Football finance expert Kieran Maguire looks at the £589m loss accrued by 61 of the Premier League and EFL clubs in 2017/18.
He considers the situation at five clubs as examples - Coventry, Scunthorpe, Macclesfield, Charlton and Morcambe.
"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."
Football Finances: Serpent’s Kiss
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.