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Football has thought outside the box. Trouble is sometimes it has been the wrong box.

By Tony Attwood

“Thinking outside the box” is a phrase that has been so overused it has become virtually meaningless.   Which is a shame because in football, perhaps more than ever before, there is a need for new ideas.

In particular new ideas which on the face of it might look stupid, might look as if they won’t ever work, and yet which produce results – even if it is just for a while.

The fact that football clubs have been going bust at least since the invention of the Football League (Accrington were, I think, the first of the founders of the League to go bust, in 1896, and I’m told by a friend in the know that Notts County might be the next, but that is just gossip), should alert us to the fact that the old methods of running clubs don’t really work very well.   But I’m not sure that such alerts have much impact much of the time.

Arsenal’s notion that a substantial part of their stadium income could be obtained from a tiny minority of those at the match through the creation of Club Level, an experience that the club’s own web site suggests can on occasion be decadent, and within which the atmosphere from the rest of the stadium is muted, was itself a bit of lateral thinking which undoubtedly Tottenham will seek to copy as and when their new stadium gets its finance sorted.  Maybe it wasn’t original for Arsenal, or maybe it was an amendment to experiences elsewhere, but it worked in terms of bringing in a lot of cash.

At the other end of the scale experiments come and go.  My local club, Corby Town, gives free season tickets to children, undoubtedly in the hope that they will drag their parents along.   And here’s another: the pay as much as you like scheme.

I’ve heard about it being tried in 2009 for season tickets at FC United (the club formed by Man U supporters who were rather fed up with the Glazer model of finance) and in 2010 at Mansfield Town for one match in particular.  I don’t know what happened to the FC United experiment, but as I recall the Mansfield trial of the idea got a huge number of people into the ground, and generated more money than normal.  In fact I think they got 7000 in attendance when the experiment was going on.

What I don’t know is what happened to that scheme.  If it was abandoned, I’d like to know why.   I also believe Brentford have also tried it in the past.

I thought of this because this past week Albion Rovers of Scottish League Two who play in Coatbridge, did the same thing, although with a minimum charge of £1.

As a result of the change Albion v Montrose got a crowd increase of 125% and a gate receipt increase of 160%.  Cafe, shop and other ancillary spending was up 165%, all when compared with the previous home game against Montrose FC in August 2013.

Now with Albion we are talking modest numbers.  What excited them was the fact that 718 turned up against Montrose – but if you are a reader of the occasional reviews of games that some of the Untold writers go to when Arsenal are not playing, you’ll know that we’ve watched matches where just 250 are present.  That’s how it goes in the lower leagues.

And I have to say not everyone was happy with the Albion scheme.  I saw one post on an Albion Rovers fan site where a season ticket holder was really annoyed with the introduction.   But since most commentators were saying that they would pay their normal amount, and welcomed the move (which applied to away as well as home support) it seems that it was generally considered to be a good idea.

Can it last as a long-term idea?  That I wonder, because part of the scheme is that it generates a lot of publicity and interest around the club in question.   But such publicity only lasts a few days, and bring anything new in as a permanent idea and its novelty will drift away, and I suspect revenue might drop.

However of course until you do try it, who knows?

So what else can be done to shore up football finances?  I must admit to being short of ideas.

Cardiff City lost £30 million in the season they were promoted to the Premier League, but I doubt that their owner even noticed.  However if he were to pull out suddenly, I suspect the club would notice – unless another billionaire buyer were to step in quickly.

Bolton Wanderers have debts of £163.8m following their record loss of £50.7m during the financial year ending June 2013.   Can you think of any way in which a club like Bolton can pay off such debts?

On 31 December 2013 Chelsea announced a loss of just under £50m, compared with a profit of £1.4m the year before.  No worries for them except if FFP regulators get excited.

But here’s another way of looking at the picture.  Prince Adbullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz now owns Sheffield Utd, and instead of doing what Princes and oil barons normally do with clubs, he has actually reduced the club’s debts and cut their wage cost by £4.1m a year!

On the other hand Hull lost £28m last time around, and given the owner says he is walking out if the club is not allowed to change its name to Hull Tigers, that could be a burden few want to take on.

I’d like to add a financial summary from Coventry City, given that we are about to play them.  But it is difficult, for there seem to be three companies that all own the club (!) which isn’t the sort of thing I meant when I started this piece talking about “outside the box”.    Coventry City Football (Holdings) Limited is one of the three, but I am told they are now being struck off as a company.  Sky Blue Sports & Leisure Limited is another possible owner, but their auditors said in their report, that they perceive a ‘fundamental uncertainty which may cast doubt over the group and company’s abilities to continue as a going concern.’

Football finance is a dreadful mess – and given that it still is nearly 100 or so years after Herbert Chapman was banned from football for life for his suggested involvement in illegal payments to players by his club Leeds City, shows we ain’t really got very far in sorting the mess out.

Leeds City were thrown out of the football league part way through the 1919/20 season, and Port Vale took over their fixtures, and inherited the results Leeds had had!  At the end of the season Grimsby Town were kicked out of the league, and Leeds United, who were in fact Leeds City reformed under a new name, were elected back into the league!!

Now that was a bit of outside the box thinking to get round the problem of not having Leeds in the league – trouble is I think it was the wrong kind of outside the box thinking.  (Oh, and Herbert Chapman appealed the decision against him, and immediately got a job with Huddersfield Town – which was obviously a Good Thing).

But there must be better ways of running football, ways which are moral, and good for fans – at all levels of football.

I really do wish Albion well, and really hope that their idea helps generate some more finance for them.  Maybe next time I’m in Scotland I’ll pop in for a game.

But in the meantime, here’s a thought.  If Pay What You Like really does work, as all the reports suggest, even if it only works for one game, why don’t other cash strapped clubs do it?

Could it be a lack of imagination and adventurous thinking in the boardrooms of our clubs?

Surely not.

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19 comments to Football has thought outside the box. Trouble is sometimes it has been the wrong box.

  • Gord

    Football stadia often have natural grass turf. Obviously, the proper light conditions are getting inside the stadia for this to happen. When a game isn’t playing, what is all the area set aside for spectators doing? Nothing. If there is a (partial) roof over that area, what is it doing? Probably nothing as well. Why not set up trays that can sit on the rows of seats, for growing herbs or something? Same for the roof. I gather living roofs are fairly common in the UK, they aren’t around here.

    Something to do with solar electric or solar thermal? A problem with solar and wind power, is there are times when it is cloudy or no wind, so how do you “store” the energy. There are people using solar and wind power to make fertilizer. And fertilizer is easy to store, or sell.

  • Gord

    In case it is of help to someone, if 60,000 people with an average mass of 80 kg climb an average of 20m, that is pretty close to 1 GJ in potential energy.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @Gord – Right up your alley – how much of energy would a bag of this generate ?
    Or how many starving dung beetles would it feed ?

    http://www.collegehumor.com/post/60442/this-is-so-funny

  • Gord

    I am going to guess that bag could hold 120 kg of compacted dry dung. From:

    Fuel Briquettes from Water Hyacinth-Cow Dung MixtureAlternative Energy for Domestic and Agro-Industrial
    Applications
    Dr. Frank. O. Oroka and Akhihiero Thelma.E.
    Journal of Energy Technologies and Policy
    ISSN 2224-3232 (Paper) ISSN 2225-0573 (Online)
    Vol.3, No.6, 2013

    I get a gross calorific value for dung of about 14 MJ/kg. So, that bag of dung is a bit more energy than the change in potential energy of 60,000 fans at Emirates. Which probably explains why stadia are not machines attached to generators.

  • Valentin

    Experience has proved that “Pay what you want” scheme only works twice. More and a lot of the extra people refuse to pay the real tariff. Also it shows that to have any lasting long term positive effect that initial upsurge must be part of a real strategy. Creation of social events is primordial. Price has an effect, but not as much as the extra factors do. Factors such as timing of future matches (doing that as end of season exercise is futile), weather (if the game is played indoor or in warm climate it is more effective, so better to do it in August, September than February), success of the team (nobody want to stick around if the team takes a pasting every week), activities linked around the team (real life meeting, social events, …), …
    In France, some clubs have reduced the entry fee, but increased the extra cost such as program, food price, the parking to compensate.

    Attract new clients is the new mantra. Get them and you’ll get them for life.
    Some team have even decided to offer reduced prices to students.
    A lot of team have realised that with the higher cost, most of their supporters are middle age men. Make attending with children financially attractive and you may even get the wife. At least, the WAG is less likely to consider the expense as a unnecessary luxury and more as a family bonding cost.

  • nicky

    The real “heart” of a football ground, IMO, is full attendance at every game and there is something amiss when for most of the week, let alone the year, stadiums up and down our land, lie dormant and unused. OK, pitches have to be maintained, dug up and re-sown but surely more use could be made of the stands….as Gord implied above.

  • Stuart

    Pay what you like is certainly a good way for owners to inject cash unnoticed, possibly even launder funds.

  • Valentin

    @Stuart
    I think that there is better way, more discrete and more efficient and less traceable to launder money in football than using Pay as you like scheme.
    Look at all the dodgy transfers. In Italy, years ago, chairmen were using inflated fees to play with the book. Parma Football Club got caught because the bankrupcy of Parmalat exposed their lack of funds.
    Look at today’s transfer.
    Let’s say that you are the chairman of a South American club in distress. You don’t have to be the chairman of the club, you could just be his lawyer or just his friend. You create an untraceable offshore company. The club has financial difficulty and their top player is not yet ready to command an inflated fee from those stupid Europeans. The club has to sell to your offshore company at slightly below market expectation part of the economic rights of one of their top players. However in that contract it is stated that part of the future fee received by that company must come back to the chairman as a consultant/finder/arrangement fee. When that foolish European arrive, the bid looks extravagant. But the club receive a small part of it. The big part is going to that offshore company. The chairman receives his cut. He can use that money on himself, his wife, his girlfriends but also be generous with his club. From afar, he looks like a benefactor when in fact he is sponging off the club.
    You could even use a pantsy who will pretend to own that offshore company. Better still, the pantsy could be the father of the player. You provided him with the seed money, so your name never appear in any official documents that can be traced. That also help you avoid paying taxes.
    Any similarity with the transfer of Neymar to Barcelona is purely coincidental.

  • Gord

    All I can see out of this page, is that there are 3 boxes. Whether any of them are useful, I don’t know.

    🙂

  • WalterBroeckx

    Valentin,
    LOL @ that last sentence 😉

  • WalterBroeckx

    Valentin,
    On a more serious note: you do seem to be in the know about finances a bit. I like it.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    THE TEST
    One Night, 4 College students were playing till late night and didn’t study for the test which Was scheduled for the next Day.

    In the morning they thought of a plan, they made themselves look as dirty and untidy as possible with grease and dirt.

    They then went up to the Dean and said that they had gone out to a wedding last night and on their return the tyre of their car burst.

    They had to push the car all the way back and that they were in no condition to appear for the test.

    So the Dean said they can have the re-test after 3 days, they thanked him and said they would be ready by that time.

    On the third day they appeared before the Dean, the Dean said that as this was a Special Condition Test,

    All four were required to sit in separate classrooms for the test.

    They all agreed as they had prepared well in the last 3 days.

    The Test consisted of 2 questions with the total of 100 Marks.

    Q.1. Your Name……………………..(2 MARKS)

    Q.2. Which tyre burst ?……………(98 MARKS)
    a) Front Left
    b) Front Right
    c) Back Left
    d) Back Right…..!!!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

    The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Socialist’s plan”. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A….

    After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.

    The second test average was a D! No one was happy.

    When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.

    As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

    To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

    These are possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:

    1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

    2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

    3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

    4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!

    5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

  • Stuart

    Valentin,
    The only difference being that transfers require two or more parties to record the transaction where as pay what you like gate receipts are only recorded by the club. Granted, you couldn’t get away with as much money but it would certainly help the smaller teams in that way.

  • Valentin

    @Stuart,
    The problem with laundering money using gate receipt and “Pay what you like” scheme is that the flows are in the wrong direction. The only way would be to add money to the till. But then it means real cash money. Most people don’t know that, but banks have to record any cash transaction above a certain threshold. That means the name (ID is mandatory), place, amount and all the bank notes numbers. With bank own pattern detection and TRACFIN (European software tracking financial operations), trying to mask cash transaction is not that easy any more.
    Moreover, it is a one off operation rather than a repeatable operations.

    @Walter,
    I work in the finance sector, so part of the job. I also know somebody who did accounting for Football clubs. People bashes bankers. If people knew the level of incompetence and greed in football, they would be amazed.
    Directors of medium size football clubs getting paid huge salary unrelated to the level of their experience, work or the level of the club. Clubs that are barely above the bankrupcy or liquidation level. Despite their importance to the local community, most clubs are medium size company. Large fast food retailer branches may have a bigger turn over than them.

  • Stuart

    So if I needed to make clean some money from say, a drug deal, I couldn’t put it through on a pay what you want day? Seems ideal to me, 3 or 4 times per year maybe. As there is no record of each individual gate fee, who will ever know?

  • Valentin

    Here are some examples of director being overpaid. A director of football: in charge of recruiting for a club ban from recruiting.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2540266/Hearts-legend-Mackay-blasts-club-hierarchy-taking-pay-cut-late.html

    @Stuart,
    Be careful of the weather if you intend to use the same trick.
    The postponing of the rugby France Ireland in February 2011 has lead to the unearthing of that exact scheme. Tickets were bought in bulk paid cash by somebody linked to a crime syndicate. Theses tickets were then resold at a higher price than their face value. When the game was postponed, people requested refund or equivalent ticket and everything was discovered. Since the French Rugby Federation does accept any cash payments for tickets. We are talking about 600,000 to 800,000 Euros!!
    Sorry if you do not speak French:
    http://www.lerugbynistere.fr/news/la-ffr-liee-affaire-trafic-billets-blanchiment-argent-1501141022.php