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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Football must 'get house in order'
By Bill Wilson
BBC News Online business reporter

Ronaldo of Manchester United(in red) is tackled by Liverpool's Riise
Manchester United and Liverpool are two large businesses

The triumphs of Porto and Greece in the two major European football tournaments this year may have warmed the hearts of traditionalists, in showing that having money and big names are not necessarily the way to success.

However, in England at least, bank balance and spending power is still very much tied to fortunes on the playing field, as can be seen by under-achieving Liverpool's ongoing efforts to find a "white knight" to invest cash in the club.

The leading clubs are also ever-keen to increase any possible streams of revenue - from kit sponsorship and online merchandising, to increasing the size of their stadiums.

The majority of clubs are going to have to think of ways to increase their creditworthiness - people will only lend against a clear income stream
Andrew Gent, Singer & Friedlander

However, the stock market is no longer viable as a means of raising money, with many clubs seeing their listed price go through the floor since the heady days of 1997 and 1998.

And, financiers warn, if they want to attract loans from leading funds and investment houses, they are going to have to continue to display a new-found sensibility.

That has been brought about in the last couple of years by incidents like the financial melt-down of Leeds United, and spate of clubs going into receivership.

'Brand awareness'

"The days of spending 120% of income are gone," said Keith Harris, executive chairman at Seymour Pierce Limited, and a former chairman of the Football League.

"Football clubs went from being village corner shops to supermarkets too quickly, almost overnight," he told finance experts and soccer officials at the Euromoney "European Football Finance Forum" in London.

"We are now relying on club managements to get their houses in order, and not spending what they do not have.

There are not too many people out there wanting to buy a club
Harry Philip, Inner Circle Sports

"Wage caps might have a place in that. Clubs also have to generate more off-field revenues, and create better brand awareness."

Manchester United is seeking to build "customer relationships" with potential consumers of MUFC merchandising in China, and Aston Villa is seeking various tie-ups in India, South America, and the West Indies.

At a lower level Northampton Town has been enthusiastically seeking small-scale tailored sponsorship packages with local firms.

Access to credit

These might all seem like sensible commercial ideas, however after the formation of the FA Premiership in the early 1990s English clubs seem to throw the business rule book out of the window.

Lulled by the seeming riches of Sky and ITV TV deals, unsustainable amounts of turnover were spent on player wages, and clubs annually spent way over their annual budgets.

Many have gone into administration and even a club like Chelsea was only saved from financial embarrassment at the last minute by Roman Abramovich in summer 2003.

The dream of most clubs would appear to still be to find another foreign tycoon, with Liverpool and neighbours Everton both attracting overseas attention.

Clubs with listed shares
Aston Villa
Birmingham City
Charlton Athletic
Heart of Midlothian
Manchester United
Manchester City - Ofex
Millwall (Holdings)
Newcastle United
Preston North End
Rangers - Ofex
Sheffield United
Southampton (Leisure)
Tottenham Hotspur
Watford (Leisure)
West Bromwich Albion

However, as Harry Philip, managing director of consultancy Inner Circle Sports, says: "The media get carried away about who is going to be buying the next big club in the UK, but there are not too many people out there wanting to buy a club, be they Russian, Thai or Malay.

"Until people can see a return they are going to sit on their hands."

And Andrew Gent, assistant director of Singer & Friedlander, which invests in sports, agrees clubs are not the attractive investments they once were.

"In recent times clubs borrowing and access to credit has been at a level never seen in the past, and both parties were responsible for that, lenders and clubs.

"But most funders of football are now cautious. There have been enthusiastic lenders who are now pulling back, and have reduced their exposure.

"Banks are now being much more clear about clubs having to stick to their limits."

Servicing debt

He said previous methods of lending, against player and stadium values, were no longer viable, as they had been known to depreciate.

"At football clubs the revenue line is superb, but because of players wage levels, the rate of profits are still low.

Bayern Munich stadium - pic from club website
Bayern Munich's stadium will be sponsored as the Allianz Arena
"So lenders want to see excellent financial management. It is easy to predict revenue in the short term; through television, league "ladder" payments, and match day income.

"It should not be too difficult for a club to show a bank it can service its debt while going forward."

He added: "The majority of clubs are going to have to think of ways to increase their creditworthiness - people will only lend against an income stream that is clear to see, and where relegation is not a threat."

Healthy sponsorship

Michael Stirling is head of pricing strategies, as part of the sports analysis team, at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, and believes there are many untapped areas.

"They could sponsor their stadiums, but apart from Bolton and Leicester, this has not really taken off in England.

"It is easy money, and if traditionalists were offended, you could limit it to something like the Anfield Stadium Sponsored By Carlsberg."

Arsenal are said to be looking at this with their move to a new stadium at Ashburton Grove.

In Germany, Bayern Munich have earned the most so far a deal like this - Allianz paid 60m over 15 years to have the Allianz Arena named after them.

Mr Stirling believes clubs have to be more imaginative when bring in new cash.

"They could sign up food and drinks of a different nature from the normal deals, such as health food bars, or health drinks."

Alex Fynn, football consultant
"As an entrepreneur you cannot make a lot of money out of football"

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24 Jun 04  |  Business
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20 Mar 04  |  West Yorkshire

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