It is exactly 20 years since Arsenal took the momentous decision to buy an industrial and waste disposal estate in Ashburton Grove. Arsene Wenger and David Dein had almost certainly never heard of Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour or Stan Kroenke at that moment but, for all the subsequent financial transformation of English football by billionaire owners, one consequence of that decision has remained unchanged.
Arsenal’s business model and entire plan to become one of Europe’s “super clubs” rests more heavily on its stadium and matchLeague day revenues than just about any other. It has provided a solid foundation for one of the highest wage bills in British football. In the long term, it will also protect Arsenal against a drop in wider income from the Premier League’s broadcast deal. Yet it is also why Arsenal, among English football’s elite, will be most affected by the potential absence of match-day fans until the end of the season.
Arsenal are forecast to lose £122.7million for the period between the start of lockdown in March and next May. That is more than £40million more than Chelsea and almost £50million more than Manchester City. That may well have influenced staff redundancies earlier this year.
More than 10 English Football League and National League clubs could go bust after the return of fans in those divisions was scrapped, a leading football finance expert has warned.
Kieran Maguire, a lecturer in the subject at the University of Liverpool, made the grim forecast after publishing data showing every club in the Championship and all but two in the Premier League would have made operating losses in the season before last had they been deprived of match-day income.
Data also showed all but seven sides in League One, five in League Two and three in the National League – many of which do not file detailed accounts – lost money in the same season.
Charlton, Wigan, Oldham and Southend have all previously been identified as being at risk of going to the wall, even before the coronavirus crisis struck, while Gillingham chairman Paul Scally yesterday warned his own club could do so by Christmas if supporters remained locked out of grounds.
Maguire said: “There is a danger of a trickle becoming far more than a trickle. Potentially, we could be hitting double figures. If you take a look at the worst years pre-financial fair play, we were seeing around 2003, 2004, seven, eight, nine clubs going into administration, partly on the back of ITV Digital’s collapse.
“What we are facing at present is a far greater, far more universal hit to the professional sport sector. How can clubs in the National League survive if they can’t play matches in front of a paying audience when 60 per cent or more of their money comes through the turnstiles?”
Maguire warned that the bitter battle for the ownership of Charlton put them at particular risk.
“Charlton’s very worrying because there’s presently an injunction against the person that wants to buy the club and somebody else who wants to buy the club who has been rejected by the EFL,” he said.
But he said no club were beyond rescue provided they had, or found, an owner “willing and able to cover the losses” caused by the pandemic.