The last few weeks have not been good for the financial side of the beautiful game. We have seen clubs going into administration, others nearly folding and no progress on controlling the wages of top players. Only today Wigan have announced a net loss of £7.2 million and admitted that wages at the club account are 78% of the club’s total revenue, a truly worrying statistic given that that outlay has resulted in nothing more than a perpetual battle for Premier League survival.
The fact that this story has largely been ignored by the media only goes to highlight the terrifying regularity of these happenings. A club in the Premier League, the richest in the world, should not be making consecutive yearly losses. The money is there for clubs to make a profit if they are run correctly; spending two-fifths of your income on wages is not an example of how to do this. However running a club like you would run any other business is also a pretty certain way of avoiding all trophy contention.
Football in this country and across Europe has now found itself in situation where finances are running out of control. More money is pumped in through TV and sponsorship deals with some of the world’s biggest companies and yet losses increase and debts build up. Rangers, the most successful domestic club in the history of world football, is now in administration because it refused to live within its means. Things are going to have to change.
The incoming UEFA Financial Fair Play rules are a good start in that they at least acknowledge there is a problem within the game. However, serious questions remain as to whether the plans go far enough and are fair to clubs that do not already have huge marketing operations. The suspicion is that clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool that generate huge income from merchandise around the world will be in much stronger positions than clubs like Tottenham and Fulham that have less of a global reach.
But still financial reform of a truly significant nature is ignored or at least put on a very distant backburner. Still fans clamour for more money, better signings and still the owners listen and throw more money away with apparently little regard for what might happen a few years down the road.
Football is by its nature not used to looking at the long term. As long as wealthy benefactors are at charge you are not going to hear many fans calling for financial restraint. At a point that one imagines will not be too far in the future however, fans are going to have to realise that the endless spending and exuberant wage bills are not going to be sustainable, that there is going to have to be a serious tightening of the way that clubs are run and that this will mean that as fans they are going to have to lower their demands as well.
Fans are important in the future direction of football. We have already seen an increase in the amount and visibility of fan-owned clubs such as AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester. The current financial perils haunting football are not good but good things can certainly come out of them. A better understanding of how clubs are run, more connection between fans and the financial side of the game and a move back towards the roots of the game with clubs being run by fans for the fans, not as a publicity machine for a rich elite.
That may not be a popular thing to say but if things continue down the path they are on at the moment then it will simply mean a choice between a club living within its means or no club at all.