Waiting for the revolution to happen: Analysis of THFC’s financial results for the 2014/15 season

ACF Fiorentina v Tottenham Hotspur FC - UEFA Europa League Round of 32

Where are they now? Spurs 2014/15 vintage. Via Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday published its accounts covering the 2014/15 campaign, and there are a number of points of interest for fans.

In the previous set of accounts, the club recorded a stonking £80 million pre-tax profit, in large part due to the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid. This year’s financial statement marks a return to normalcy — Spurs is a fundamentally profitable football club, as the pre-tax profit of £12 million shows.

While healthy, the accounts reflect the transitional season the club had on the pitch in the 2014/15 campaign. It was yet another new dawn for Spurs, with Mauricio Pochettino taking charge after the debacle of the Tim Sherwood appointment.

For the first half of the season, it appeared like it could be another false dawn — once again, the big names in the squad, including some of those purchased with the Bale money, failed to contribute as much as they should. But then, things started to change — Pochettino turned to youth, Harry Kane emerged, we beat Chelsea 5-3, and the future of the club fundamentally changed.

With the accounts ending in June 2015, the good times are yet to show on the bottom line. Future statements will be boosted by our strong league campaign in 2015/16, Champions League football and whatever else is in store for this Tottenham 2.0 that has emerged.

This accounts speak to how far the club has come since last summer. It seems such a long time ago, doesn’t it? All that angst over the lack of a defensive midfielder, players like Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele seemingly on the way out, a shortage of striking options (OK, so not everything has changed).

Meanwhile, flat match-day revenues and commercial income far behind the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal are a reminder of how far we still have to go. A season-ticket waiting list of 50,000 illustrates just how desperate the club is to get the new stadium built.

Below are a few notes from the accounts. I welcome feedback and any insight you can give me on some of the more technical aspects.

 

Revenue — AIA deal kicks in

Spurs revenue

The club has changed the way it accounts for revenues, making UEFA prize money a separate category and altering what is allocated as commercial income and match-day income. I’m sure there were good reasons for doing this, but it makes comparisons — both with previous years and to other clubs — harder.

Commercial revenue grew from £43.3 million to £59.9 million, in large part due to the start of the shirt sponsorship deal with AIA. This deal is reportedly worth £16 million per year, and runs for five seasons. Merchandising revenue grew from £11 million to £12.3 million.

Match-day revenues were £41.2 million, down slightly from £42.4 million in 2014. Premier League match-day revenues were £22.3 million — in 2014 they were £22.4 million. With season ticket prices frozen and White Hart Lane almost always sold out in the Premier League, this segment will remain flat until Spurs complete the new stadium.

Champions League qualification may allow the club to take in a little more on the gate — but that won’t show up until the accounts after next (so in two years).

The share of the Premier League TV pot was up by £1 million as we finished fifth, as opposed to sixth. Next season, that share should be considerably higher — we will be shown more on UK TV due to our involvement in the title race, which means more in “facility fees”, and our performance-related payment will be higher as we should finish at least third. The new Premier League TV deal kicks in next season, so again this won’t show up until the accounts published in two years time.

In both commercial terms, and match-day terms, Spurs remain an absolute mile behind some competitors. Liverpool, for example, reported commercial income of £116.4 million in their last accounts — approaching double what Spurs achieved. Liverpool’s matchday revenue was also considerably higher, at £59 million, compared to our £41.9 million.

We are punching above our weight, massively.

 

Player trading — a return to pragmatism

There was an “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” feel to the club’s transfer activity after the Gareth Bale sale and Franco Baldini’s trolley dash the previous year.

It many ways, it was a return to the “pragmatic player trading” that Daniel Levy has adopted throughout his tenure in charge of the club. Spurs hunted for value in the market, and sought to extract top rates when selling players.

The hunt for value is hard, and there will be hits and misses: it turned out Federico Fazio was cheaper than Mateo Musacchio for a reason, likewise Benji Stambouli vis-a-vis Morgan Schneiderlin. But there were also huge successes: Dele Alli and Eric Dier cost around £9 million combined, value for the bromance alone.

Outgoing, Spurs managed to bring in good fees for the likes of Jake Livermore, Michael Dawson, Kyle Naughton, Sandro and Zeki Fryers (Palace no doubt regret that one).

There is no detail on the deal that saw Michel Vorm and Ben Davies move to Spurs from Swansea, with Gylfi Sigurdsson and a certain amount of cash going the other way. FC Utrecht have referred Swansea to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over this deal, arguing they were due a sell-on fee.

Profit on player sales (or, disposal of intangible assets, as it is termed) was nominally £21.2 million, compared with £104 million in 2014. This figure isn’t however particularly helpful due to the way clubs account for transfers — I’ll explain this in detail at the bottom for those who are interested.

 

Wages — Keeping close controlSpurs wages

The amount spent on wages was virtually flat in the past year, at £100.8 million compared with £100.4 million in 2014.

With revenues up, this means Spurs spent 51.4 percent of its turnover on wages, down from 55.6 percent. This is the lowest it has been since 2008, when it dipped down to 46.1 percent. This “wages-to-turnover” ratio is an indicator of how efficiently a club (or any business) is run.

I will be interested to see how the wage bill develops in the next accounts. Per the post balance sheet events, a lot of high earners — Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Aaron Lennon — will soon come off the books. The replacements have generally been younger, and therefore cheaper.

Wages-to-turnover is also an important number in the context of the financing for the new stadium.

In the Viability Report for the scheme, produced by KPMG, the club appears to set a target for wages-to-turnover of 45 percent. (It actually states “player costs”, which I read to be wages but not transfers). If the club can get below this, the “internal rate of return” — a measure for rate of return for investors — could increase.

How realistic is this? In 2008, Spurs came very close with wages-to-turnover of 46.1 percent — but since then, wages for Premier League footballers have soared. For Arsenal, the only other club to have gone through a similarly large stadium project, one imagines a similar target was in place. In 2007, the first year at the Emirates, their wages-to-turnover was 51 percent. This dipped to 49 percent in 2008, and 46 percent in 2009. But since then it has increased — it hit 64 percent in 2013, the last year of the “old” TV deal.

Next year, I’d expect Spurs’ wage bill to be lower, improving the ratio further. The following year, the next TV deal kicks and we should have Champions League football, so greater revenues offer more scope for wage rises and the addition of big contracts to the books. We may alse be playing in a bigger stadium, although any additional income may be offset by rent for either Wembley or the Olympic Stadium. The year after that, we (hopefully) will be in the new stadium, with far higher matchday revenue.

Nonetheless, a wages-to-turnover ratio of 45 percent is very low — most Premier League clubs are between 55 and 65 percent.

This isn’t to say Spurs will fall into the sea and disappear if the club doesn’t hit the 45 percent target — it’s just one number. But it is something to keep in mind, particularly during transfer windows when the clamour to add to the squad is at its strongest. There will be funds, and room in the budget, to add quality and make sure our rising stars are paid what they deserve. But there will be limits.

 

Stadium and staff — A holding pattern

In the previous financial year, the club spent £19 million on the new stadium scheme, bringing total spending to £59 million. The money was spent on professional fees and “enabling works” — preparing the site for construction.

A lot has happened since June 30th, and one imagines the next accounts will show a considerably higher spend. The club secured planning permission from Haringey Council in December, and is pushing ahead with groundworks while the project crawls through the approvals process.

Daniel Levy recently stated that the club was now functioning as essentially two businesses — the football club, and the stadium project. He also noted that there were now around 70 people working full-time on the stadium side.

The headcount does not fully reflect this. Staff employed has increased from 380 to 399 (this is measured as the average number of employees through the year). Administrative staff have increased by eight, commercial staff by seven, while football staff was up by four. The “stadium” team may have been expanded since June 30, or involves existing staff.

I recently wrote in some detail about headcounts at Premier League clubs — it appeared to offer another useful, if crude, gauge of how efficient some clubs were (or weren’t).

For example, Aston Villa’s headcount rose from 496 to 535 in the past year, and its wage bill rose 21 percent. Spurs kept its headcount below 400, and even though the number of staff did increase by 19, the wage bill remained flat. Spurs is a tight ship, in comparison to a lot of Premier League clubs.

It should be noted, one area where remuneration did increase was in the boardroom. The amount paid to directors rose from £3.60 million to £4.33 million. Daniel Levy (assuredly the highest paid director) saw his pay packet increase from £2.17 million to £2.61 million. In the world of executive pay, the only way is up.

 

One-off costs — higher than expected redundancy pay-outs

One area that has puzzled me is the amount paid out in “redundancy costs and onerous employment contracts”.

In the previous year, in which Andre Villas-Boas and his backroom staff was sacked, the amount paid out was £4.66 million. This year, the amount has risen to to £6.49 million.

“Tactics” Tim Sherwood would have been due a payout when he was replaced six months into an 18 month contract. The club also paid off the remainder of Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s contract. But I can’t see how that adds up to £6.49 million.

In the notes explaining why costs had risen from £154.1 million to £162.4 million, one of the reasons stated was “recognition of onerous contracts”. This is interesting phrasing, due to the fact that it didn’t state redundancy costs.

One wonders if, as well as Assou-Ekotto, some of the other players who were frozen out were treated as “onerous” — perhaps Emmanuel Adebayor? I would have expected Adebayor’s pay-off to be included in the next accounts as he left the club in September 2015, but perhaps the club had already begun the process of writing him off as an asset (as well as a footballer) before the end of June 2015, essentially taking the hit early in a profitable year.

I’d welcome any explanations for this — it may well be that I’m missing something obvious.

Some other notes

  • The club has net debt of £20.3 million. In the prior year, it had net cash of £3.2 million. This figure is going to look quaint in years to come, with borrowing of at least £350 million lined up for the stadium
  • There has been no significant change in ownership of the club. ENIC has marginally increased its stake, from 85.46 percent to 85.55 percent. As far as I am aware, the next largest shareholder remains Lord Ashcroft, who those interested in British politics will know…
  • The section explaining how costs rose from £154.1 million to £162.4 million contained another interesting comment. As well as “recognition of onerous contracts” and “underlying growth of the club as we move towards the new stadium”, it also points to “post-season tour costs”. I for one would be interested to know how much this post-season tour brought in revenue-wise, or whether it is part of the AIA sponsorship deal. It all felt very unnecessary, footballing wise.

Thanks for reading, comments welcome. A note on player trading is below, Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

 

A guide to player trading in Premier League club accounts

When a player is sold, the full amount is booked immediately. But when a player is bought, that expenditure is spread over the length of a contract — this is known as amortisation.

So for example, take Paulinho: he was bought for £17 million and signed a four-year contract. Spurs sold him two years later for around £10 million.

Instead of booking a £17 million cost when they purchased Paulinho, Spurs will write down that £17 million over the length of his contract — so in Paulinho’s case, £4.25 million per year for four years.

In accounting terms, the “value” of Paulinho will decrease by that same amount through the course of his four-year contract. In his first year, his value in the accounts is £12.75 million (so £17 million less one year of amortisation), in his second year, its is £8.5 million. In his third year, it is £4.25 million, and zero in the final year.

When a club calculates profit from a player sale, it deducts the remaining value in accounts from the cash sale amount.

So when Spurs sold Paulinho after two years for £10 million, in cash terms Spurs have lost £7 million on the initial £17 million fee. But in accounting terms, you deduct the remaining value in accounts — in Paulinho’s case, £8.5 million — from the £10 million sale fee, and Spurs have actually made a profit of £1.5 million.

If that makes your head spin, join the club. But making £1.5 million is so much more fun that losing £7 million, so there we have it.

(Thanks to @sumeer1000 for checking my figures. As he points out, you also need to factor in agent fees, so Spurs may actually have capitalised more than £17 million. For more on this, read any of Swiss Ramble’s analysis of Premier League accounts — it is a repeated point of emphasis.)

The next accounts will make for interesting reading — four of the seven Bale money signings were sold, all for cash losses. However, with the magic of amortisation, all bar Roberto Soldado should show (agent fees permitting) an accounting profit. The profit on player sales may be somewhat higher than expected next season, even though, in cash terms, Spurs’ net spend has basically been zero.

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