The beautiful (numbers) game

I KNOW THIS is supposed to be an accountancy blog and not a football blog but I can’t help myself this time – sorry. I was planning to use my next blog to enter into the student fees debate (definitely accountancy-related, think of the number of graduates you work with), but that can wait for another day.

Instead, I am sitting here late on a Monday night, watching as one of the biggest transfers in footballing history takes place (in the full knowledge that events might change and make this totally irrelevant by the time it’s published, and that Robert Peston has beaten me to it).

No, Man Utd haven’t put in a bid for Lionel Messi (c’mon Sir Alex you know you want to…), but American Billionaire Stan Kroenke is dipping into his not inconsiderable bank account and making a bid for Arsenal football club, valuing it at the best part of £900m. The last of the ‘Big Four’, (see, an accountancy analogy) not to be owned by a private investor.

Now, nine hundred million quid is a fair amount of money for a company whose main business is eleven blokes kicking a ball around a nice bit of grass. But obviously these days football clubs are much, much more. They’re big business, and Mr Kroenke is bidding for one of the biggest.

Putting my accounting hat on and forgetting my football hat for a second; Arsenal (much as I hate to admit it) do seem to be one of the best run clubs around. Last year they posted a PBT of c£46m, albeit in no small part thanks to the sale of property developments, but bear in mind they still had another 210 properties to sell. Mind you if they had any sense they’d rent them out (try finding a decent flat to rent in London at the moment, they’re like gold dust).

They have a very shrewd business mind in Arsene Wenger, who’s turned the club into a factory producing assets worth many times more their initial cost (another analogy, see definitely an accountancy link there), Cesc Fabregas will likely turn a profit of c£30m-£40m when he’s sold. They are also in the enviable position of having a stadium full to capacity week in, week out; the basic rules of supply and demand teach us that this means they can earn even more money by putting their prices up (and although an immediate price rise wouldn’t be wise for a new owner, I’m willing to bet it happens in the near future). They’re one of the few clubs that will find it relatively easy to comply with the new ‘financial fair play rules’, which will hopefully go some way towards making owners run clubs like the modern businesses they should be.

They don’t seem to have managed to exploit the international markets with the same success of other clubs (travel around South East Asia, you’ll see more Man Utd shirts than at an FA Cup semi-final), but I’m willing to bet Stan has a plan for this, and his connections in the US mean he’s well placed to exploit that market.

On the face of it he’s paying a lot of money for his investment. I’m not going to sit and do a maintainable earnings calculation, but even a quick mental calculation puts the PE rather higher than your usual sports/leisure type of company. And there’s an argument that the organisation is overly reliant on a key individual (Mr Wenger – much as I should hate him for being a moaner I can’t help but think he’d make a good CEO).

But it’s a company with a sound infrastructure, a strong and growing brand and apparently plenty more potential for growth in the future. And that’s how Mr Kroenke’s probably looking at it, for all his statements about the fans and history of the club. And to be honest I can’t blame him.

Of course he has to get past Mr Usmanov first so this could get really juicy…

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