Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wolves' Premier League Gamble

There are many aspects of this season’s Premier League that have made it one of the least predictable for a long time, not least the battle to avoid relegation, which is shaping up for a thrilling finale. Despite memorable home victories against reigning champions Chelsea and league leaders Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers find themselves firmly ensconced in this struggle.

Last season Wolves finished in a very creditable 15th place, which was a superb achievement for the team’s first season back in the top flight after winning the Championship the previous year. In fact, this represented the club’s highest league position in 30 years and was the first time that Wolves had survived a season at the highest level since 1981.

Nevertheless, the club is now experiencing the classic second season syndrome, which has been exacerbated this year by the promotion of more experienced, wealthier clubs like Newcastle United and local rivals West Bromwich Albion. Sixteen defeats in 29 games have left Wolves languishing second from bottom of the Premier League, albeit only two points adrift from safety.

"Kevin Doyle - good bet to score"

Better news for the club came a couple of weeks ago, when chief executive Jez Moxey announced that Wolves had recorded an impressive £9 million profit on their return to the Premier League in 2009/10. On the face of it, the contrast between results on and off the pitch could not have been much starker, but the club’s financial success was not greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm by the fans, as this provided little consolation for being in the relegation zone. Questions were asked about whether some of that surplus should have been invested in a couple more players in the January transfer window in order to give the team a better chance of remaining in the top tier.

In fairness, this is Wolves’ most successful period for quite a while. Since 1984 the club has only spent three seasons in the top flight, one solitary year back in 2003/04 and two including the current season after the 2009 promotion, which marked the West Midlanders’ return to the Premier League after a six-year absence.

Paradoxically, this still feels like a big club, as it has a commendable roll of honour, including three league titles, though all of those came at least 50 years ago, and four FA Cup wins. Wolves were among the founder members of the Football League and were even more influential in the 1950s, when Stan Cullis’s exciting team staged a series of floodlit matches against top European opposition, which arguably paved the way for the introduction of the European Cup.

These days, even though they have played some attractive football this season, Wolves’ dazzling displays have been largely confined to their financial statements. Although it has almost become a truism that football clubs will be burdened by large levels of debt, Wolverhampton Wanderers are a glittering exception to this rule, and they are now in the happy position of being debt-free. In fact, after paying off bank loans of £3 million, the club is the envy of many others, as it is sitting on considerable surplus funds of £26 million, even generating interest for the last three years.

Indeed, Wolves have been in a very healthy financial state ever since Steve Morgan took over in 2007, when he bought the club for a nominal £10 fee from Sir Jack Hayward, though he also had to pledge a guaranteed £30 million investment. This was duly provided by the club’s parent company, W.W. (1990) Ltd, increasing its issued share capital by £30 million, which was fully paid up by Morgan (25%) and his investment company Carden Leisure Ltd (75%), a subsidiary of Bridgemere Investments Ltd, based in Guernsey.

Clearly, the fans owe Hayward a great deal for his generosity, as he wrote off well over £70 million when he effectively gifted the ownership of his beloved club to Morgan. A lifelong Wolves supporter, Hayward stayed close to his roots, even though he became a multi-millionaire running a business empire from his home in the Bahamas. He financed the redevelopment of the Molineux stadium in order to meet new government regulations in the early 1990s and provided a succession of managers with substantial funds to spend on the squad during his 17 year tenure, though he once famously complained that he was being milked like a “golden tit”.

"Sir Jack Hayward - old gold"

In his place, Wolves now have Steve Morgan, the chairman and founder of house builders Redrow, who has been listed as Britain’s 146th wealthiest individual in the Sunday Times Rich List. Despite an estimated fortune of £350 million, Morgan set out his stall early doors after he made the investment into the club, “It is intended that the new capital, over a period of time, will be used to help re-establish Wolves as a Premiership club. Although this is a significant amount of money, there will not be an ‘open cheque book’ approach to signing players. Instead the club will build on the current strategy of steadily and progressively developing a team of young, hungry and talented players.”

So, steady as she goes has been the mantra, which was once again echoed this year by Moxey, “Our financial results reflect the successful balance the Club struck between sound financial management and continuing investment in players and off the pitch infrastructure.” Indeed, the “3Ms” (Morgan, Moxey and manager Mick McCarthy) have placed stability at the centre of their strategy with the entire management team singing from the same song sheet.

Moxey explained their ethos, “We don't press the panic button at difficult times. We stick together as a club. We will show the stability we have had in recent years and look to move the club forward once more.” McCarthy for one is grateful for this support, believing that the backing he has received from the board has played a crucial role in the team’s recent mini resurgence.

"Matt Jarvis - close to an England call-up"

Nevertheless, every strategy needs to set an over-riding objective and Wolves’ is clearly outlined in the accounts, which state that the club’s “primary aim is to retain its Premier League status.” This is eminently understandable, but the lack of investment in new players in January suggests that they are taking a bit of a gamble that the current, relatively cheap squad will be good enough to beat the drop. They certainly have enough money to have purchased, say, a commanding central defender in January, which might just have made all the difference in the crucial last few games.

Funnily enough, you could argue that Wolves gambled financially in the other direction the year before, when they spent almost all of their turnover on wages and recorded a £5 million loss, in an attempt to secure promotion from the Championship. Obviously, that bet paid off handsomely, as Wolves reached the riches of the Premier League, but it could just as easily have failed in that ultra-competitive division.

That said, Wolves’ last few seasons in the Championship were remarkably consistent, at least in terms of financial performance, with the net result remaining in a narrow range of a £3 million profit and £5 million loss, suggesting that this is one club that strives to balance its books.

Therefore, it should probably come as no great surprise that the club made a profit in the Premier League with its far more lucrative TV deal, but the £9 million profit is still worthy of praise, given that only three other clubs have to date announced profits for 2009/10, namely Arsenal, Birmingham City and Burnley, with the rest all revealing hefty losses (though not all clubs have published their results yet for last season).

In fact, Wolves’ cash profit is even higher than the accounting profit with EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxation, Depreciation and Amortisation) of £21 million, not including profits on player sales of £4 million. Player disposals have not had a major impact on Wolves’ finances over the last few years with the peak year of 2007 only standing at £6 million, largely due to the transfer of Joleon Lescott to Everton. Interestingly, the 2009/10 results were boosted by the sell-on fee received following Lescott’s subsequent move to Manchester City.

Furthermore, the reported profit of £9 million has been held back by an accelerated depreciation charge of £6 million, which was booked as a result of the decision to redevelop Molineux, because this has shortened the economic life of the North and East stands. If this exceptional item were to be excluded, the profit before tax would have been a remarkable £15 million.

So how did Wolves convert a £5 million loss in the Championship to a £9 million profit in the Premier League?

The waterfall chart above explains this very clearly with green columns indicating an improvement in profit, while red columns show a deterioration. Basically, revenue has significantly increased by £42 million, very largely due to the central broadcasting deal, but this has been partially off-set by £28 million higher costs, mainly due to investment in the playing squad (wages and amortisation).

The financial benefits of being in the Premier League are evident with the huge uplift in revenue from £18 million to £61 million. As we have seen, the vast majority (£37 million) of the growth comes from television, but the other revenue streams have also increased. Gate receipts were up 43% from £7 million to £10 million, thanks to average attendances rising from 24,153 to 28,366, while commercial revenue also gained £2 million, mainly due to the enhanced value of the main sponsorship agreement with Sportingbet.

In the Championship, revenue fell from £24 million in 2005 and 2006 to £16 million in 2007, as that was the year that parachute payments following relegation from the Premier League ceased. On the other hand, revenue rose to £18 million in 2008, primarily due to the receipt of a £1.4 million solidarity payment from the Premier League, which was introduced to assist clubs that do not benefit from parachute payments. Revenue was maintained at the same level in 2009, even though the solidarity payment fell to £0.7 million, based on the club’s lower finishing position.

Despite Wolves’ notable revenue growth last season, their annual turnover of £61 million still leaves them in the bottom half of the Premier League in terms of revenue. To place this into context, when Wolves beat Manchester United 2-1 last month, they overcame a team whose revenue of £286 million is nearly five times as much as theirs. That’s a huge difference, especially when it’s repeated every season. That said, Wolves’ revenue does compare favourably with a number of clubs who have successfully competed in the top tier, such as Sunderland £65 million, Birmingham City £56 million and Bolton Wanderers £54 million, so they’re not completely disadvantaged.

Like virtually all clubs in the Premier League, the majority (64%) of Wolves’ income comes from TV, though this is far from the highest dependency with Wigan leading the way at 81%. Again, Wolves’ £39 million is nowhere near as much as the top clubs earn, mainly due to the money those teams earn from the Champions League, e.g. Manchester United receive an incredible £105 million. Almost all of Wolves’ television money comes from the Premier League’s sale of TV rights with the likes of Rupert Murdoch and other media moguls contributing nearly £36 million last season.

The distribution of the Premier League TV revenue is therefore of particular interest to a club like Wolves. Most of this is shared out equally, namely 50% of the domestic rights and 100% of the overseas rights, but not all of the money is allocated in this manner. Merit payments account for 25% of the domestic rights with each place in the final league table being worth around £800,000, which can make a big difference to some clubs. In addition, the remaining 25% of the domestic TV rights comes from the facility fee, which is based on how many times Sky broadcast a club’s matches live. Last season Wolves were shown the guaranteed minimum of 10 times, which was worth £6 million, while Manchester United were broadcast the maximum 24 times, which gave them £13 million.

Given the importance of the broadcasting revenue, the timing of new Premier League deals is particularly meaningful. The latest three-year contract commenced this season and will be worth an additional £7-10 million per annum to each club, largely thanks to the steep increase in overseas rights, once again emphasising the need for Wolves to preserve their place at the top table.

In a way, gate receipts are similar to TV revenue in that they have significantly grown after promotion, but are still not particularly high for a Premier League club at just £10 million. To place that into context, both Manchester United and Arsenal earn over £100 million a year from match day income. It should be noted that gate receipts are not exactly the same as match day income, but any re-classification from Wolves’ commercial revenue would not make a dramatic difference.

Attendances at Molineux have held up pretty well, considering the high unemployment rates in the West Midlands, which has traditionally relied on the ailing manufacturing industry to create jobs. In fact, last season’s attendances climbed 17% to stand at 28,366, which was the 12th highest in the Premier League, only surpassed by Aston Villa among neighbouring clubs, and meant that 97% of the ground’s capacity was filled.

This is particularly impressive, given that Wolves’ ticket prices are among the highest in the country. According to data from Sporting Intelligence, Wolves have the sixth most expensive entry level season tickets, ahead of Manchester United, though it should be acknowledged that most fans take advantage of “early bird” prices, so pay considerably less than the published price. The club also run a number of other pricing schemes to encourage fans, such as the occasional family special (“Wolves 4 Family Football”), which gives a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) entry to Molineux for just £40.

Nevertheless, a survey of football fans last year by Virgin Money suggested that over 50% of Wolves’ supporters were considering not renewing their season tickets, which was only behind the level of discontent exhibited at Manchester United, which is something of a special case due to the Green and Gold campaign against the Glazers, so the pricing strategy is probably not perfect.

"Steven Fletcher - he's a record breaker"

The current season is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of crowd figures. Having increased the capacity to 29,195 by reinstating a temporary stand in the south-west corner of the stadium, Wolves recorded their highest attendance ever at the new Molineux of 29,086 for last month’s 4-0 demolition of Blackpool. On the other hand, the average attendance has fallen 3.6% to 27,346, though Wolves are far from alone in experiencing such a trend, as more than half of the top 12 clubs have suffered the same fate.

In such an environment, it would be a courageous man that announces plans to redevelop the stadium to increase the capacity, but that is exactly what Morgan has just done. The chairman himself described this step as a “brave and decisive leap forward”, but explained the rationale behind the decision, “The aim is to drive the club forwards at all levels and to ensure that we put our team in the best possible position to compete at the highest level. To do that we need the best possible facilities at Molineux.”

Supported by the local council, the plan could ultimately increase the stadium capacity from 29,000 to 50,000, though as you might expect given Wolves’ financial prudence, the project has been broken down into a number of phases to enable the club to “pause and reflect” if required.

"Project Molineux - grounds for optimism"

Phase One is scheduled to begin at the end of the current season with the redevelopment of the Stan Cullis (North) Stand. A new two-tier stand with 7,700 seats, including new corporate facilities, a megastore and a museum will be built in its place and should be open for the start of the 2012/13 season, increasing Molineux’s capacity to 31,700. This will cost £16 million, but will be funded from existing cash flow, so no additional debt will be taken on, but might provide an explanation of why the club’s profits are apparently being hoarded, especially as there will be revenue shortfalls with capacity dropping to 23,995 during the construction.

Phase Two will see the Steve Bull (East) Stand being rebuilt over a two season period (2012/13 and 2013/14), scheduled to be ready for the start of the 2014/15 season, increasing the capacity to 36,000 and taking the total project cost to £40 million.

"George Elokobi - a big old unit"

Subject to league position and supporter demand, Phase Three would add a top tier to the Jack Harris (South) Stand, growing capacity to 38,000, but this stage has not yet been costed. Plans have also been drafted for a potential Phase Four, when the Billy Wright (West) Main Stand would be completely redeveloped, increasing capacity to a magical 50,000.

The main objective is clearly to generate more revenue, not just through more bums on seats, but an expansion in the number of corporate boxes, a new banqueting hall and seminar rooms. The hope would be to replicate the Emirates effect, which has increased Arsenal’s match day income from £44 million in their last season at Highbury to around £100 million today. However, there are other advantages too, as an increase in capacity will give the club a better chance to attract the fans of the future by offering reduced price tickets to children and more family days than they can at present. This is smart thinking, as once a club has got a fan (customer) hooked, it’s unlikely he will switch his allegiance at a later date.

"Stephen Hunt - hair we go"

Of course, it’s not as easy as that, otherwise all clubs would be redeveloping their grounds, and there is normally a price to pay for investing in the infrastructure. Although Morgan has stated that the project will not be at the expense of sensible investment in new players, there has to be some concern that this will be a difficult balance to get right. It’s no coincidence that Arsène Wenger’s parsimonious policy started after the move to the Emirates and the consequent substantial increase in Arsenal’s debt.

There also have to be some misgivings over whether the full grandiose plan would come to fruition if the unthinkable were to happen and Wolves were relegated. Chief executive Jez Moxey has claimed that retaining Premier League status was never a “must” for the project to go ahead, but I somehow doubt that it would progress much beyond Phase One if the club were to find itself in the Championship.

Wolves have also done reasonably well in commercial revenue, managing to grow both their deals for shirt sponsorship and kit suppliers. Although their revenue of £11 million is a long way behind the “Sky Six” (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham), it’s more or less at the same level as the next tier of clubs.

Like many other clubs, Wolves are sponsored by an online gambling firm in the shape of Sportingbet, whose four-year deal runs until the end of the 2012/13 season and is worth £1.1 million a year, up from £0.9 million the previous season. It is impossible to imagine Wolves securing a deal of the magnitude of Liverpool and Manchester United (£20 million a season), but increasing the money received to £2-3 million is plausible, provided that the club becomes a fixture in the Premier League. Similarly, Wolves announced the biggest kit deal in their history last April, reportedly worth £3 million, after replacing Le Coq Sportif with Swiss clothing brand BURRDA for three years.

However, the accounts point out that trading costs have also increased in line with commercial sales. In fact, total expenditure (including player amortisation and depreciation) has almost doubled in the Premier League from £29 million to £56 million.

Nowhere is the impact on Wolves’ costs of promotion more evident than wages, which have shot up from £17 million to £30 million, an increase of almost 80%, though the important wages to turnover ratio has actually significantly fallen from a worrying 92% to a very respectable 49%, which is one of the best statistics in the Premier League, only bettered by Manchester United. It is obvious that Wolves pay a lot of attention to this key expense, as wages growth was minimal in the Championship, though an injection of money in the last season there did not harm the club’s promotion prospects.

Even with the large increase in salaries, Wolves have one of the lowest wage bills in the top tier with only two clubs below them and one of those (Stoke City) has yet to announce its 2009/10 results, so the chances are that in reality only Burnley spent less on wages last season. Of course, these accounts are nearly a year out of date, closing on 31 May 2010, so Wolves’ current wages are almost certainly a fair bit higher, after bringing in new players and extending the contracts of others like Wayne Hennessy, Kevin Foley and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake on better terms.

The wages league table suggests that there is a high degree of correlation between wages and success on the pitch with the top four places being occupied by Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal, but it is no guarantee of success – just look at Portsmouth. That said, there is surely a happy balance to be found between Pompey’s spendthrift approach and Wolves’ extreme caution.

This is the crux of the matter for Wolves’ fans. After all, it’s remarkably easy for a newly promoted club to make a solid profit in the Premier League, as the jump in revenue is so stratospheric. As we have seen, even if the costs are doubled, there is still a healthy surplus available. Of course, it’s equally easy to spend like a demented lottery winner and make a thumping great loss. The challenge is to find that elusive balance of spending sensibly, while not compromising the team’s performance on the pitch.

In fairness, Wolves managed to achieve that last season, but one of the directors, presumably the chief executive Jez Moxey, was richly rewarded for his efforts, as the accounts reveal that the highest paid director received £1.1 million last year, a hefty £515,000 increase on the previous year’s £600,000. That’s not quite as much as Messrs. Gill and Gazidis at Manchester United and Arsenal, but, then again, they are running significantly larger businesses.

"Jez Moxey - keeping the wolves from the door"

Similar to wages, player amortisation has grown a lot, at least in percentage terms, but the £9 million expense is still far behind most of Wolves’ Premier League rivals, who are “paying” for the transfer excesses of previous years. For the uninitiated, amortisation is an “accounting” expense, which occurs as the result of transfer purchases. When a player is bought, the cost is capitalised as an intangible fixed asset and amortised (written-off) over the length of his contract. This means that the costs of buying a player are not fully reflected in the books in the year of purchase, but over time amortisation can have a real impact on the profit and loss account, e.g. Manchester City’s annual amortisation is an astonishing £71 million, and this expense is almost certain to increase again this year at Wolves.

So, rising amortisation would suggest that Wolves have spent some money on buying new players, which is indeed the case. After many years of frugality, the club has splashed out a fair amount of cash recently. OK, we’re not talking massive sums, but the relative change is striking. In the seven years up to 2008/09, Wolves’ net spend in the transfer market (purchases less sales) was just £2 million, but this has shot up to £29 million in the last two years.

That said, they have hardly gone crazy. Chairman Steve Morgan explained the club’s methodology, “What we’re about is getting really good quality players for value for money under the radar. We’ve had some incredibly astute buys in the past.” Indeed, most of the signings could be described as solid, rather than spectacular. Last summer, the newcomers featured Steven Fletcher, whose scoring record in the Premier League is not exactly scintillating, two recruits from relegated Hull City (Stephen Hunt and Steven Mouyokolo) and a couple of Belgians that were not called Steven (or any variant thereof).

Wolves have also made good use of the loan system, most recently securing the services of the dynamic Jamie O’Hara from Spurs, with Chelsea’s Michael Mancienne now on his third loan spell at Molineux.

Given this risk-averse approach, it might surprise some fans that Wolves have actually been among the biggest spenders in the last couple of years. Although there have been a few big money transfers, the majority of clubs have hung on to their cash, so Wolves’ net spend of £29 million during this period is actually the fourth highest in the Premier League, only behind Manchester City, Chelsea and Birmingham.

No wonder Morgan was dismissive of his detractors, “Anyone jumping down my throat, saying ‘we’re not buying players” is talking rubbish. We spent £18 million to make us the third highest spenders in the Premier League last summer, so we spent more than 17 other teams.” Furthermore, in that time, Wolves have twice broken their transfer record with the arrivals of Kevin Doyle for £6.5 million and Steven Fletcher for £7 million.

The club has also invested relatively high sums in its academy, including the £5 million state-of-the-art Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground, which includes a fully accredited sports laboratory, based on AC Milan’s famed Milanello facility. Morgan outlined this vision, “Developing home grown talent remains a key part of our strategy and the number of internationals within our academy ranks is an indication of the quality of players coming through.” Indeed, he believes that the current crop of youngsters is the best in years, maybe even on a par with famous youth players of the past, such as Robbie Keane and Joleon Lescott.

Such player development is important both on an off the pitch. Supporters love nothing more than home-grown talent doing the business for their team, but it’s also good business sense. As the club explained in the results announcement, such players do not appear on the balance sheet as assets, even though they have a significant value in the transfer market.

"Mick McCarthy - always looking on the bright side of life"

In fact, the value of all players is under-stated in the books, because of the accounting treatment. The reputable Transfermarkt web site has estimated the market value of Wolves’ squad to be £57 million, which is much higher than the £17 million included in the accounts. In spite of this artificially low valuation, Wolves’ balance sheet is still very strong with net assets of £70 million and net current assets of £20 million.

So what does the future hold for Wolves?

Well, it’s almost impossible to predict what will happen on then field, but financial projections are thankfully a little easier. In the case of Wolves, I think that we can confidently predict more of the same. Moxey told fans, “We will make a profit again this year, although not as much. We need to make a profit, because we also want to continue to invest in new players.” In other words, revenue will again rise, mainly due to the new TV deal, but costs will also grow, mainly for player investment.

"Karl Henry - likes a tackle"

Moxey re-iterated Wolverhampton Wanderers’ strategy, “We will not be irresponsible and fall into the dangerous trap of over-stretching the club.” This neatly summarised the heartfelt views of the owner, which he explained last year, “It’s important that this club is run for the long term. We want to be around and successful not just this year and next year, but in the future. And the only way you can do that is by managing things properly with a medium and long-term view. Two and two make four no matter what business you are in. You can’t keep hocking your future. It’s like pawning your family silver. Unfortunately, too many football clubs are spending too high a proportion of their income on meeting interest payments and paying wages that they can’t afford, and transfer fees which are unsustainable.”

Running a football club as a sustainable business should be lauded, but the nagging question remains: what would happen if the club were to be relegated?

The financial impact of relegation is identified as the club’s principal risk in the accounts, but the directors state that they would be able to “implement the necessary measures to ensure that the club can continue to operate successfully.” Moxey spelled this out, when he admitted that Wolves would have to sell players if they returned to the Championship, and you would also expect a club as financially shrewd as Wolves to have included clauses in their players’ contracts reducing salaries in the event of relegation.

"Jamie O'Hara - loan star"

Furthermore, the parachute payments paid to clubs dropping out of the Premier league have been increased to £48 million (£16 million in each of the first two years, £8 million in each of years three and four), but it should be noted that this would still represent a drastic reduction for Wolves. They can expect around £42 million distribution from the Premier League this year, so they would have to manage a £26 million decrease in their revenue, which would be a test to say the least.

Relegation is clearly a distinct possibility this season, with the points needed to survive probably higher than ever before, but the plan is to avoid being involved in such battles in future. Indeed, Steve Morgan said that is why they are redeveloping the ground, as he expects his club to become a permanent fixture in the top flight, “It’s more than a dream. I think it is a realistic target.”

If that hope becomes a reality, Wolves might even start challenging for a place in European competitions. They would certainly be well placed to handle the forthcoming UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations, which will force clubs to live within their means, if they are to be allowed to compete in Europe.

"Steve Morgan - building confidence"

Morgan has clearly cast a glance in their direction, as he revealed when commenting on the Torres and Carroll transfers: “To be honest, I think it's nuts and I don't know how certain clubs are going to get through the fair play rules which kick in next season. It just can't be done with transfers like that. To clubs like Wolves, it's completely surreal. It clearly isn't a level playing field, when some clubs can literally throw telephone numbers around and others have to live within our budget.”

There’s no doubt that Steve Morgan is a smart cookie, but some have questioned his commitment, given that he is a Liverpool fan, who tried to buy the Reds in 2004, before arriving in the West Midlands. Morgan himself has stated that Wolves have always been his second team, because he grew up watching them win league titles and the FA Cup. Of course, that criterion could apply to many other teams, but affection for his adopted club does shine through his comments: “I remember the days when Wolves were the greatest club in the land and, although times have changed, we are going to do our best to take Wolves back to where they were.”

"Dances with Wolves"

First things first, the club absolutely has to avoid relegation in order for the strategy to remain on track. On paper, they have a great chance, as their run-in looks easier than their rivals, but the team still has to secure the points required.

Wolves’ performances on the pitch are currently lagging behind the financial results, and their prudent approach may yet come back to haunt them. While it might seem strange to describe a sensible financial strategy as a gamble, that’s exactly what it is in the unforgiving world of modern football, where money talks loudest. The league position at the end of the season will reveal whether it has paid off or not.


  1. Just one point - you mention the possibility of players leaving if we go down, the core of the team is the same as who we came up with - Hennessey, Berra, Stearman, Elokobi, Foley, Jarvis, Henry, Ebanks-Blake, and as such wont be on massive Premier League contracts. Also, the likes of Jarvis and Hennessey have 4 years left on their contracts so wont need to be sold unless the unless the club wants to.

    If we get relegated, how many seasons do you think we could afford in the Championship without promotion?

  2. Gamble my @rse - if Wolves go down, they sell the 'big' signings, reduce the wages of the rest and don't develop the full plan.

    So they're back to where they were a few years ago - a well-run club with as good a chance as any of being promoted.

    As a Wolves fan (who's just changed all the 'we' above to 'they'!), I'd rather be in that position than actually gambling by spending money we don't have and can never hope to earn. Challenging for Europe is 10 years away!

  3. @toomb,

    I was actually quoting Jez Moxey, who said players would leave if Wolves were relegated. This would partly be due to financial considerations, but also some players would want to stay in the Premier League, having experienced a couple of seasons at the higher level. I take your point that many players are on LT contracts, but it's difficult for clubs to hang onto a player if he really wants to go.

    I think Wolves would be fine financially in the Championship for at least a couple of seasons, thanks to the parachute payments. The challenge is whether they keep a relatively high wage bill to give them a better chance of bouncing back quickly. My guess is that they would, but it's an unpredictable, very competitive division, so there's no guarantee of success.

  4. @Anonymous (10:53),

    There's no disputing that Wolves are very well run financially. My reference to a gamble is all about whether this prudent strategy is enough to keep them in the Premier League. It clearly worked last season, but it's up in the air this year. Like you, I prefer to see clubs managed this way, but the quid pro quo is that it can harm the prospects on the pitch.

  5. Top class article.
    One look at the scroll bar told me i wouldnt read this, but as insightful and informative as it was here I am posting a comment.
    thanks for the read.

  6. Stability. A word mentioned often which can never be underestimated. If we do go down, we will be taking the finest team of players into the Championship in my 28 years as a fan.

    Even without the marquee names such as Doyle, Jarvis, Milijas and O'Hara, some of which I'm sure would stay to fight their way back, we would have both a team and manager perfectly placed to challenge for an immediate return. A completely different approach to that of 2004/2005 when the team were tired, demoralised, complacent and overpaid.

    I have complete faith in the current business plan, I have complete faith in McCarthy (even though he is sometimes liable to odd tactical failings) he easily gets the current players to over-perform week in and week out. I also have complete faith in Morgan, who is taking Haywards legacy and ensuring that whatever league we are in, we are extremely competitive within our means, and have a long-term plan for the future. A future which is bright, a future which is old gold.

  7. A gamble which is echoed in the transfer market.

    We have lost out on players to Portsmouth, Bolton and Fulham since promotion because we would not pay wages we could not afford. In Portsmouth's case this was especially obscene.

    Such an important few months for the team, safety this season and it won't just be Swiss Ramble noticing Wolves are back!

  8. Great article, good to get a clearer insight into the murky world of football finance.

    Proud of the way my club is being run.

    Let's hope the results mean we stay in the Premier.


  9. Great article again, very insightful. It seems to make little sense to me to have a large cash pile when the club is in a precarious position. You call this prudence but I am starting to think that there is darker motive here, such as Morgan getting the accounts in shape and preparing for a float (which would make him a large profit) or that he does not have much faith in MM to buy players.

    If you were looking to float the club or cash out some equity would you need to see any further improvement in the club's financial position?

  10. ColoradoWolf,

    How have you reached that conclusion when the club has committed to investing £16m of that cash pile on stadium redevelopment next season?

  11. Mr. Rambler. I have been a keen follower of your blog for quite some time now and, as a Wolves fan, I am clearly delighted that you have chosen to focus upon them!

    May I ask a slightly tangential question:

    Under the new Fifa Fair Play rules, am I right to assume that clubs will only be able to spend x% of their total revnue?

    If so, do you feel that stadium expansions are the most logical, albeit initially expensive, way to dramatically boost revenue?

  12. "Having increased the capacity to 29,195 by reinstating a temporary stand in the south-west corner of the stadium, Wolves recorded their highest attendance ever at the new Molineux of 29,086 for last month’s 4-0 demolition of Blackpool."

    The temp stand was reinstated last season not this - also the record attendance at the "new Molineux" (in reality just post ealry 90s redevelopment) was set in 2004: 29,396 to see a victory over Man Utd.

  13. Excellent insightful article, clearly written by someone who knows their stuff - one of the best I've read on wim Wolves in many years. Out of darkness cometh light :-}

  14. @Reality,

    In fairness, numerous sources list the record attendance at the "new Molineux" as the 29,086 recorded at the Blackpool match, including the club's own stadium announcer (!), but I bow to your superior knowledge, having checked on the the Wolves website. However, I never actually said that the temporary stand was reinstated this season - that is something you have inferred.

  15. @Anonymous (5:10),

    Under the new UEFA Fair Play rules, clubs have to live within their means, i.e. break-even, though wealthy owners are allowed to cover losses up to €45m in the initial monitoring period. Please note that this is only for those clubs that qualify for European competition and does not affect domestic leagues.

    Stadium expansion is a good way of boosting revenue, provided a club can: (a) finance the development; (b) attract bigger crowds. The other point is that expenditure incurred for expanding grounds is excluded from the Fair Play calculation.

    I have written in detail about the new rules on a few occasions:

  16. @ColoradoWolf,

    My guess is that there are two reasons for the cash pile: (1) Morgan is above all a businessman and really believes in running the club as a business; (2) it will be used for the stadium development.

    I would be fairly surprised if Wolves were to go down the flotation route. Morgan is already a very wealthy man, so I'm not sure that he needs the profit (and the accompanying aggravation).

  17. Enjoyable article as ever Swiss, I wasn't aware of their pretty ambitious stadium development plans, I have to say my perception of the club has changed.

    You're like the Anti-Karl Henry haha! ;-)

    Keep up the good work

  18. Those Fulham supporters who know the Jack Hayward story can only hope that our `golden tit' eventually does similarly. There are clearly huge temperamental and background differences, such that Sir Jack, to take a topical example, left Molineux blessedly free of waxworks of irrelevant, dodgy pop-stars. Still, right till the moment that he, nobly, waived it formally, the mountain of debt owed to him lay there perforce in the club's accounts, as that to Al Fayed does in Fulham's.

    The example Hayward then set confirmed that `debt' owed to chairmen should not to be confused with debt owed to banks -- probably.
    Once given their massive leg-up, Wolves have clearly become solid financial citizens. Good for them. Nowadays the ongoing operations at Fulham (daft waxworks apart) have become quite sensible too, but the ultimate degree of parallel, or not, with the Wolves benefactor experience remains to be seen.

  19. I'm still ecstatic that we stayed up - looks like it was a gamble that (just!) paid off!

  20. And now we are 13th in the Championship - unlucky for some :(

  21. 2 seasons on from when this article was written it is clear that Moxey's gamble has clearly not paid off. Our recent collapse in form also indicates a strong possibility of relegation to league 1.

    We got promoted in 2008/09 as champions and the momentum kept us up fairly comfortably in the 2009/10, however 2nd season 2010/11 when this article was written we got lucky and survived by the skin of our teeth climbing out of the relegation zone with a few minutes play remaining. 2011/12 was a complete shambles with Wolves recording their worst ever season in any division after sacking McCarthy much too late in the season and then appointing a complete novice manager just after Moxey had said this is no job for a novice. 2012/13 is now turning into a similar shambles in the Championship with a very strong possibility of relegation to league 1. A defeat to non-league Luton in this forthcoming weekend's FA Cup 3rd round tie does not seem a particularly unlikely outcome either.

    Jez Moxey is an extremely limited football CEO who only knows how to control costs and who himself gets paid a massive salary, reputedly around 5 times what Dan Ashworth was on at West Brom. If Moxey was any good then surely other clubs would be trying to lure him away. Sadly we have been stuck with him for 12 years now and there is still no end in sight.


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