potential threat to their cartel at the top table of UEFA competitions.

These established clubs put pressure on Michel Platini, the UEFA president, to introduce some method of reducing the rise of ‘new money’ clubs such as Chelsea, City and PSG.

After much internal haggling and huge amounts of money being spent on accounting and legal fees by UEFA, Financial Fair Play rules relating to non-payment of transfer fees were introduced in 2011-12, and then extended in the 2013/14 season in the form of a breakeven model.

The rules are now so complex that the latest version takes up 116 pages of legal and accounting pontification and windbaggery.

UEFA claim that FFP can be summarised in one sentence “Financial fair play is about improving the overall financial health of European club football”.

We would describe that one sentence in one word, and that word is ‘Bollocks’. Businesses go bankrupt due to a lack of cash, not profit, which is an arbitrary accounting concept open to sleight of hand, estimates and manipulation.

The initial rules restricted clubs’ losses to €45 million over three years ending in that period, and then €30 million from 2015/16.

How does it work?

A breakeven model calculates losses as income less expenses. Clubs have three main sources of income, matchday, broadcasting and commercial.

It’s difficult (but not impossible) to manipulate matchday income, which is the number of tickets sold multiplied by the ticket price, and the same is true for broadcast income, which is negotiated and distributed centrally by individual leagues and UEFA itself.

Commercial income is different as represents deals signed by clubs and their business partners. The prices for these deals are open to negotiation.

In the years prior to the Abu Dhabi takeover City’s commercial income was far less than their rivals from Old Trafford, whose ability to negotiate deals on the back of the popularity and success brought by Sir Alex Ferguson was ruthlessly exploited by United’s American owners.

This is where eyebrows have been raised in relation to Manchester City. Etihad Airways, the national airline of Abu Dhabi, replaced Thomas Cook as shirt sponsor in 2009. This had an immediate impact on City’s commercial revenues, which increased by 126%.

In 2011 the Etihad deal was expanded to include naming rights for what had been previously known as the City of Manchester stadium, (less affectionately called the Council stadium by United fans, due to City renting it from the local government authority) which became the Etihad stadium, along with surrounding training facilities called the Etihad campus.

The agreement was for ten years, at an estimated value of £400 million, which included shirt sponsorship as well as the naming rights.

At the time the largest fee for naming rights was £2.8 million a year by Arsenal for the Etihad. Other clubs had tried and failed to secure high value sums from sponsors. Newcastle United had to accept two dozen pairs of Donnay socks and a signed Dennis Wise photograph as St James’ Park was briefly renamed the Sports Direct Arena, the main company controlled by owner Mike Ashley.

The accusation levelled at City is that the Etihad deal has been used to reduce the club’s losses and help it in satisfying FFP rules.

Because of the Etihad deal City’s commercial income initially matched that of United but has subsequently fallen behind as their rivals have managed to partner themselves with everyone from Japanese Tractor partner Yanmar to mattress partner Milly, although the latter may prove useful as Jose Mourinho’s tactics send United’s global fanbase to sleep.

City’s partnership with Etihad does however mean they have the second highest amount of commercial income in the Premier League, and the fifth largest of any football team globally.

 

Such was the extent of the Etihad deal that there were accusations of ‘financial doping’ from the likes of Arsene Wenger.

UEFA had tried to minimise the impact of deals signed by clubs with organisations connected to the owners through ‘related party transaction’ rules. A related party is one that is controlled by the club owner or a close relative.

In addition, UEFA have set up a Club Financial Control Body (‘CFCB’), the Supermen and Superwomen of financial investigations, effectively a group of accountants so powerful they wear their underpants over their trousers, to ensure that clubs do not overstate the value of commercial deals.

City tried to set up their deal with Etihad in such a way that it complied with the FFP rules, but such were their losses were put on the FFP naughty step in 2014, with the following penalties

  • A £49 million fine, part of which was conditional on improving the club’s business model. City duly received a rebate of two thirds of this sum.
  • An agreement to not increase the wage bill (excluding bonuses) for two seasons
  • A squad reduction for UEFA competitions from 25 to 21 players
  • A reduction in the amount spent on player signings, limited to a net £49 million spend.

City managed to comply with the sanctions and kept their wage bill, which had been £36 million before Shiniwatra in 2007 and zoomed to £233 million by 2014, in check until UEFA were satisfied that the breakeven target was being achieved. This coincided with Pep Guardiola’s arrival and gave City more wiggle room.

PSG were given a similar fine, in what was seen as a victory for the existing elite of European clubs.

Clubs can however dispute any rulings by the CFCB, and this is likely to trigger a long and expensive legal action, where the winners will be the accountants and lawyers.

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description generated with very high confidence

In 2015, under pressure from, you guess, a series of lawsuits from unhappy club owners, UEFA relaxed the FFP rules, allowing clubs to negotiate a voluntary deal althgouh this does involve an eventual breakeven target

Summary

The City and Etihad partnership was borne to an extent out of necessity on the part of the club, to satisfy UEFA FFP rules. If the value of the deal initially was excessive given the global position and reputation of City in 2011, then today, with the club having won the Premier League three times since Sheik Mansour acquired the club, the £400 million deal, which has been renegotiated since its original signing, is probably about right, and some even claim it is below the market rate, for Pep Guardiola’s team in the current market.

 

Manchester City: Some girls are bigger than others

Introduction

No trophies, third in the league, and the costs of embedding a new managerial regime may have had some thinking City would struggle financially in 2016/17

The headline figures are mixed, income is up significantly, profit before interest down 80%, but the club claims to have no debt and is self sufficient.

Direct comparatives with the previous year’s profit and loss account figures are slightly distorted by City having a 13 month period of account for 2016/17, so bear this in mind when looking at growth compared to 2015/16. There’s nothing sinister in our opinion in changing the year end to 30 June.

Income

Clubs have three sources of income.

Matchday

Matchday income at City fell slightly, mainly due to a relatively early knockout in the Champions League. The expansion of the Etihad in recent years has allowed City to generate £50m plus a season from matchdays, but this is still way behind United (£111m) and Arsenal (£100m).

City have always priced their tickets towards the lower end of the market, which is great for fans. Initiatives such as the ‘Tunnel Club’, where (presumably corporate) fans get to sit behind the dugout and see the players in the tunnel pre and post match show that City are trying to extract more from the prawn sandwich brigade.

Matchday income was only 11% of City’s total revenues. You would perhaps expect this from a small club in the Premier League such as Crystal Palace, but it does seem low for a behemoth such as City. United had 19% of income and Arsenal 24% from this source.

Broadcasting

Broadcasting income was up 26% and tops £200m for the first time. This is mainly due to the impact of the new domestic TV deal with BT/Sky. UEFA TV monies actually fell by £13m due to City being knocked out of the last 16 round of the Champions League compared to the semi-final the previous year.

Compared to their closest rivals who have reported to date, at £204m City are slightly ahead of both United (£194m) and Arsenal (£199m)

Any growth in TV income in 2017/18 will be dependent upon City’s progress in the Champions League, as the domestic deal runs for three seasons. Even if City win the Premier League they will only receive about an extra £4m in terms of merit payments.

Commercial

Commercial income at City normally causes Arsene Wenger, an intelligent man who is nonetheless known for whining at events at the Etihad both on and off the field, to start muttering ‘Financial Doping’ as his handlers reach for the smelling salts.

This income source rose over 22% to £218 million. The reason why eyebrows are raised in relation to City in this regard is the club’s commercial links with related parties to the Abu Dhabi owners.

City’s critics accuse the club of negotiating deals at above market rates, overinflating income and therefore allowing the club to pay more for wages and transfers whilst complying with Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

City have fallen foul of FFP issues in the past, but we suspect they have been very careful to adhere to the rules in the present climate of UEFA inspectors.

Can clubs manipulate their finance to comply with the rules? The answer in our opinion is an unequivocal yes, but that is the subject of a separate blog post. Are City guilty of such behaviour? We have no idea, but expect City to not be subject to any UEFA sanctions (the Premier League’s own FFP rules are much easier to satisfy than those of UEFA).

City’s commercial income is still some way behind that of United (£275.5m) but United are in a league of their own when it comes to global appeal, and their commercial department negotiates deals accordingly.

City are way ahead of Arsenal (£125.4m) in this income source, which is perhaps a testament to Arsenal’s inconsistent appeal to sponsors and their commercial department’s rather disappointing performance.

Costs

The main costs for a club are player wages and player amortisation (transfer fee costs spread over the life of the contract).

City’s wage costs, which had been under relative control for three seasons, rose over a third to £264.1 million. This compares to United (£263.5m) and Arsenal (£199.4m). When Sheik Mansour acquired City, the club had to play over the odds in wages to attract high quality players, as Champions League appearances were not in the offing. This explains why wages were so high in 2013.

Clearly recruiting Pep Guardiola and his team, new signings and improved contracts for some squad members came at a cost.

Despite the increase in wages, City’s wage expense as a proportion of total income, which has risen in the year, is a healthy 56%, although notably higher than United (45%) and Arsenal (47%).

Amortisation charges are up nearly 30% to £121.7 million.

‘Other’ costs rose 23% to £104.3 million. It’s not clear what has driven such an increase.

One thing that may have Arsene Wenger once again being only allowed to eat with a spoon is directors’ pay. This is in the City accounts at a zero figure.

City’s parent company, City Football Group Limited, (which is not subject to FFP as such, and has not yet published its results) had ‘key management compensation’ (presumably director pay) of £4.4 million in 2015/16. Such behaviour prompts City’s critics to accuse the club of transferring some costs to other outposts of the City group empire to ensure the club of complying with FFP.

Whilst City have no direct bank debt, they do show an interest cost in relation to the Etihad stadium. Whilst not wanting to bore you with accounting dullardness, because the Etihad is rented on a 250 year lease, which is effectively its useful life, the stadium is treated as being an asset of the club, funded by a loan from the council.

Offset against the above costs is gains on profit sales of £34.6 million (see below for more detail).

Profit

Profit is an abstract concept, in theory it should simply be income less costs. In practice there are a range of profits quoted, depending on which costs are included.

City are quoting a profit of £1.1 million for the year. This is however after taking into account gains on player disposals. Whilst we expect to see clubs making a profit on player sales each year due to the way player signings are treated in the accounts, this figure is volatile as it depends on individual player disposals.

Excluding player disposals, City’s EBIT (which is ‘recurring’ profit before interest and tax) was a loss of £30.2million, compared to a profit of £2.8m the previous season.

Adding back the non-cash expenses in the form of depreciation and amortisation gives an EBITDA profit of £105 million, which is very close to the previous year’s £109m. United made an EBITDA profit of £200m and Arsenal £145m, reflecting City’s relative generosity in terms of wages compared to the two other clubs.

City had a negative tax expense in 2016/17.

Player activity

City spent £203.5 million on the likes of Stones, Jesus, Gundogan and Sane in 2016/17 (what about Nolito and Claudio Bravo some of you will of course also cry? We’ve not mentioned them as they are, in the words of former Manchester legend Frank Sidebottom, a bit bobbins, and we don’t want to embarrass Pep, especially as my wife fancies him).

If these players are each on five year contracts then this gives an extra amortisation cost of £40.6 million (£203.5/5), which ties into the cost analysis above.

In terms of disposals, City sold players for £51 million, to give a net spend for 2016/17 of £153m.

Hidden in the footnotes to the City accounts are a couple of interesting figures (interesting only to those who are still reading this tedious summary we suspect). The first is contingent liabilities. This is the sum City have to pay to players and former clubs if certain achievements (appearances, trophies, international caps etc.) are met. This is £111 million at the end of June 2017.

City had a spending spree in Summer 2017, mainly on signing Mendy, Walker, Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Danilo. A number of players left the club too, but the accounts reveal a net spend of £161 million in the window.

Summary

City’s owners are not motivated by making profits, so the breakeven in the year is more to do with keeping the beancounters at UEFA happy more than bringing a smile to face of Sheik Mansour.

Their business model in relation to being part of a group with tentacles in many clubs across the globe will fuel idle gossip and accusations from the club’s detractors.

For those who think that all this financial analysis is a load of old cobblers, there’s a case for saying, just watch the football, which is possibly the best seen in the Premier League since its inception (although of course no trophies are won in November).

Financial Summary

Key figures from the accounts shown below