Football comment: Say goodbye to the white knight

The indications are that the financial health of football clubs is improving, although it remains to be seen whether those still in intensive care will make a full recovery.

I believe the main reason for the present optimism is that clubs’ directors have now accepted that the same financial discipline is required as for any other business.

Historically, there was a general belief that, even if you overspent, there was no real threat to your survival and, at the very worst, the next white knight would appear.

However, as more shareholders saw their investments fall, and as the industry plunged into crisis due to spiralling wage costs and falling TV income, the white knights mostly disappeared over the horizon to be replaced by the black knights, or administrators.

Clubs are now being more realistic in setting their budgets and this has led to a downward pressure on players’ wages and expectations. As the administrator of two clubs, I found the only people who didn’t know players’ wages had to drop were the players themselves.

Clubs are now determined to operate within their budgets by reducing wages, maximising revenue and cutting out any unnecessary costs – generally running their operations like any other commercial business.

On the cost side, this meant taking some harsh decisions. On the turnover side, it is now recognised that all efforts have to be made to increase revenue from sponsorship, merchandising, conferences and hospitality. More innovative ideas are now being used to generate income from alternative stadium use, joint ventures, overseas marketing and the internet.

With this newfound reality to financial management, there are reasons to be optimistic. But two problems stand in the way. Firstly, egos will still chase the Holy Grail, although I think this will be rarer. Secondly, some clubs are so deep in debt they will not be able to survive any major unforeseen setback.

  • Bryan Jackson is a football corporate recovery expert at PKF.

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