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Err, is it possible? Could the Swiss Ramble have got it wrong?

By Tony Attwood

In case you don’t know the blog, The Swiss Ramble is a King among blogs.  Blogger of the year, praised by the media, written by a British guy who has lived overseas for many years, everyone loves it and admires the erudition and research to be found therein.

So, first rule of blogging, you don’t criticise the Swiss Ramble, because this guy knows what he’s talking about.  OK, I’d like to think Untold has done odds and ends he hasn’t (we created and expanded the ref previews and reviews for example, and I think we were on top economic form with our submission to the Commons Enquiry into football, oh and there was that analysis which proved exactly why England’s national team never wins anything), but generally you hand it to the guy.

And thus it was that when he does a massive analysis of Arsenal’s accounts one stops and takes notice.   Indeed I got about 30 emails from different sources saying, “Tony have you seen this?” the moment his review was up.  It was even circulating on the AISA Committee news group yesterday.  This guy has an impact.  Hell, I’m jealous.

But, as I read, I also pondered.   The Swiss Ramble knows his economics, no doubt.  He is thorough, and his reputation 100% deserved.   But… could it be possible.   Did he just make a mistake?

Could it be that while the Arsenal History Society was doing a communal dance in the streets of north London to celebrate the issue that the Arsenal FC accounts actually quoted one of our discoveries the Swiss Ramble had actually gone a little off beam?

Well, not exactly, but there is something that might be added to the inevitably excellent account.

Much of the Swiss Ramble on Arsenal accounts is a detailed look at the past year (naturally) and the question of why the financial figures are not so good as last year (plus an acknowledgement that next year will be fabulous in terms of accounts).

And there’s also some other looking into the future stuff too.

Now looking into the future is a mug’s game, as everyone who writes knows.  It was fine in the old days before digital because you had to go to Colindale and study old newspapers if you wanted to point out that the journalist who said x is a plonker because y happened.  Now everyone can catch you out by searching on Google.

So if you do want to predict the future, you have to get your basics right.  Imagine you had the job of improving traffic flow in your town centre.  You could analyse the traffic flow as it stands and recommend two new roundabouts and a set of traffic lights, plus a one way street.  Fine – but if you are good at your job you will then model what effect that will have on traffic flow elsewhere, to make sure that solving problem A doesn’t create problem B.  Plus you will be taking into account the change in road usage in the area because of other factors (rise in car numbers, industrial decline etc).

And this is where I started to question Mr Ramble.

One issue that comes up here (as it does in many places) is that Arsenal’s marketing seems to be standing still while Man U are now selling the naming rights to their reserve stadium on the dark side of the moon.   Not only is there a gap between the two, but it gets bigger every year.

Yes, the article says that Arsenal will start moving again, once they come out of the long term deals set up to help fund the Emirates Stadium, but that’s about it and the analysis makes two assumptions.   One is that Man U’s growth with continue as before – which implies that the marketing opportunities for the side are infinite, or at least still have a huge distance to go.  The other is that Arsenal’s growth will be small, because it has been small in the past.

I am not sure this is so.  There is no real evidence that the Man U brand will grow forever, nor even for one more year.  Nor that just because Arsenal have done little so far, they will continue so to do.  More likely I would argue (if we are going to speculate) is that the Arsenal marketing team have appeared to be doing nothing because they have been setting up some fairly impressive deals which swing into force as the old deals come to an end – and no one has announced them yet.

There’s another point: Man U’s future.  No club sits at the top forever, and although it seems odd now, Man U have, in my lifetime, explored the exciting domain of division 2.  Rather like housing booms where one looks back five years on and says, “They paid £1m for that!?!?!” so I wonder if in five years we will be laughing ourselves silly at any company sponsoring the training kit.  More likely than not, I would say.

So that’s my first concern – that the way the market in football marketing has gone in the past is not a model for how it will go in the future – but I have some other little issues too.

Mr Ramble does suggest at one point that Arsenal might “Offload under-achieving players, even if they are sold cheaply or given away, in order to have some room to manoeuvre in the wage bill.”

True, its an option.  But so  is Bentalisation.   That word came from the situation in which Tottenham signed ex-Arsenal player David Bentley at the age of 23, from Blackburn Rovers for £15m plus extras.  Quite a chunk of that found its way to Arsenal due to an earlier sell-on clause.

Yes, when some players just fail to make the grade and walk away to the lower leagues, Arsenal get nothing and their investment is lost.  But when the player is good, but not willing to wait, or not quite good enough, then there is good money to be had in sell on fees.  All that stuff that Mr Wenger does in which he looks like he is desperate to keep the player is often an act.  He’s upping the price, and most importantly upping the sell-on clause.  “I believe in this player and don’t want him to leave” is in fact “OK you can have him, but Arsenal get 35% of his sell on”.  It is a lucrative market in itself, and although I don’t have the figures (Arsenal don’t reveal them) I think it is a significant part of the money rolling in.

In fact, it could be possible to make the youth development programme self-funding, so that Arsenal pick the very best (Jack and Frimpong are the obvious most recent example) and get sell-on money from the others, all for a much lower investment that one might imagine.

Which is why I wonder about Mr Ramble’s comment “Rebuild the famous scouting network. It seems like ages since they beat other clubs to the best talent worldwide.”

Well, there’s one or two around – like Campbell this summer (getting superb reviews with Lorient and only on loan because of the passport), like Ryo who had great fun in the summer games and is having a jolly time in the reserves getting ready to appear (and who did get his work permit), The Ox, who I believe scored 3 for the under 21s last night (although curiously the Guardian carries no mention of the game – so maybe I invented that one), Ignasi Miquel, Francis Coquelin who we have had since the age of 15 or so, Gibbs, Frimpong (yes what about Frimpong) and that regular stream of 16 year olds we rather wonderfully nick from Barca.  And I mean what about Alex “He’s not fit to wear the shirt” (as the AAA sang a few years back) Song.  Doesn’t he count?

There’s one final point that I think might have been missed, and that is digital.  It is an area which I am not an expert on, in any regard.  But I try and stay up, and as I do I keep reading things about Mr Kronke and the Arsenal investment in digital.   Again it might look as if we are way behind, not having our own channel on the BSB system.  And yet, I wonder if these various deals I see going through are not part of a scheme…  Even on the day when I got my interview with Mr Gazidis to talk about the Arsenal History Project (which you’ll recall finally got recognised in the accounts) Mr G. moved on from talking to me for an hour to yet another digital deal signed.

And I believe in our future, you see, because for all the bumbling and seeming failure of our marketing department, for all the non-development of our digital platform, and for the fact that we are currently in the lower portions of the league, there is still one little factor.

Arsenal built the Emirates.  It is a fabulous stadium (just ask anyone who does away games).  Compare it to Man U (bigger but with vertigo, and far less leg room, and awful catering), Chelsea, Man City (smaller and just far less comfortable or grand), Tottenham (allegations of bribes from Boris, legal cases, funding issues, still no development), Liverpool (oh God), Everton (endless attacks on the council – no wonder they can’t get planning permission)…

The Emirates was built on time and to budget in an era when that never happens, it is a huge success, it kept us at our spiritual home, and it is fully sold out for most games.   Now the one and only club able to do that in the modern era can’t have lost all that ability in one go, can it?

Which is where I came in.   In looking at the future, one must look at all sorts of things, not just having more of the same in the past.   But yes, looking at the past is also an indicator.  Mr Dein was opposed to building the Emirates, and so he left – and others did it, and did it brilliantly.  That team has in part moved on, but the club is still there, and the club that undertook the most brilliant football building project of modern time is still there.  You can argue that Arsenal have lost that ability to develop, but I think the argument itself has to be more explicit.    No, for me, the future is not one of stagnation, either in terms of the youth development scheme or the business model.

For once, and I say this with the utmost caution, and with a huge amount of respect for the blogger (how I wish I could write like him!) I think Swiss Ramble has got it slightly wrong.

ELSEWHERE…..

29 comments to Err, is it possible? Could the Swiss Ramble have got it wrong?

  • You should buy him a shirt tony, it will raise the arsenal incomes and then he may write another article on how Arsenal shirts may save our season because the color red an white is actually colors that…ah whatever… nice work there

  • Actually I forgot Ramsey

  • Tony

    Thoughtfully put but with the same gaps in some presumptions that SR had in his.

    For example, you don’t believe that Utd will continue to grow their brand. However, the received marketing wisdom is that football is underexploited and, if they can sell their training gear to a sponsor, there is more, much more to be done elsewhere. The Arsenal Marketeers have a lot more catching up to do. And they will but United are ahead of us in exploiting the US, Asia, etc.

    The financial gap between the two will remain, fluctating as fortunes do. Nobody stays at the top forever? True but these days it is less likely that a fall to the Championship will beset any of the big clubs. It might but it’s more unlikely, as unlikely as anyone emulating Forest and winning the title/European Cup after being promoted.

    Crucially, United have some room for manoeuvre in their matchday revenues, I don’t think Arsenal can raise ticket prices much higher in the next few seasons.

    But I agree, it is almost shameful that we have no TV presence. Even Real Madrid have their channel available to UK viewers. The mistake was ‘getting into a commercial bed’ with Setanta as the platform.

    Lessons to be learned. Hopefully they will. But then, what to do with all of this money? That’s a whole different ball game.

    YW

  • avatar Phil

    Good article Tony. I’ll have a look at his post at some point today, but Arsenal’s commercial revenues clearly have massive growth potential, whereas United are breaking new ground (eg trainging gear). Perhaps United can go on like that forever, perhaps they can’t. The certainty is that Arsenal have room to grow, as we are only just starting many of the activities that Untied have been doing for years.

  • Yogi: it is not so much that I don’t think that Man U will continue to grow, or that Arsenal won’t but rather that it must be easier for Arsenal than Man U to grow the brand, because Arsenal clearly is a good brand, and there is a lot more basic stuff they can do.

    Having sold the training shirt logo, what now? Eventually there is a limit to how many marketing things you can offer. Arsenal haven’t sold their training kit for sponsorship, so we still have that opportunity.

  • avatar menace

    there are several aspects of marketing that Arsenal have addressed but Man U have a huge advantage, Man U have the historical advantage of the Charlton, Law era that was what established the brand. Arsenal only just got their badge copyright a few years ago and that alone must earn a few million in licensing. The one aspect of Arsenals stadium revenue is that the number of seats sold is currently far greater than the number of seats populated. This is a reflection of the type of support that has ownership of some of the empty seats.

    Arsenal has had an excellent following with a huge growth. It has however been hindered by the bad press and the incorrect officiating that has hindered the clubs true position in the league. The officiating issue will eventually be resolved and Arsenal will rise to its true position under the guidance of the greatest most positive influence in football – Arsene Wenger.

  • Great article Tony.
    Yes i also remember Man Utd in Division Two, and they still got bigger crowds than Arsenal.
    To compare the financial muscle of Arsenal & Man Utd doesn’t really prove anything. They’ll always be bigger than us, but i’m not gonna lose any sleep over that fact.
    But there’s no reason why Arsenal cannot close the gap and become the next in line.
    Keep up the great work.

  • avatar LRV

    I have not read the Swiss Ramble piece. I will do that as soon as I am free.

    But following everyone’s desire to have a pop at Arsenal these days, attempts to undermine Arsenal’s achievements, it will not surprise me in the slightest if Swiss Ramble choose to tread that path (I am not alledging that he does not having read his piece).

    However, for anyone to predict that Arsenal will stagnate, is definitely an error of judgement.

  • avatar Abhishek Kumar

    Hi YW: It may be true that ManU can still grow on continuosly but that has to satisfy one basic condition.. It needs to keep on winning like it had in past few years… I mean Liverpool looked like a top team few years back but if Liverpool does not get into champions league next year they might loose many global fans or they will not add so many global fans now…

    So for ManU to keep on adding fans and revenue at this pace they need to stay on top which may go bad due to many things like 1) Departure of Mr red nose 2) Referees becoming more fair and 3) Press going against them as its against Arsenal these days

    But the model for Arsenal is pretty conservative so any future success should accelerate our growth unless we do worse than what we did in the last few years.. And obviously we are not at our current potential too because of the deals we stuck 7 years back and which will renew in the next few years… there are also other ways which Tony has suggested..

    @allezkev: Probably at that time ManU had a bigger stadium and there was not much global following.. Now no team in championship can dream to have more following than the top teams in premier league..

    Blcakburn team is in India and even they have generated decent excitement.. just because it plays in PL.. I think that no championship team can generate that…

  • avatar Mohamed Zubairu

    I think that Arsenal has done very well in securing the future of the club. In order to maintain that, we need to keep filling our stadium for every game. That is only possible if we improve our performance on the pitch. The management of Arsenal should review the strategy that is used to keep our football attractive and and winning. We do not have to go the mega buck way, but some tweaks here and there can help us to up our on field displays and results. That will guarantee continued growth without falling for the financial doping trap.

  • avatar Gf60

    @Tony
    How true the saying that “The future ain’t what it used to be.” !

  • Tony

    The main advantage that United have is that their brand is more established and their model more sophisticated. That gives them an edge, winning trophies helps. As far as exploiting this is concerned, they are on shorter term contracts so can raise revenues more frequently. Indeed, they have at least twice as many second tier partners than Arsenal.

    Arsenal’s main problem is Emirates. We know the revenue is much lower than it should be but needs must, the time the deal was signed required funds quickly. Similarly the shirt contract which prevents anyone else sponsoring any Arsenal kit, e.g training kits, youth kits.

    Crucially though, and it was touched on by others, Arsenal do not have the emotional history of United, which really kick started their rise into the national psyche with Munich. Frankly, I’d rather not have that history as well.

    It does now though give them a huge boost in the marketplace and players such as Ronaldo and Beckham enhanced that with their personal followings. Arsenal lost a lot of that when Henry went and have never really recovered. We may do but its going to take time.

    I think we will remain in their shadow for a good few years yet, if we ever reach their levels. Don’t forget, their current run of success coincided with the explosion of the Premier League and credit to them, United have taken full advantage. I sometimes wonder if we would have been so quick off the mark if the roles were reversed. I am not so sure.

    Abishek

    Yes, United’s challenge is replacing Ferguson but is it any more daunting than us replacing Wenger? Both have significantly altered the culture of the respective clubs.

    And I suspect both events will take place in similar timescales.

    YW

  • Yogi – yes I see your point and I’m agreeing with it most of the way through, but all things come to an end. Arsenal’s 1930 dominance did, Liverpool’s 80s dominance did, so Man U’s will eventually, and quite possibly there will be quite a downtime as both Arsenal and Liverpool had to suffer after their dominating periods.

    But I still think that the team that was able to resist Dein’s vision of taking us to Wembley, and then go on and build the Ems on schedule and on time is not a team to be taken lightly. If they could do that, they are certainly able to pull a few more hats out of rabbits, or perhaps even the other way round.

  • Oh and by the way the much delayed Referee Report on Tottenham Arsenal is now up on the site.

  • avatar Notoverthehill

    Mr Gazidis was a year ahead of Tony in the historical sense, read Mr Gazidis commentary in the 2009/2010 Financial Report.

    In the 2010/2011 Financial Report, again Mr Gazidis refers to a partnership on the ” development of our broadcasting and content development”. The partnership is with MP&Silva. Россир2 is one of the subscribers to the MP&Silva products.

    Looking at the recent interview in the DT with “Silent” Stan, I noted a former employee of the Glazer’s set, is on-board!

    Obviously 2014 is a key date in the future devlopment of The Arsenal brand worldwide. I trust a role can be found for Red & White Holdings, for the future income will be through Asia and Russia is the obvious alternative gateway. The Chinese have a stake in Mr A. B. Usmanov’s digital company.

    The thought of Mrs Viner and Mr Wenger being both present at London Colney (ripe for sponsors) during the build-up and the Olympic Games, is mouth-watering!

  • avatar Richard B

    Manure’s continuation as a marketing force/revenue generating engine may or may not happen. It’s how their money is spent that counts and the eventual demise of SAF will have an impact on that one way or another. The shape of our future depends as much on the activity at Man City and Chelsea and what impact FFP will have on that. Chelsea look increasingly desperate to move stadium and will face far more difficulty than we did. The apparently permanent rise of Man City in the North West coupled with the financial barrel being stared down by (at least) Bolton and Everton have the potential to completely change the scene up there.
    The even more desperate Spurs continue to make themselves as unpopular as they can be with everyone they try to do business with and may well be as far away from having a new stadium to play in as they were three yeras ago.
    For Arsenal, as Tony says, just about all the infrastructure that everyone else envies is in place and our net debt is plummeting at a rate that will see it disappear completely when the new sponsorship deals kick in in three years time.
    Arsenal have far more control over their own destiny than any other club – and if, as Wenger predicts, financial catastrophy faces football in Europe, that could be the strongest card in anyone’s hand.
    ps Swiss Rambler is a self confessed Gooner and sometimes tries to hard to be even handed by over playing negatives.

  • avatar Dark Prince

    Actually, The Swiss Ramble was right… ManU’s marketing strength is derived by the success on the pitch, thats why as they keep on winning, their value as a whole increases. Something that Arsenal can only do if they hav the same success….but lookin at our downfall, i dont think its possible and hence, our marketin reach will be limited…

  • avatar Notoverthehill

    I would like to point out that these are the preliminary results for 2010/2011.

    The auditor’s report is ABSENT!

  • avatar Kentetsu

    “Imagine the worst situation, that we lose Fàbregas and Nasri. You cannot convince people that you are ambitious after that.”

    This comment keeps popping up every now and then. Apparently Wenger said it at some point during the Asia tour, but I have looked on Arsenal Player and in the news archive on Arsenal.com and can’t find anything even close to the quote. Can anyone give assurance that Wenger did indeed say this or is it just another media fabrication?

  • avatar Kentetsu

    One area where I expect a change as a result of Kroenke’s majority ownership is in online broadcasting. He already has his network for his American teams and I think this approach will be adapted for Arsenal as well. A problem is for the moment, though, that Arsenal does not hold the online broadcasting rights for their mathces. I am not sure who does (EPL?), but online broadcast is an area which is massively underdeveloped at the moment (not just for Arsenal), which I find surprising in this day and age. As well as annoying, as I have to search for illegal streams if Guangdong Sports (China) does not broadcast the match, even though I’m willing to pay for a legal online broadcast.

    For sponsorships, Arsenal has shown over the course of last summer that there is work in progress. New deals have been announced with Budweiser, Citroën, and a few others. It is unclear how much these deals are worth, as they will only show up in the financial results next year, but Budweiser is a completely new sponsorship, whereas we can expect the deal with Citroën to be improved substantially.

  • avatar Sammy The Snake

    Arsenal can not grow the brand without success on the pitch. Any attempts at growing revenue has been greatly damaged by our poor form and current league position as well as those of last 5 years. The fan base can not grow when the results are below par, and commercial revenue will not grow without growth in fans.

    Swiss Rambler is probably on the spot in the short term, but who knows about the long term. Let’s hope Tony is right…

    Any way, any potential downfall of ManU in the long term (read SAF exit) will first benefit teams like Chelsea or City… Direct benefits to Arsenal will be quite limited today.

  • avatar Sammy The Snake

    Don’t get me started on the deal with Citroen! A successful team is sponsored by winning brands, not a third grade local brand. If Arsenal are to become a global brand, they must be associated with other global brands known for their quality, like BMW or Porsche or even Lexus. Getting Citroen does not bode well for the future.

  • avatar Kentetsu

    I assume Arsenal will have considered deals with partners other than Citroën, but because we have a French manager a French car manufacturer might have been willing to offer more than others. Furthermore, Citroën is a strong brand in Europe and in the UK (11th most sold brand in 2010 in the UK). I agree it is not as appealing as say BMW or Porsche and I rather had another brand sponsor Arsenal as well, but Arsenal does not really care about what car sponsor we as a fan want for the club. All they want is the best deal and apparently that was Citroën.

  • avatar Sammy The Snake

    11th best selling brand Is not good enough for a club that wants to remain in top 4.

  • avatar Jas777

    Having lived in Asia Manchester United’s revenue streams are not going to get any smaller anytime soon.

    I actually think there is potential for them to make much much more money from sponsorships.

    The sad thing (well for anyone other than Man U, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, maybe Bayern) is the money is only going to go to a few clubs.

  • avatar Jas777

    Kentetsu

    Although the deal with budweiser may bring some money it is sad that Arsenal has to be associated with ‘one of the worst beers ever made’

    Maybe they are making the players drink it and that is why their form is so terrible at the moment and all the injuries.

  • avatar Kentetsu

    I can’t judge about the taste of Budweiser. The only beer I consider somewhat palatable is Kirin beer from Japan. So no, I’m not a fan of any kind of beer.

    But that’s not so much the point here. The issue is that Arsenal should improve their marketing revenue, which they seem to have done over the summer by extending the deal with Citroën and having new deals with Budweiser, Thomas Cook, Betson, and maybe a few more. You can discuss ad infinitum whether Arsenal should be associated with any of these brands, but more important is that Arsenal has been active in their marketing department. How much impact it all has financially, we will only find out the the next financial report, though.

  • avatar goonergerry

    This is a somewhat selective analysis- and your criticism of Swiss Ramble is unwarranted. By your argument- nothing needs to change at Arsenal. Sorry Tony- it does- because if nothing changes we won’t be in the ECL or the top 4 and our commercial profile will substantially reduce- in fact the worse case scenario of a few more key injuries- could see us struggling to stay in the EPL.
    I also think the comments SR made about our youth project are more than fair- you simply ignore the facts which weaken your argument- the fact that we have spent several years nurturing a substantial number of very young players with potential who didn’t make it- and other top clubs have caught up- those two that did make it left because we can’t pay them enough to stay or offer them a realistic prospect of success. Jack Wilshere is very much an exception to the rule- and there is not enough evidence to suggest that the likes of Frimpong or Miyachi are going to have the same kind of impact as Jack. I hope they do- but it is speculative.
    The hard truth is that Arsene may know the French market well but he does not appear to know the English one as well as some others do. Very little seems to have changed in recent years- except the top young French talent is not as common or as good.
    In fact Swiss Ramble’s analysis is a very generous one- and does not take into account the impact that the decline in our playing strength and performance on the field will have in both the short and long term on our commercial revenues. Arsenal will never develop top level commercial performance whilst it remains a feeder club to its commercial rivals.
    Arsenal did build the Emirates yes-a wonderful achievement- but at the expense of commercial revenues and investment in footballers.

  • There were a couple of pieces written that claimed that I had put no argument forwards and that this was an unwarranted attack on Swiss Ramble.

    I certainly did not see it this way, or intend it this way, and I think commentators above saw that I was trying to tease out some issues here.

    But what is noticeable (and this is why those comments don’t appear) is that they were highly abusive. Rather than develop a line of argument they simply called me names.

    Hey ho, that’s how it goes.