With the first green shoots of recovery starting to peek through, we can begin to dream about life after the credit crunch. Obviously, it would be foolhardy to think that things had returned to the buoyant boom-time that we enjoyed pre-crunch; unemployment continues to rise, house prices are still down and interest rates remain on hold. However, as the global economy starts to improve, that barometer of public opinion and lasting budgetary indicator, the Premiership football club, is a continuing beacon of resilience.
This pattern is perpetuated across Europe too, as the top Continental clubs continue to draw large attendance figures. For example, if we compare attendance at matches in the opening two rounds of this years’ Champions League, they are up 5% on attendance levels at the same stage of the competition last year.
The average attendance at Premier League matches in England remains at around 90% capacity. Even though the top clubs, for the most part, carry huge amounts of debt, they are generally able to service the repayments and the Premiership continues to be a huge draw for investment. Liverpool Football Club’s shirt sponsorship deal with banking group Standard Chartered is estimated to be worth £80m over the next four years. Thus, ending the 17 year relationship between Liverpool FC and Carlsberg. The club’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have been making an effort to reduce Liverpool’s £245m debt, paying off £60m in July. This was down to renegotiation with RBS and Wachovia, the banks that lent the pair the money to buy the club. According to a leaked document, the club has been seeking additional investment since March of this year. Saudi Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud has claimed that he is willing to pay in the region of £200m to £350m for a 50% stake in Liverpool FC. That is considerably more than the £174m Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett paid for the whole club in 2007.
Arsenal Football Club’s latest financial report makes for quite a pleasant read too. It has shown that the club’s annual profit has risen by almost a quarter, to £45.5m. So, why do the mega-spending, mainly indebted football clubs weather the financial storm so well?
Essentially, as brands they have a fiercely loyal supporter base and longstanding contracts with broadcasters, sponsors and other commercial entities. This all proves to be a buffer against the worst impact of recession. Obviously, they do not exist in a vacuum so are not impervious to fiscal strife. Even Arsenal, having recently posted that increase in annual profit, flirted with overextended credit and dangerous debts. The redevelopment of their Highbury ground appeared to come at the worst time, with property prices plummeting and banks reigning in debt. However, as with their fellow clubs, the strong attendances achieved at the start of the season are encouraging signs. The situation is proving to be tougher on smaller Premier League teams but the distribution of broadcast revenue provides them the necessary support.
Even as we see clubs change hands and investors come and go, casualties of global recession, the clubs remain. It’s testament to their legacy that with every bankrupt board member and indebted director, there is always another clamouring to take their place.