Football, it’s all about money, footballers are a bunch of greedy tossers, all clubs lose a fortune and are bankrolled by overseas millionaires, the game is going to destroy itself etc.
But here’s a different club. It lives within its means, makes a profit every year, and that’s without selling a single player for a fee, and has 128 staff who between them earn just over half of what Manchester United pay Jesse Lingard. Perhaps it could make you fall in love with the game again?
The club is Walsall, in the Black Country, nice little stadium, shame about the lack of decent pubs nearby, but other than that the epitome of a stable lower league outfit who have spent the last ten years in League One. (I now await revelations from angry Saddlers fans who spill the dirt on their club).
As a Brighton fan, I have mixed reactions about Walsall, watching my team lose 2-1 in an insipid Capital One Cup game at the start of 2015/16 season. and seeing the mighty Chris O’Grady’s last kick for the club as he put a penalty for the Albion into Row Z before being immediately substituted and running off the pitch faster than he’d moved during the match.
Most clubs show three types of income in their accounts, but somewhat frustratingly Walsall only show two, by combining broadcasting and commercial streams.
Walsall’s income was almost unchanged at £6.6 million in 2016/17, although a £493,000 increase in commercial/broadcast offset a £425,000 (28%) fall in matchday income. The latter was partially due to a playoff finish and reasonable runs in cup competitions benefitted the club in 2015/16 when they played Chelsea in the League Cup and made it to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
A new BT/Sky TV deal for the Premier League resulted in an increase in solidarity payments that trickle down to League One clubs from £360,000 to £645,000.
Over the last five years Walsall’s income has been growing steadily, mainly due to non-matchday sources.
Footballs main costs are in relation to players, and here Walsall seem to have a lid on their ambitions.
The total wage bill for 2016/17 was £3.12 million, or just over £60,000 a week, before adding in pension and national insurance costs. This works out as an average of £470 a week for the staff. Even so this represents a 36% increase in the wages paid in 2012/13 of £2.29 million, where the average Walsall employee was on £390 a week.
The club clearly have a tight wage budget set each year, and this is why the wage to income ratio fluctuates in a narrow range around 50%. This compares to an average of 101% for clubs in the Championship.
The employees who have perhaps done most well from the club are the directors, whose pay has increased from £106,000 to £192,000 over the five years of our analysis.
The club appears to rent its stadium and training ground. The rent fluctuates from year to year, and went up from £400k to £449k in 2017. This appears somewhat strange, as the club appears to both own and rent the Bescot.
Talking to some fans on Twitter, it appears that the club owns the stadium, but the land it occupies is rented. Apparently the land is owned by Chairman Jeff Bonser’s pension fund.
This has been investigated by the excellent David Conn in The Grauniad.
The club is therefore committed to paying about another £5m in rent for land at the stadium until the next review.
It therefore appears that the board are generating money from the club directly and indirectly in three areas, fees (£192k), rent (£440k) and interest on loans (not too clear but at least £6k).
This doesn’t mean that Posner and his colleagues are in the Monty Burns category of evil company owners, but neither are the likely to be nudging the likes of local philanthropists at other clubs such as Steve Gibson (Boro), Peter Coates (Stoke) and Tony Bloom (Brighton) off their crowns either.
Profits are income less costs. Walsall seem to be able to break even each year, just. This could be manipulated by the directors’ tweaking their pay to ensure the club finishes in the black each season.
You don’t see Walsall mentioned too often in the transfer gossip columns of the papers or sports broadcasters, and there’s a good reason for that.
It initially appears that during the four years leading up to 2016/17 the club neither sold nor bought a player for a fee.
This record was broken during the last season, when Cypriot striker Andreas Makris was signed for a supposed record fee of £270,000 (€300,000). This was funded by Walsall’s success the previous season.
This fee is at odds with the accounts though, which reveal that the actual amount paid was £179,000 (€200,000). Makris’s season proved to one of disappointment, with one goal in 32 games. After proving to be
In relation to the sale of players, the issue is muddied by the way the club appears to have dealt with the issue. Normally, when a club makes a disposal, it is shown separately on the profit and loss account, as the club is not in the actual business of selling players.
Sheffield United do this in their accounts, as do practically all others.
What Walsall appear to have done is fold in the profit on player sales within their ‘football and commercial income’ heading. That’s at best reducing transparency, we think it’s a shabby way to deal with the subject, and inconsistent with what we believe is best business practice.
Walsall have shown that a club can break even, by managing their wage budget carefully, and being cautious in the transfer market (ten clubs in League One did not sign players for fees in 2015/16 for example).
Had they been promoted to the Championship in 2015/16 after finishing third and making the playoffs, they would have had a season in the sun, playing the likes of local rivals Villa, Birmingham and Wolves. Having done so once, and seen the likes of Shrewsbury have a good season to date in League One, it’s difficult to see the Saddlers change their business model for the foreseeable future.
The club does have debts of around £2 million from the directors, but these are serviceable. Part of these loans are interest free.
From an analysts’ perspective, it’s also a breath of fresh air to see a club being so transparent and putting out its full results in the public domain for fans to see. Clubs are a part of the community, and the community have a moral right to know about how the club is financed.
However what should be three cheers is reduced to two.
The methods used to extract money from the club by some who are responsible for its long term welfare, and the way that some figures (such as player disposals) are not disclosed.
This is harsh on those who travel the length and breadth of the country watching the team play every week.
Fans invest more than money into their clubs, and have a degree of moral and emotional right to know the extent to which the club has benefited from player trading.