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Ten football clubs score in this year’s Top Track 250

Ten English football clubs feature in the latest Top Track 250 list, up from three last year. Eight of the ten are from the Premier League, the game’s elite division. West Bromwich Albion were relegated from the division last season after eight seasons and Middlesbrough, owned by Top Track 250 company Bulkhaul, were relegated in 2017.

These clubs feature in the list because they have revenues or operating profit growth in excess of 5% and operating margins exceeding 2%. Football is now firmly established as a sector in the Top Track list, underlining the commercial success of the Premier League and the consolidation of what has always been a high-profile sport as a viable business proposition.

But there is an interesting twist to the tale. The commercial success of these ten individual private companies is largely due to the collective broadcast rights deal negotiated by the Premier League. In the 2016-2017 season all 20 Premier League clubs set a revenue record due to a three-year domestic broadcast rights deal with Sky and BT Sport worth £5.1 billion over three seasons. An international rights deal worth another £3 billion over the same period added to the pot.

Each of the 20 Premier League clubs at the time got around £80.4 million from domestic and international TV income and central commercial sponsorship. In addition, each club gets a sum of £1,931,268 per place in the table. So Arsenal, the top-placed club in our list at No 37 got £28,969,20, while Watford, the lowest-placed of the ten at No 249 received £13,518,876.

The full list of ten is:

  • Arsenal (sales £417.0 million; sales growth 19%; operating profit £122.2m)
  • Chelsea (sales £361.3 million; sales growth 10%; operating profit £35.1 million)
  • Middlesbrough (sales £314.5 million; sales growth 56%; operating profit £37.8 million)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (sales £306.3 million; sales growth 46%; operating profit £84.8 million)
  • West Ham United (sales £183.3 million; sales growth 29%; operating profit £56.8 million)
  • Everton (sales £171.3 million; sales growth 41%; operating profit £25 million)
  • Crystal Palace (sales £143.7 million; sales growth 41%; operating profit £10.7 million)
  • West Bromwich Albion (sales £137.9; sales growth 40%; operating profit £26.7 million)
  • AFC Bournemouth (sales £136.5 million; sales growth 55%; operating profit £16.1 million)
  • Watford (sales £123.9 million; sales growth 31%; operating profit £13.7 million)

AFC Bournemouth, despite having the smallest ground in the Premier League, with a capacity of 11,360, saw turnover increase 55% to £136.5 million in 2017, while profits climbed 222%, taking it to No 232 in our list.

At Watford, broadcasting money boosted revenues 31% to £123.9 million in 2017, when the club finished one place above relegation. Watford have played in the top flight since 2014.

Merseyside-based Everton are the fifth fastest-growing club on our list, coming in at No 168. Founder members of the Football League in 1888, Everton hold the record for most seasons spent in the game’s top division and have been ever present since the Premier League was formed in 1992. Despite this, the club has existed in the shadow of neighbours Liverpool FC, one of two truly established global brands in English football, alongside Manchester United. Everton’s 41% rise in turnover and fivefold increase in profits indicates it means business.

The business of sport has changed in recent years - creating new opportunities as well as new threats. In this environment, sporting organisations are now exposed to decisions that are more complex, more commercial, more multidisciplinary and more high-profile than ever before. With that said, very few organisations put enough emphasis in improving their corporate governance structures.

The purpose of good governance is to facilitate effective, entrepreneurial and prudent management that can deliver the long-term success of an organisation.

This is supported by findings from our recent Planning for growth1 research where we surveyed 1000 high growth businesses and found that 24% of these organisations include governance within their top five investment priorities.

It is therefore clear that sporting organisations need to begin thinking more strategically about improving their governance structures to improve and safeguard the value they’ve created over the years.

This need for a new approach is evident with Sports England’s introduction of a Sports Governance Code2. The code introduced in April 2017 requires levels of transparency, accountability and financial integrity for any sports organisations looking for government and National Lottery funding.

The approach is tiered but it does apply to organisations regardless of size and sector, with a proportionate level of governance required based on funding. The code prioritises:

  • increased skills and diversity in decision-making, with a target of at least 30% gender diversity on boards.
  • greater transparency, for example publishing more information on the structure, strategy and financial position of the organisation.
  • constitutional arrangements that give boards the prime role in decision-making.

In the corporate world, good governance has been shown to improve organisational performance, reduce risks, and secure more sustainable growth. There are valuable lessons here for those running clubs in the highly commercial environment football clubs now operate in.

For more information, or to discuss in more detail, please contact Tom Moon.

References

  1. Planning for growth: Don’t let uncertainty hold your business back
  2. Sport England, A code for sports governance

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