Tuesday 26 July 2011

Are United trying to cut the wage bill?

It pays not to believe anything Sir Alex Ferguson says about potential transfers. This is not a man who loves sharing secrets with the media. So we should all take his comments in the US yesterday with a pinch (or perhaps a bucket) of salt. Having said that, Fergie said some quite specific things about the financial implications of the club's summer sales and purchases which are worth a closer look at. This is what he said (my emphasis):
"At this moment, I can't see another addition. The type of player we might have been looking for is not available.
"We lost five players in their 30s this summer. That helped finance the three younger players I have brought to the clubI am happy with the players I have got at this moment in time." 
The "five players in their 30s" are presumably Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Owen Hargreaves, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes. In addition of course, one rather important player in his forties, Edwin van der Sar, has also left the club.

Of these six departures, only Wes and JOS were sold for a fee, so presumably when talking about exits helping to "finance" new arrivals, Fergie is talking about wages. The question therefore is how much has been saved in wages?

Needless to say, we are entering a world of guesswork when it comes to players' salaries. These are my best guesses, but if anyone can find sensible sources for more accurate figures, please let me know.

On these figures (and indeed on anything roughly near them), the club is currently sitting on some significant cost savings. The estimated £10.7m per annum in annual wage savings is 8% of the total club wage bill in 2009/10 and around 11% of the club's annual cash profits (EBITDA).

The estimated saving of c. £200k per week is also (coincidentally?) around the level that the press has speculated United would have to pay Wesley Sneijder to prise him from Internazionale.

So what is going on here? The cash for transfer spending is definitely available. As I wrote in June, when the club publishes it's full year results in October, they will show a cash balance of c. £180m at 30th June 2010. Only around £47m of this has been spent. There is over £130m still available.

The club is clearly crying out for more creativity in central midfield. Scholsey made sixteen league appearances last  season and has gone, Gibson is for sale, isn't good enough and hasn't travelled on the US tour, Fletcher is still ill, Giggsy is a stand-in midfielder entering the end of his career. Meanwhile, Barcelona passed through us and around us at Wembley in a way that makes the need to strengthen crystal clear.

I don't know why Fergie said what he said yesterday. I hope it is more smoke and mirrors to keep the rest of the world confused. I hope it isn't a sign that not only do new signings need "financing" by player exits, but that the edict has gone out to reduce the wage bill. Is the subject of dividends to the Glazer family back on the agenda? Is this an attempt to boost short-term profits for a Hong Kong float (at the cost of the long-term development of the club)?

Frankly, what's the point of being the most commercially successful club in England with a "global fan base" of 330 million and £130m+ still in the bank if we can't afford a decent new central midfielder?

Good old Glazernomics.


Wednesday 13 July 2011

A look at Manchester City’s commercial income

I am a United supporter, if you feel this makes me a "biased rag bastard" who is incapable of writing about Manchester City's finances in an impartial way then I believe you are mistaken. If that is however your view, I suggest you don't waste your time reading on!

Alongside the usual summer transfer speculation, the biggest football news of last week was Manchester City’s new ten year naming rights and sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways. Reports indicate that Etihad will pay City between £300m and 400m over the life of the contract making it by far and away the largest ever club football sponsorship deal. With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules around the corner, the Etihad deal has caused huge controversy with figures such as John W Henry of Fenway Sports Group and Arsene Wenger questioning the transaction given that Etihad is owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family of which City's owner Sheikh Mansour is a senior member.

This post takes a closer look at the sources of City’s commercial revenues and how they have grown over recent years. I have assumed a figure of £400m for the Etihad deal throughout for ease, but readers can obviously make the easy mental adjustment if they believe £300m is a more realistic figure. As with all my posts, I will correct any inaccuracies readers point out.

Splitting out commercial income from the report and accounts

Most football clubs adopt a three way split of revenue between Matchday, Media and Commercial sources. Unusually Manchester City include corporate matchday hospitality business under a catch all segment called “Other commercial activities” and then publish a separate figure for “Gate Receipts”. To make sensible comparisons with other clubs we need to deduct matchday hospitality from the “Other commercial activities” total. Thankfully the 2009/10 accounts give the details on page 55 allowing us to strip hospitality and to then disaggregate the total Commercial (ex-hospitality) revenue into Commercial partnerships (i.e. sponsors), retail and merchandising and “other” (I have rounded to the nearest £100k for ease).

2008/09 – the bad old days

The accounts show that in Sheikh Mansour’s first year of ownership the deals he inherited from the previous owner only generated £6.5m in sponsorship revenue and £17.9m in commercial income as a whole (by comparison United’s commercial revenue for the same year was £70m). 

The two key commercial arrangements in force that season were the shirt sponsorship with Thomas Cook and the kit deal with Le Coq Sportif. The kit deal was widely reported to be worth £10m over four years and the Guardian reported that the Thomas Cook were paying £3m for their two year deal with City. The only other current sponsor involved with the club at that time was the local radio station Key 103. I’ve estimated that at £500k pa, leaving £2m from other small deals.

2009/10 – transformation

The 2009/10 accounts say:
Financial highlights for 2009-10 include: Corporate partnership revenue increasing by £25.9m to £32.4m, an increase of nearly 400% on the previous year, driven by new long term deals with a number of key partners, including Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Aabar and Etisalat.” (page 55)
By the end of the 2009/10 financial year, the four new sponsors mentioned above, along with Umbro, had replaced all the club’s previous sponsors (with the exception of Key 103). In other words, the £32.4m generated by the club in 2009/10 came solely from six companies. The original Etihad shirt sponsorship was widely reported to be worth £7.5-8m pa. To get to a total of £32.4m therefore (and assuming Key 103 continued to pay £500k pa), the other three Abu Dhabi owned sponsors and Umbro had to generate approximately £23.9m in revenue between them. The table below shows my estimate of how this splits between sponsors:

I have used a figure of £2.9m pa for Umbro to reflect some sort of premium over the Le Coq Sportif deal, despite several press reports suggesting the ten year partnership was only worth £25m. With The Etihad shirt sponsorship in at £8m, the £7m each for the other three Abu Dhbai companies is just the residual needed to get to a total of £32.4m. This figure of £7m each (or rather a total of c. £21m for all three) is pretty staggering given they are second tier sponsors.

2010/11 – broadening the base

If the first year of Mansour’s ownership reflected the financial failures of Thaksin Shinawatra and the second year saw huge deals being signed with friendly companies from Abu Dhabi, the third year saw a decent diversification of the base of sponsors.

The German heavy engineering group Ferrostaal signed a sponsorship deal at the end of calendar 2009 shortly after being taken over by International Petroleum Investment Company of Abu Dhabi. Strangely Ferrostaal no longer appears on the club’s list of sponsors and the pre-season “Ferrostaal Cup” competition promised for 2010, 2011 and 2012 doesn’t appear to be happening this year.

More importantly than whatever is happening with Ferrostaal, the last financial year saw City sign deals with Amstel (i.e. Heineken), Malmaison Hotels, Thomas Cook Sport and Jaguar, none of whom are owned by Abu Dhabi or its royal family. Assuming £2m per partnership (and the same for Ferrostaal), this will add c. £10m to the £32.4m achieved in 2009/10.

2011/12  - The second Etihad deal

A massive deal

The £400m, 10 year deal announced last week is a staggering piece of business for City. A club that could only muster £6.5m in total sponsorship income under Thaksin has signed a deal worth over six times that from just one source.

It appears that City and Etihad are suggesting the partnership splits into three areas; shirt sponsorship, naming rights for the (former) City of Manchester Stadium and naming rights for the wider “Etihad Campus” in East Manchester (see below). Even with the c. £40m split into these three areas (and perhaps £4m pa going back to Manchester City Council for the first five years), these are sums that match or exceed the best deals seen in European football. United and Liverpool’s shirt deals with Standard Chartered and Aon respectively are worth around £20m pa. Bayern Munich’s 2009 three year extension of its shirt sponsorship with Deutsche Telekom is worth around £23m pa. Precedents for naming rights in Europe are somewhat scarce, and if City’s Etihad deal is worth around £10m pa, it is the highest seen in European sport.

Etihad is a young airline benefitting from significant investment from the Abu Dhabi royal family but it is hard to see the business logic for a deal of this scale. Etihad’s annual turnover is only around £2bn (annualising its recent half year figures). On 12th July it proudly announced it had broken even for the first six months of 2011 (the first breakeven result in its eight year life), but this “breakeven” is as measured by “earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and rental payments (on leased planes)”. Few airlines ever achieve an operating margin of more than 15%, and even if Etihad could hit that sort of level of profitability, this deal would mean it was then paying out 10-15% of its annual profits to City. For such a company to pay out £400m over ten years to a not especially well known European football club is somewhat strange from a business perspective.

Other sources of commercial income

So far I have just discussed commercial partnership income. Like all clubs, City has a merchandising operation (in conjunction with Umbro) which turned over £7.9m in 2009/10, an impressive increase on the £5m figure for 2008/09. It seems unlikely that this growth rate can be sustained, but it is reasonable to expect some growth as City’s international profile begins to rise.

Streets soon to be paved with gold....

Far more intriguing than shirt sales is what City can do with the 80 acres of development land around the stadium. Formally called (by the council) “Openshaw West”, this is now going to become the “Etihad Campus”. So far nobody knows exactly what will be built on this land, although suggestions include retail and office space (including a new Etihad call centre), a new training ground for the club, a sixth form college, a sports science complex etc, etc. Any construction costs borne by Sheikh Mansour fall outside the scope of “expenses” under Financial Fair Play rules but any profits from activities on this land can be included (as the “campus” is on land adjoining the ground).

How City compare to other clubs

The £46.7m City earned from all Commercial activity in 2009/10 took it above Arsenal and Spurs for the first time.

In the season just finished the five additional sponsors will have added another £10m and no doubt merchandising revenue will have risen too on the back of the club’s first trophy in thirty five years. When the additional income from Etihad is added from this year onwards, City will almost certainly overtake Chelsea (2009/10 Commercial revenue £56m) and be close to Liverpool (2009/10 Commercial revenue £62m but this predates the Standard Chartered and Warrior deals) and will be reporting total commercial income of around £90m (depending on the exact size of the Etihad deal). In English football only United (where commercial income will exceed £100m in 2010/11) can rival this.

The elephant in the room - Financial Fair Play and the reliance on Abu Dhabi

Unlike most clubs, City’s search for additional income is not about boosting their firepower in the transfer market or (as with the Glazers) boosting the club’s value, it is about compliance with Financial Fair Play. In my piece on 8th April I estimated that City would have reported a deficit on 2009/10 results of around £121m under the new FFP calculations (although importantly this is before the permitted adjustment for player contracts which were entered into prior to June 2010 that applies to the first two years of the new regulations).

The incremental c. £44m the club has added in Commercial income since 2009/10 reduces that deficit by a third, and Champions League participation and top four finishes (if repeated) will add another c. £30-35mpa. That begins to make the €45m (c. £40m) loss allowable over two years under FFP look achievable, but there is still much to do, especially with a bloated squad costing £130m+ in wages and £70m+ in annual amortisation charge on transfer spending.

The club’s reliance on companies owned by Abu Dhabi’s royal family is stark. Although the deals with Malmaison, Jaguar etc reduced the percentage of sponsorship income coming from such companies from 90% in 2009/10 to c. 73% last season, the new Etihad deal takes it back to 85%. Other clubs are understandably aggrieved at what they see as an attempted flouting of the new FFP rules. My personal view is that UEFA will not stand in the way of any of the Abu Dhabi related transactions, as each could just about be justified individually.

Manchester City clearly believe they have found a way through the FFP regulations that effectively channels Abu Dhabi's wealth into the club in bite sized and UEFA compliant chunks from various nominally independent sources. It will be very hard for UEFA to argue against these deals, but there is surely a limit to how far City can push this process. With commercial revenues now rivalling United, Real Madrid and Barca, further closing of the FFP gap is going to have to come from the more traditional source of controlling costs and winning trophies.....