Foreign ownerships effects on the English Premier League (Part 3)

This is the 3rd part of the article on the effects of Foreign ownership. If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2 yet than I’d advise you to read it before you jump into the this part. Part 1 can be found here! Part 2 can be found here!

3. Foreign ownerships effects – The pride of a nation

The National team is often the pride of a nation. In times of economic crisis people often look to their nation’s football team as a means to take their mind of the horrid reality of austerity. National games are the only time when fans of fierce rivals can put their rivalry apart and cheer for each others players. For a national team to be successful though, the league needs to supply quality youth that can elevate the national team to new heights. In this part the emphasis will be on the national team and youth and how foreign ownership effects both. It is inevitable to look at the FA’s 25-man squad rule introduced in 2010 and therefore the part on youth will focus on how effective the rule can be.

3.1 Effects on the National team – The loins of the lions

The national team is one of the things foreign ownership affects indirectly. Of course its not the aim of the owners to diminish the talent pool of the national team but it is something that occurs as a consequence. Often people claim that the failure of England to qualify for the Euro 2008 was down to the exuberant transfer made by clubs with foreign owners (Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and Sinawatra bought Machester City in 2007). From the inception of the EPL in the 1992/1993 season until the time of Taylors (2007) study (2006-2007 season) the percentage of English players that start a match have dropped 47 percent. But can this drop be attributed to foreign ownership alone?

Figure taken from Walter et al., 2009

The important thing to note is that in the above graph the flurry of signings by Manchester City from 2008 onwards is not represented therefore it is hard to make a decisive conclusion. Nevertheless from the above graph we can see that since the inception of the EPL in 1992/1993 the percentage of English players in the league has decreased dramatically. In fact, in 1992 there were only 11 foreign players (foreign player here meaning players that are neither British nor Irish) playing in the entire league (Wikipedia, 2012). By 2009 this has changed dramatically: the average foreign player per team was 13 (Williams, 2009). In 1999 Chelsea were the first ever club to have a starting line up which had no British players (Inge et al., 2001) and in 2005 Arsenal was the first ever EPL club to have their team sheet of 16 players be made up of only foreign players (BBC Sport, 2005). Ironically it seems it wasn’t just foreign players who displaced their English counterparts in the EPL but the club owners as well.

According to Taylor (2007) the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 was due to the lack of English footballers in English football. He also argued that foreign ownership just compounds this effect and that it would lead to foreign management methods and increase the amount of foreign players entering the EPL. However, I respectfully disagree with this claim. First of all from the figure above it is evident that foreign players have started displacing English players before “project” type foreign owners were even in the league. Furthermore the Chelsea of 1999 and the Arsenal of 2005 were not in the hands of foreign owners. We should not however dismiss the figure above completely as it points towards a double edged sword when it comes to foreign players and management. In part 2. I have demonstrated how these players, owners, and managers enrich the EPL and make it more marketable. What the above figure shows is that it was the English players who have paid the costs of the financial success of the league. And thus the national team is also victim of this. Dobson et al. (2001) argue that the theories of the economic positives on the EPL of foreign influence outweigh the negative effects on the English national team. Whether or not this is true is politically debatable however it points to something Taylor (2007) implicitly conveyed: the incentives and interests of foreign owners are to enrich the club and the club only. This attitude could potentially hurt the national team, but it should be in the FA’s interest to curb the incentives of these owners in a manner that benefits the English National team.

Even before the FA took direct action by introducing the ’25-player’ rule there was an essence of caution about the number of foreign players in the EPL. In 1999 the department that controls immigration in England, made the rules tougher to slow down the pace of foreign players being introduced in the EPL. It has to be noted that these attempts were not too successful as they could be only applied to non-EU citizens since EU law as outlined by the Maastricht treaty (1991) is about promoting freedom of labour movements and thus a work permit to play football in England is automatically given to all EU footballers. However the intent is clear that it was in response to the concern that English footballers were overlooked by clubs.

In 2010 the FA took direct action against the trend of foreign players displacing English ones by introducing the 25-man rule. The 25 man rule basically states that the 25-man squad of an EPL side must be compromised of, a minimum of eight ‘home grown’ players where a “home grown player is defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of 3 entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21)”  (English Premier League, 2012).

3.2 The 25-man rule and youth development – problem solver or problem creator?

The 25-man rule could be looked at as a way by which the FA wanted to promote investment in youth by the teams. It was an effort made by the FA after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. The reason this article has to look at this rule in detail is to determine whether or not the 25-man rule was able to curb the investments of foreign owned clubs in a manner that they invest in youth development.

The first issue with the 25-man squad rule is the arbitrary number of 25. The reasoning behind this is that with such a limit, as the season progresses and injuries are piled up the managers will have to dip into their academy as they could have an unlimited number of Under-21 names on their team sheet. Thus youth will be used more by the managers. The fault with this reasoning is that it means that the most talented U21s who are 1 or 2 seasons away from being introduced to the team won’t be sent on full season loans if any loans at all as the managers will want to play it safe and keep them at home. However injuries in some areas might not occur and some of these young players will lose a year of footballing experience and might eventually miss out on the first team completely if they don’t get any first team football. Therefore this rule might actually affect the most promising youth in an adverse way instead of benefiting them due to the nature of injuries and suspensions being unpredictable.

The other issue is that the teams with money will have the possibility to go and buy players in the January transfer window: The teams with a lot of liquidity behind them can afford to buy someone in the January transfer window when injuries are piling up. However the team has to make sure they have a free spot on their 25-man squad unless they buy a player who is British. This leads me to my main gripe with the rule: it inflates home-grown players prices. One just needs to look at the recent price tags of the English/British players to see this: Andy Carroll (£35million); Jordan Henderson (£15,8 million); Joe Allen (£ 16,7 million); Stewart Downing (£20 million)

Home grown players are a double edged sword when it comes to promoting the national squad. Players such as Cesc Fábregas and Nicklas Bendtner counted as home grown players despite the fact they are not playing for the England national squad. However their presence in the youth academy definitely had a positive effect on other youth prospects. As one coach from the Premier Academy League put it: “There‟s a transfer, there‟s an obvious transfer, because they [foreign players] will come and people will put them on a pedestal and say that they are technically more gifted . . . but they have to come in and get up to the speed of our game and learn to do everything that they do at our intensity, our tempo. But we have the transfer the other way of their calmness on the ball, the creation of space, that first touch, their decision making . . . it works both ways, and to simplify it, I think it‟s a physicality one way, and a technicality the other way” (Elliot, 2009). This exchange is often termed ‘feet exchange’. Long story short: the presence of foreign youth players in the academy raise the bar for indigenous players as well and thus has an overall positive effect. This doesn’t mean all English players who were training with Spanish young midfielders will come through the system, it merely means that the players who have the right mix of physicality and technicality will rise among the ranks.

What I think the FA was hoping to achieve with increasing the pool of home grown players is naturalisation of top footballers. Naturalisation occurs when a player is eligible to play for a different national team but instead chooses to play for England. This is essentially what happened with Carl Jenkinson. Arsenal bought Jenkinson because they needed a young Right Back who could take over from Bacary Sagna in the long run and not be counted as a foreigner in the 25 man squad. This allowed Jenkinson to raise the eyebrows of Roy Hodgson after some good performances on the pitch and the FA naturalised Jenkinson snatching him from the Finnish FA. (Wilfred Zaha of Crystal Palace was also naturalised) So its a win-win for the club and the FA. The FA gets a new English player and the club gets a free spot on their 25-man squad sheet. Now the problem with this is that the players who are willing to naturalise for England are the ones whose nations football team is even worse. Arteta has been in England and not featured for Spain yet but he has stated he would not want to play for England. What I am trying to convey is that naturalisation has its limits as well.

Ever since the 25-man rule has been in place the academies of the big clubs suddenly began to grow. On the surface this seems like a success of the 25-man rule and to some extent it is the case; however it polarised the league even more. Club managers are not stupid and they soon realised that the best way to fool the current rules is to start signing players when they are 16 years old rather than scout them and then only sign them when they turn 20 if they are good enough. If these players are not good they could be sold anyway. Now this all costs money which means the teams with the most resources will have the largest youth squad. Chelseas youth academy has increased dramatically over the past couple of years (but this did not stop them from investing large amounts of cash into their senior squad). Therefore with the help of the 25-man rule the effects of foreign ownership started to creep into the youth system. Now for the England national team this might be a good thing; however it came at the cost of essentially creating a carbon copy of the EPL at a youth level, where financial background is starting to be an increasingly dominant factor.

So while it would appear that the FA and the English Premier League in general are aware of all these recent impacting factors and both the positive and negative effects that foreign ownership’s are having on the league, the key question at the end of this saga is: What realistically can be done about it and where are these choices inevitably leading us? What future consequences do these outside influences hold for the England national team and the mid-level teams of the Premier league that are the very ‘essence’ of the game? While these questions will be answered in time, for now at least it seems that money really does talk in the football world and sadly a lot of the smaller teams that have made this league so fiercely competitive over the past decade may find the road ahead much tougher to travel without healthy financial backing, while a few less fortunate teams may find themselves fading into obscurity as transfer fees continue to rise and it becomes harder and harder for the average team in England’s famous league to attract quality players.

And we are through! All 3 parts are online for you guys to read. If you missed Part 1 where I looked at the different types of foreign ownerships than click here! If you want to give Part 2 a read again (which focused on transfer prices and wages and how foreign ownership affected it) then click here!

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Sources

Foreign ownerships effects on the English Premier League (Part 1)

What are the effects of foreign ownership on a League? Are they primarily positive or do the negatives outweigh the positives? These are questions one often stumbles upon when discussing football nowadays.  Foreign ownership is not exclusive to football, however, as its roots are in the business world where it happens rather often. It basically means that a local company is being bought by a Foreign Investor. So why is it so different when it comes to football? The answer is: you. The presence of fans who love the club they support can make foreign ownership in football a bit messy. This piece will be a 3 part analysis with part 1 having the aim to explore the the types of foreign ownerships. Part 2 will look at its effects on the financial success of the league and foreign ownerships’ effects on the transfer market prices and wages. Part 3 will look at the National team and the youth and how foreign ownership affects it. It is in part 3 where we will see if the 25-man rule of the FA was the right decision or not.  The English Premier League (hereinafter EPL) will be the focal point simply because that is the league I follow and thus have a deeper understanding of how things work in it (compared to other leagues).

Even the lampposts hate Glazer

To date there are primarily three scenarios that can happen to a club when it is taken over. I will name these three scenarios as “Project“, “Business“, and “Self-sustaining”. The first twp scenarios are exactly the opposite of each other which will have an effect on the way the fans perceive it. Generally speaking “project” type ownerships are more welcome by the fans (of the club that is being taken over) while “business” ownerships will most probably bring grief to the fans. Whether foreign ownership sells the soul of the club remains to be seen (and I will not spend much time on this specific issue myself) but I will state that foreign ownership is unfair by default as the fans do not know if the owner will look at the club as a business opportunity or as a project, not to mention a project ownerships external effect on the league. 

1. Foreign ownership in general – Selling the soul of the club?

First of all we have to note that currently the majority of the 20 clubs in the EPL are under foreign ownership, and that out of the big six (Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool) only Tottenham Hotspur is in British Hands (with Joe Lewis being the majority stockholder owning 85% of spurs). Newcastle United are a team that looks like they can break the top 6 that I have named and they are also a team in British hands.

1.1 Project ownership – Expensive toys for rich (overgrown) kids

By project ownership I mean an owner who looks at his team as a project. In the EPL the first owner to do this successfully was Roman Abramovich whose business attitude towards Chelsea FC, which lead the team to become an EPL force, paved the way for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Manchester City. The basic idea behind a project ownership is to inject funds into the Football club which will then be used for transfer activities, as illustrated by the table below:

Transfer Market Activity (from Transfer League). Values are nominal and not weighted against inflation

Please note that I only used EPL teams for the representation, and since the EPL was created in 1992 most of the data used in the calculation will be from 1992 onwards. Also note that the table above merely looks at  the dealings of the clubs at hand in the transfer market (in no way are these numbers a representation of the boards dealings) and that I only looked at the clubs within the top 6. There are other clubs that would fit the description of project buyout in the EPL: QPR, Sunderland (prior to Short buyout).

Looking at the table above one might ask if Liverpool FC really does fall under the banner of “project” ownership and it might be argued that to some extent yes it does (especially with last seasons transfer dealings).  But these numbers do not show other revenue streams apart from players being sold and when that is being factored in, Liverpool’s financial activity on the transfer market does not stand out like Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s. In short, John W Henry is a massive improvement over Hicks and Gillet (regarding funds invested in the team), but is far from following the classic “sugar daddy” concept. Instead Fenway Sports Group is aiming at maximising its revenue streams similar to Stan Kroenke of Arsenal FC and and Elis Short of Sunderland.

What is a distinguishing feature of this type of ownership is that the enterprise will have a soft budget constraint. This basically means that the clubs management (this is a wider group than just the club manager) can negotiate with the owners to invest more money into the enterprise’s squad. This is a vital difference as it leads to these clubs having seemingly  limitless demand for players since when they would need to balance the books they simply engage in vertical negotiation with the well off owners to invest more into the club. However by doing so the clubs management loses some control over the club and allows it to be shaped by the owner.

In a “project” ownership the personality of the owner will very much define the managerial aspect of the football club. Ever since Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea, the team has seen 10 different managers at its helm which is roughly 1 manager/season (!!!). This is an alarming figure by itself but factor into the equation the amount of money needed for these manager changes and you get a fortune being paid just for hiring and sacking managers.There is nothing wrong with this but a manager tends to plan for a longer term than 1 season and most of the times the real benefits are only reaped in the 2nd or 3rd season when the manager figured out which tactic is suited for the team and who he should ship in (and out) to make the team better.

If we look at André Villas-Boas record with Chelsea it is not horrible in fact it is better (by a very small margin) than Mancinis record was when he got the Manchester City job (as represented by the table on the left). From the table and the fact that Roberto Di Matteo was just recently sacked after being in charge of Chelsea for a shorter time than Villas-Boas,  it is apparent that Abramovich’s impatience is starting to define Chelsea FC’s decisions. Roman Abramovich wants to produce a team that can consistently win (such as Barcelona FC or Manchester United) but in the process of doing so he is actually taking 2 steps back every time he sacks a manager. If Chelsea do want to be a European force they might have to consider parting ways with Roman Abramovich. The real question is: can they afford to?

Suddenly this doesn’t just seem like a joke

Indeed the first issue that most teams under this type of ownership will experience is that they are essentially locked into a position. Due to the excessive transfer spending (and commercial deals that come from the owners network) these teams generally become indebted to their owner to the extent that they can no longer afford to walk different paths. This dependence is the reason why the personality of the owner will start the define the football club. In fact the more money the owner invests in the club the more it can define what it will look like as the more dependant the club becomes the more superior the owner becomes in any vertical bargaining situation. Of course it is not to say that if the owner leaves the club has to file for bankruptcy but the lavish transfer lifestyle the fans are used to will suddenly come to an end and these teams will have to look to their academy for survival, assuming their academy is good enough to supply the quality needed to stay on top.

Apart from the monetary issues when the enterprise parts way with their ‘sugar daddy’ there is the issue of the managers (Im referring to the boardroom staff here not the manager of the team) having a different set of skills under this type of ownership. Due to the soft budget constraint the teams management will not be as responsive as other teams when the transfer is negotiated. If there seems to be a financial issue the management of these teams usually just go to their owners and engage in vertical bargaining. This does not mean that these  managers are inadequate (vertical bargaining needs skill as well after all) it merely means that the management has a different set of skills. Thus if the owner decides to leave the club it will be a financial and a managerial challenge which is extremely hard to mount.

However the most important question is: Is this type of ownership sustainable? The answer is no. It creates an extreme subordinate-superior position where dependence is what keeps things in place. What if the owner decides to not pay for the team? For a recent example we have to venture into la liga which has recently become another attractive prospect for investors as “there are no more clubs for sale in the Premier League” (Rossell, 2011). There is a high chance that foreign ownership will be popular in this league as it has a financial disparity that stems from televising rights (will talk about this later) which has the potential to “kill Spanish football” to quote the words of Villareal manager Fernando Roig (2011). The team I shall look at is Malága CF which is currently under the hands of Abdullah bin Naser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani. In the summer of 2012 Malága CF were struggling financially and didn’t pay their taxes or the player wages for the past weeks. The management of the team engaged in vertical bargaining with the owner to ask the owner to finance things. However things did not work out and the team was forced to liquidise its assets. This meant that Santi Cazorla and José Salamón Rondon left the club on the cheap for the team to be able to continue. Many things can be said about the owner and how he ‘doesn’t understand the ‘sugar daddy’ concept’; however this attitude doesn’t look at the management of the team: Why did they start vertical bargaining rather than sell their less wanted players? When it was obvious the owner won’t pay the team was at a disadvantage when negotiating their players sales. Of course Malága continued on to the Champions League after the sales but the damage dealt to the club puts it at a huge deficit if it wants to be in the Champions League the next season.

1.2 Business ownership – Fans money in businessmen’s  pockets

Ownership of an EPL team (or ex-EPL team) is a very lucrative investment fuelled by huge amounts of income from television deals. The reason behind this is that televising rights are centrally negotiated and distributed to keep financial equality between the teams. Without a doubt teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal FC could negotiate better television deals than the likes of Wigan Athletic or West Ham United. Of course this all sounds fine but Walters et al. (2009) raises a concern that the foreign investors might be solely driven by business and profiteering and not really interested in the success of the team and the league in general. This moral hazard problem is aggravated by the fact that the fans continue to pay their ticket prices which then end up with an owner who has no interest in reinvesting these funds (neither in the squad nor in increasing revenue growth). Very often these type of foreign ownerships are brief (1 or 2 seasons long) and end up with the owners leaving the club with heaps of cash siphoned from the club. This was the case for Portsmouth FC

Fortunately these types of ownerships are not common for teams who already cemented their place in the EPL; however the same could not be said for lower league teams where the respective team is ambitious to break into the EPL. Breaking into the EPL is lucrative as an average EPL club gets 45 million while an average Football League division team gets 1 million (from televising rights). Naturally this invites investors to buy teams which have a high probability of breaking into the EPL and once they make it (if they do) sell the club for a higher value. Some might even argue that this is the reason why newly promoted clubs often get relegated in either their first or second season. Whether this is the case is debatable, however it points to an obvious gulf between the EPL and the lower divisions of England.

Why should we care about this gulf? The reasoning is simple: The larger the gap in financial power between the EPL and the lower divisions the more desperate the management becomes to break into the EPL. This desperation will lead to the active search of people who are willing to invest in the team. The investment required is minimal and the rewards are huge if the team does make it. The worrying part is that the FA does nothing to address this issue and the EPL is only concerned with maximizing the profits for the top division. In fact if a team is relegated from the EPL it is subject to receive funds from the EPL to help it rise back to the top division. As ‘altruistic’ as this might seem it essentially creates a private club of EPL teams that are always financially better off than their lower division counterparts even if their managerial skill is subpar to that of lower division teams. How to tackle this problem is beyond the scope of this piece, but it does present a question to ponder on: Is financial elitism healthy for the league?

1.3 Self-sufficiency – The clubs that desperately want to fit the bill

This is the category that is the exception to the rule (so to speak) and is the broadest in definition. The owners (foreign or not) will want to make the club as self sufficient as possible. One could think of this as the middle ground for foreign ownership. It is not a “business” ownership since the owners do not siphon money out of the club (YES, Kroenke and the board does NOT take money out of Arsenal Holdings plc.). However these owners don’t handle their clubs as a “project” ownership either by throwing money at the squad. Instead these owners aim to maximize revenue streams. According to Dobson et al (2001) these owners of the football club assess the success of the club not solely on trophies but on five factors: profit, security, attendance or revenue, playing success, and health of the league. It is important to note that just like the “project” owners, the “self-sustaining” ownership model also invests/reinvests into the club. However instead of investing completely into the squad, clubs under this model invest in the enterprise itself in an effort to maximise revenue streams.

The degrees to which how much is invested in the squad and how much in the enterprise varies a lot and is often dependant on the saturation of current revenue streams and the potential of revenue growth. Manchester United and Liverpool FC were both capable of increasing their commercial revenues (Liverpool against the odds since they fell out of the Champions League) which allowed both teams to invest in their squad knowing that revenue growth can cover these expenditures. Arsenal FC, however drove its main revenue streams (matchday revenue and property development) close to saturation before attempting to increase commercial revenue via the Asia tour. Now of course Arsenal are tied down in certain deals until 2014 but nothing would’ve stopped the commercial team to attract new secondary sponsors (think about it: Manchester United have 2 different shirt sponsors for their playing kit AND their training kit). Because of this Arsenal are lagging behind in commercial revenue and in order to keep themselves afloat are forced to dip into their squad and sell their assets (More on this here). Of course for Arsenal this is mainly due to the debt they had to incur to construct the Emirates Stadium, a project which left a huge dent on its finances but in the long run, with a strong commercial team, can make the club a European powerhouse as the board envisioned it to be. But for this to become a reality it is imperative for the commercial team of Arsenal FC to ‘up its game’ otherwise the team will start to drift out of the top 4 on the football field as the management will dip in the squad to keep its accounts healthy.

Another point to note is that “self-sustaining” ownerships interest is making the league better as the financial success of the owners are closely related to the financial success of the league (to a large part due to televising rights) as Dobson et al. (2001) rightly point out. In this sense it is closer to “business” ownership since both of these types of ownerships look at the success of the league for potential financial profit. However while  “business” ownership free-rides the success of a league a “self-sustaining” ownership aims to create the success of a league. “Project” ownership takes a neutral standpoint on this matter and one might even argue that it is against the financial success of the league as it decreases financial disparity between teams (increasing competition), and decreases the teams dependency on the owner. However this is debatable and I will stick to “project” ownership being neutral to the success of the league as the team under the owners control has nothing to lose if the league becomes financially successful.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in which the financial success of the EPL is looked at and how foreign ownership affected this. If you are interested in transfer market prices and wages and how  foreign ownership affected it then this is the piece you don’t want to miss out. Part 3 will be published shortly after part 2. Youth development and the national squad will be looked at. If you are interested in how the mixture of the 25-man rule and foreign ownership turned out to be then this is what you’re looking for.

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Sources

A decade of profits (with make-up)

Recently Peter Hill-Wood has told the media that Arsenal Football Club has made a  profit of more than £35 million. While this is all nice I don’t think many fans of the club realise that this means that the last time the club has made a loss was in 2002, when the club recorded a £22 million loss. In other words: Arsenal have been through a decade of profit and have amassed a  stunning £248 million over the course of the past 10 years of which 77% (£191 million) was made in the last 5 years. Arsenal is not the first club to achieve a decade of profits as Bayern Münich has entered their 19th consecutive season recording a profit.

Just a quick glance at the above figure might give the illusion that the club is heading in the right direction, but the devil lives in the details so lets take a closer look at this years profit. To clarify the sales of Robin van Persie and Alex Song are not recorded in the 2012 profits since the end of the fiscal years is not on the same day as new years. So the 2012 accounts have the sales of Nasri, Fabrégas, and Clichy in them but not Van Persie, and Song.

Breaking down the £191 million

We are extremely dependant on 2 things: Players sales, and property development. Without the £2,5 million profit from property developments and the £65,5 million profit from player sales we would have made a sizeable loss of £31 million in 2012. In fact player sales have accounted for 80-90% (about £160-170 million) of our profits in the last 5 years. What this means is that the club has become reliant on player sales to maintain sustainability. Have you ever felt in the past 5 years that the Arsenal squad is a player or two away from title contention? Well this is the reason why. Although the sales of each player can be individually explained (Fabregas wanted to go back to Barcelona; Song had bad discipline) we should take a step back and take a look at the trend that has occurred in the past years: Arsenal has slowly turned into a competitive selling club! (My definition of competitive here is qualifying to the UEFA Champions League)

Now not everything is gloomy: We are still capable of staying competitive on the pitch (thanks to smart investment due to scouting) but title contention is highly improbable. Also thanks to our sustainability we won’t have to walk down the road of Malága, Milan, and Inter who had to part ways from their experienced, expensive players. Heck even Manchaster City was more restrained on the transfer market! The fact that we are run on a sustainable business model means that we will (most probably) always have funds to invest in the squad; however our title contention will be decided, to a large extent, by the lack of transfer dealings by our competitors.

The profit with make-up

Have you ever had a girlfriend who looked stunning with make-up on but once she took it off she wasn’t as hot? Well if not you are soon going to find out what that feels like: Our £35 million profit hides our inefficiency in generating revenue growth. In fact if we exclude property development we have generated a negative operating profit. Of course with property development included we are still making an operating profit but if the current trend keeps up we wont be doing so for long as the Highbury Square property is almost completely sold. The fact that turnover has dropped to £7,7 million from last years £30,3 million in the property segment reflects this. The rise in overall staff costs  from £124,4 million to £143,3 million had an impact on our operating profit as well. This rise in our wage bill can be attributed to our late signings last season. The good news is that the club has learnt from its mistake and concluded its deals well before transfer deadline day. The bad news is that our wage bill (and operating expenses) has grown at a faster rate than our revenue.

Deloitte Money League
(£ mil)
2011 Rev 2010 Rev
1 Real Madrid 433 359.1
2 Barcelona 407 325.9
3 Manchester United 331.4 286.4
4 Bayern Münich 290.3 264.5
5 Arsenal 226.8 224.4
6 Chelsea 225.6 209.5
7 AC Milan 212.3 199.8
8 Internazionale 190.9 184.1
9 Liverpool 183.6 184.5
10 Schalke 04 182.8 139.8
Exchange rate: £1 = € 1.1073 (30-June-2011)

Since I mentioned revenue it is time to look at our biggest weakness: Weak revenue growth due to sub-par commercial revenue. If we look at our revenue we are in the financial elite of Europe standing firm on 5th place with a revenue of £225,4 million last year (Deloitte numbers are not exactly the reported figures of Arsenal due to exchange rates changing). In fact it was reported in May 31 that our revenues have increased to £235,3 million from £225,4 million. which is only surpassed by Manchester Uniteds £320 million in the Premier League. While this might seem impressive Arsenal has only managed to increase their revenue by £10 million in 3 years while Manchester Untied was capable of achieving a £42 million revenue growth in the same time frame.

The biggest defect of Arsenal is its commercial revenue. The reason behind this is the Emirates Stadium: Arsenal had to tie itself down in long term deals to finance the Emirates stadium. The good news is that the Arsenal Board recognises this, hence the Asia tour which attracted commercial partners; however we are still lagging behind Manchester United in this area who are capable of attracting a lot more secondary commercial partners than Arsenal do. However we should not look at this and claim the Asia tour was useless as it is one of the factors behind our £10 million Revenue growth in the past 3 years.

However as Milton Friedman has already said “there ain’t such a thing as a free lunch” and just like everything the Asia tour has costs associated with them. The biggest of these is that the team does not have as much time to gel, not to mention possible injuries. These might not seem like  financial costs but they have an effect on performance on the pitch. And performance on the pitch will have a huge impact on profitability and commercial attractiveness. Long story short: Our Asia tour can attract commercial partners and have an uplift on our revenue growth but such a tour will have an impact on team chemistry come the first week of the league.

The promised land of 2014. The year our shirt deals expire. Many people expect our commercial revenue problems to be solved that year simply because both our shirt  sponsorship and shirt producing deals are pathetically bad and improving on them is a must. The board recognises this: Gazidis has claimed that “in terms of the financial impact, it will be as significant a step forward as the stadium was in 2005”, but if Arsenal FC truly want it to have as huge of an impact as the Emirates Stadium was than the commercial team and Tom Fox have their work cut out for them.

Now many fans will possibly lean back and say: “Who cares. Financial Fair Play is around the corner” and while this is true we must understand that FFP will benefit the teams with the highest revenue, as these are the teams that can spend most on their squad. As I have tried to convey Arsenal has limited to no revenue growth and if it wants to be a leading powerhouse in FFP, solving this is a priority.

What this all means

The point of this analysis is to show the reader how dependant Arsenal is on player sales. It does not need to be this way though. If Arsenal want to be title contenders then revenue growth and operating profit have to be tackled by the Arsenal board. Revenue growth can be achieved by increasing commercial revenue, since Arsenal is behind the curve in this area. The shirt deals will expire in 2014 (the promised land) and the new deals will lessen our dependence on player sales if negotiated correctly.Tackling operational loss making is tougher as it need wage re-structuring. That means the team has to try and renegotiate its wages and try and get rid off “deadwood”. We have seen Arsenal doing the latter by shipping Bendtner, Park, and Denilson out on a loan deal thus decreasing its wage bill but getting rid of unwanted players is imperative to Arsenals success. If neither of the issues are tackled then we will see more reports of profits… with make-up.

15 FAQs that are related to the Board

This is a blogpost I made earlier at GoonersUnite back in January 2012. However since some parts are still relevant I decided to publish it here as well. The post was about certain Frequently Asked Questions me and a couple of others had to constantly answer on the football forum: footytube. Most of the graphs are from the swissramble and if you haven’t you should definitely check his  blog out. Anyways enough words have been wasted on explaining the post so without further ado here is the post itself.

Q1. Why is our home support so silent/weak?

Some might think its due to lack of attendance, however the Emirates has almost always been filled. Even this year against Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup we had a healthy attendance of 46,539. However the high attendance figures shadow the real reason behind a silent home support as it does not highlight the composition of the support. To illustrate what we mean just look at the Arsenal home support  and the Arsenal away support.

The massive difference in the composition of fans is majorly due to ticket pricing policies (both season ticket pricing and match day ticket pricing) by Arsenal FC. Arsenal have the most expensive match day and season tickets in the Premier League which leads to many fans who cannot afford to go to each game (or to the extra expensive home game) to attend away games. We have seen many times that Arsenal fans “borrowed” the oppositions stadium for the match day. Ironically the opposite is the case for our home ground.However recently Arsenal has joined Aston Villa in an effort to push through plans to create safe standing places. Standing places were made illegal in any stadium due to the Taylor inquiry which was the inquiry into the reason why the Hillsborough disaster happened. The plans to push through safe standing places is a rather brave one given that it was in the Premier League that such an incident happened, however given modern technology we should be able to achieve safe standing places (one should also resist the temptation to sell more tickets than actual standing places but if the project does go through extra attention should be given to the accounts of the teams that have standing places by the FA/UEFA). In my opinion standing places would help make the Emirates a fiercer environment (assuming the board does not make its prices too high)

Q2. Did Arsenal need to raise ticket prices?

No. We were in a healthy position regarding both football and finance so the team did not have a gun to its head when they made this decision. Arsenal already had the 3rd largest match day income behind Real Madrid and Manchester United. Having said that a comparison between season ticket prices is extremely hard as an Arsenal season ticket also includes 7 cup games. Arséne Wenger made a reasonable argument that the 6.5% increase in ticket prices was needed “to increase our income to fight with other clubs” however this could have been achieved in other ways. (see Q3 for more on this)A more logical explanation for the price hike was given by Tom Fox. In the interview Tom Fox outlined that after seeing a 40000 waiting list for season tickets “you think you are not charging enough for tickets”. Factor in that in football a price increase has the least drawbacks as the teams “customers” have a fierce brand loyalty. After all we don’t expect an Arsenal fan to suddenly switch to Tottenham due to the price differential.

Q3. Apart from increasing ticket prices what other ways could have Arsenal increased their income?

Most Certainly. One way (which is utilised by the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona) is to actually win competitions. However we should note that progressing as far as possible in the Champions League should be a priority over a Domestic Cup. After that would our priority should be to qualify for next seasons Champions League. (if we look at the amount of funds receivable rather than the amount of gloryhunters). However for Arsenal to actually be able to compete in the UCL they would have to hold onto the talent they produce/polish and not force Arséne Wenger to rebuild a semi-good team every 3-4 seasons but for that to happen Wenger desperately needs the help of the board.

Alternatively to winning more the board could quite possibly renegotiate some sponsorship deals. If we look at our books it is painfully obvious that we are behind the curve when it comes to commercial revenue. From this figure we can see that due to the boards unwillingness to renegotiate these deals we are missing out on approximately 30-40 million pounds of revenue EVERY SEASON. Out of all the sponsorships though Arsenal is doing the worst in shirt sponsorship and kit supplier deals where even Tottenham are doing better.

Q4. Why is commercial revenue so low?

AFC needed to tie itself down into long term deals to provide cash upfront for stadium financing because we got no subsidy from the government. The board was aware that in the long run this could possibly leave us behind the curve when it comes to commercial revenue but in order to build the Emirates they were willing to take this risk. This was a strategic decision made by the board which left us with sub-par commercial deals in the short run but a stadium in the long run (I’ll let the reader decide whether the board made the right decision)

Q5. Is the club doing anything about increasing commercial revenue?

Yes the board were actually renegotiating the shirt sponsorship deal but this is not enough when you have the likes of Stan Kroenke in the room and Alisher Usmanov knocking on the door. I’m fairly certain that one of these gentleman would be more than kind to buy-out some of the commercial contracts and help us negotiate new and better sponsorship deals which would help the clubs already slowing revenue growth.

Q6. How is our Emirates debt looking like?

The Emirates project cost us 470million pounds of which 260 million was a special loan package. According to the annual AFC financial report our property debt (the debt on the Highbury square apartment complex) has been repaid so that leaves us with a gross debt of around 250-260million pounds which consists of:

-the long term bonds on the emirates (lets call these mortgages) which account for around 230 mil
-debentures held by supporters which account for about 30 millionIf we deduct these cash balances we are left with a net debt of around 90 million. I would like to express at this point that since“Our property business is debt-free, any new sales of property do accumulate cash, which is very positive for the future.” (Ivan Gazidis). It is true that only 16 of the original Highbury apartments remain unsold, but in 2012 20-21 additional units will be added.


Now onto debt servicing: If we were to look at the accounts of Arsenal Holdings plc we could make our own estimate of the amount of transfer funds Arséne Wenger potentially has. The Swiss Ramble estimated 53 million pounds in October (since then the board has sat down with our shirt sponsor to try and renegotiate terms so this number should be taken with a pinch of salt). Another reason to not take this number as gospel is because the club has to keep some of this as a reserve for debt servicing (not to mention the uncertainty of season ticket renewals).

Q7. When will our Debt servicing end?

This will probably make some of you angry/sad but “Further significant falls in debt are unlikely in the foreseeable future. The stadium finance bonds have a fixed repayment profile over the next 21 years and we currently expect to make repayments of debt in accordance with that profile.” -Ivan Gazidis (2010)
So we still have to pay debt servicing for another 20 or so years. Theoretically it would be possible to pay back some portion of these debts earlier but the board has shown no signs of such a thing happening.
“The debt that we’re left with is what I would call ‘healthy debt’ – it’s long term, low rates and very affordable for the club.” -Ivan Gazidis
This is not however not necessarily a bad thing since the club is in a financial situation where it can afford such debts (as Gazidis has said)

Q8. What is the 10 year plan? How does it fit in the Arsenal philosophy? (By Cloudst)

The 10 year plan that Mr. Arséne Wenger has for the club can be interpreted in a process of steps. First it was (in my opinion) implemented when the invincible era came to an end. Players like Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabrégas came into the club in terms of a long term future for the club that would stabilize the team into more success years for the future. Everything had gone to plan our youth academy is also producing some fairly well known players now that hopefully will be more involved in the near future but then the selling off of key players and figures of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira had a dramatic repercussion on the first team as the introduction of some of younger players meant that there was no leader in the back room and a figure that had left a dominating presence in midfield which eventually left us to our current trophy drought. Years went by and now standing at 7 years arsenal have been without a trophy but this particularly does not mean the 10 year plan of Arsene Wenger had come as a failure. Arsene Wenger realized now more than ever that he needed the presence of an experienced person in the backroom of the squad to unite the team together and give the younger generation of arsenal players a better understanding of the game (thus enter Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Yossi Benayoun and Andre Santos). This, by all means, is just the background to the 10 year plan as it has massive links to our stadium debt as well. If you are interested about reading about the 10 year plan just click here as it is outlined clearly by the author.

Q9. So was the youth policy just a necessity? (By Cloudst)

In a sense it makes us unique from the rest of the teams and it has it’s benefits as well as it’s downfall’s. Youth development is not a simple process of 1,2,3 and the player has made it. There’s many factors to how a player shall reach that potential, Theo Walcott is a fantastic example of how such a wonderful talent can be bogged down to early exposure to the first team and the pressures of the media to perform (which came from him being called up to the WC squad at the age of 17!!!!! Much too young for him with too much expectations). There is also the factor of younger bodies of youth products not growing stronger than the body of a mature 27 year football player who’s body is fully grown and matured (which lead younger players to be injured more, which is why we have recently opened up a brand new clinic facility near our training grounds to tackle these problems. These are the negative repercussions of youth development however the positives mostly out weigh the negatives at times for youth development (especially in a stadium debt)

Q10. This is all fair and dandy but why doesn’t Wenger buy proven players like Mata? Why did he let Nasri and Fabrégas leave in one summer?

The board has the say on which transfers go through and which ones don’t. A good example of this is Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who were identified by us but the board refused the extra 2-5 million to authorize the deal to go through. Further proof is the fact that Arsenals money floodgates opened after the memorable 8-2 at Old Trafford. It normally takes weeks to sign 1 (!!!) player let alone 3 (in a matter of days) which suggests that most (if not all) the paperwork was already done prior to the Manchester United game. What was needed was the green light from the board and the final signature of the player(s).

Q11. Gazidis and Hill Wood said that Arsenal can do with missing out on the UCL for one season. is it true?

As I am not an insider to the Arsenal Board I do not fully know if this is true or not. Having said that this seems to be more of a message to the stockholders than the fans (“Don’t worry stockholders your dividends won’t be affected”).This highlights the problem that the board is more concerned and is only accountable to the stockholders and not to the stakeholders (fans) of the club. Not to mention that most fans blame Wenger when a transfer breaks down so the board enjoys a little safety due to this common misconception about football clubs (as an enterprise). This misconception comes from the fact that both FIFA and PES franchises manager mode gives the player almost absolute control over a clubs finances, tactics etc. which is not true in real life football management.Having said that Arsenal has qualified to the Champions League for the past 14 seasons so one can argue that the Club has got accustomed to the funds received from UEFA. If we just look at last season Arsenal received a total of 30 million euros (that was around 26 million pounds) from UEFA for reaching the round of 16 (the season before that Arsenal received 3 million more for going an extra stage). And these figures only capture the funds due to television distribution! We have to also count for extra gate recipients as well as bonus clauses in some sponsorship deals. So if Arsenal would miss out on the Champions League we would be talking about a loss of 37-45 million pounds (I cannot give you an exact figure as I do not know the bonus clauses of the sponsorship deals).

Q12. A Loss of 40 million?! Surely Europa Cup is still better then nothing!

True it is better than nothing but the question is how much better? Is it worth taking seriously (financially)? Both Liverpool and Manchester City received 6 million euros for reaching the round of 16 and the highest pay-out in the Europa Cup was a mere 9 million euros. The question is that if we do end up in the Europa Cup is that 6-9 million worth it to risk first teamers getting injured. I will let the reader decide that (feel free to leave a comment in the comment section as to what your answer is and why you think that way).

Q13. Arséne Wenger and the board. What is their relationship?

Well right now we can witness some sort of dichotomy between the manager and the board. Both PHW and Gazidis have claimed at some point that missing out on the UCL won’t hurt us while Arséne Wenger recently claimed that “We want to be in there, in the top four, and to play in the Champions League. Anything else would not be good enough”. Sure this doesn’t necessarily mean that missing out on the UCL will hurt us but it highlights that Wenger would go all out to grab a top 4 spot while the board would rather get ready for missing out on it. Why the board is okay with Wenger working ‘against’ them? Unfortunately for Arséne Wenger the way the board handles things (not taking risks on the financial sphere) AFC is forced to act like a selling club since the only way profits are achieved is by selling the top talent of the club. And since Wenger is a master of choosing talent while its still rough and undiscovered, the board needs him to achieve profits. Of course this isn’t the only way to generate profits though (For more on this see Question 3).
Apart from the profit Wenger is able to turn on the market there is also the fact that when something bad happens the fans turn on Wenger rather than on the board. So safety is another reason why the board needs Wenger (for more on this see Question 11) although it is not as an important reason as the face that only under a manager like Wenger is the club able to turn a profit.

Q14. Was the relationship between Arséne and the Board always so polar?

Until 2007 there was someone called David Dein who was part of the board and acted like the right hand of Arséne Wenger. The moment Dein left we have seen the manager and the board working in 2 opposite directions and things started falling apart. I will not waste space here to talk about the importance Dein had on Arsenal since there is a page on him on wikipedia that gives a quick and accurate rundown on how influential he was in creating the Arsenal that us gooners are so proud of.

Q15. Is the board really the villain?

I would not go as far as to call the board a villain as their actions are business oriented. I fully understand why the board tied itself down into subpar commercial deals as this was the only way we were able to handle the dent that the Emirates project left on our finances. What I do not agree with is their lack of ambition nowadays where they are not willing to take any risks. How many times have we seen after Dein left (2007) that Arséne built a team just to be deconstructed by the board for profit? I can recall 2 times! 2 times in less then 5 years! This is absolutely outrageous and should be addressed as fast as possible otherwise us gooners should be happy if we even make it into the top 4. It is time to bring Dein back on the Board and if that is not possible then introduce fresh blood (in the board) who have the ambition to make Arsenal a global brand in football and not in finance.