From Rotherham to Wycombe Wanderers via Shrewsbury Town, Southend United and Tranmere Rovers: our third financial ramble

Here are the last five of the clubs in League One apart from Blackpool, Bolton, Bury and Sunderland, who will arrive presently, by which I mean when I get round to it.

As ever, visiting fans are welcome to post comments, corrections, updates and their thoughts on their and other clubs’ prospects for the season.

For earlier posts in this series try these links:

Clubs beginning A-L: Rambling through Accrington, Coventry and Ipswich to Lincoln. How do Sunderland’s rivals shape up financially?

Clubs from M (MK Dons) to R (Rochdale): From MK Dons to Rochdale via Oxford, Peterborough and Portsmouth: it’s a short financial ramble


The New York Stadium

Rotherham have had some yoyo years since moving to a new stadium seven years ago, including 2018-19 when they were relegated from the championship. Operating losses vary from 0.5-to over £1 million per season and net liabilities are in the region of £10 million. The stadium and hotel generate income streams for Rotherham’s parent company,  ASD lighting holdings, who provide continuing finance for the football club.

Season ticket sales fell from 6194 in 2016-17 to 5582 (i.e after relegation)  and attendances dropped by 13%. Turnover dropped from £13 million to £10 million.Season ticket sales returned to above 6000 with the next promotion, illustrating the effect of relegation. Crowds and income can therefore be expected to fall by a similar amount in 2019-20. Solidarity payments may help offset these losses, Championship clubs got in the region of £4.45 million in 2018-19 (it’s about £650,000 for League One clubs) but I don’t know when the clubs get the money.

With anticipated attendances of 8,500  Rotherham will be in the middle of the league when it comes to match day revenue. Their website shows a decent number of “commercial partners”; and while I don’t know how much these contribute to the club I’m sure they won’t go under financially. However, ASD lighting may need to put their hands in their pockets if the yoyo is to climb back up the string. The bookies apparently think they might, Rotherham are currently at 5/1 for a top two finish and their chairman claims they are a stronger unit depite relegation so it’s a case of “watch this space”.

Shrewsbury Town

Shrewsbury Town are to be congratulated for their transparency. A lifelong supporter and accountant by name of Ant Thomas prepares a statement explaining the Shrews accounts and the club hosts it on their website. I commend it to you if you want a guide to the accounts information you’ll find on the Companies House website.

The Shrews accounts show the club is debt free, that it generates a profit most years, has assets over liabilities of around £14million per year and the directors take no fees or dividends from it. In other words, Shrewsbury Town FC is in a very healthy state.

I had no doubt this health was aided in no small part the move to a new stadium ten years ago, and then I saw Ant’s graph, which proved it conclusively. No matter how much fans decry the loss of history or the hassle of getting to games, the move has been good for the club. The Montgomery Waters stadium not only seats more fans, it acts a conference centre, wedding venue etc. and the club markets it as “renowned as one of the top hospitality venues in Shropshire.” It’s one of the reasons why turnover has more than doubled. Another is that the club achieved promotion (twice, actually) with the usual benefits that brings.

The club has tried hard to engage fans – it has a “supporters’ parliament”, safe standing, gives free tickets to primary school children and has a fancard that gives reductions to supporters who can’t afford or fully use a season ticket. They have had some success as average attendance is 6,200, but there are probably another 6,000 who won’t go near the place because they have a drum in the ground.

Shrewsbury itself is an excellent place to meet Pete Sixsmith for a pre-match pint, the beer and pies in the Nag’s head being very much on the right side of good. Other than the hassle of getting there, and that bloody awful drum, what’s not to like?

And yet, I feel Shrewsbury are likely to remain a League One/Two club. I don’t know why, I just feel that they won’t achieve promotion any time soon. Maybe I’m biased because I hate drums.

Southend United

Southend owed about 18 million to three companies, 6 million of which was written off, so they are still in debt and rely on their parent company (Martin Dawn plc) for financial suport. They survived a relegation game (and don’t we know) on the last day of the season and then a winding up order, so May did not go badly for them.

Will their good fortune continue? Roots Hall requires a lot of maintenance (£300,000 pa is mentioned in the last accounts) and new stadium plans, financed in part by retail and residential development are awaiting planning permission, which won’t be given before November at the earliest. That’s two years later than originally envisaged, and I get the impression costs increase with every delay.

Until their new stadium is ready Southend will probably not be financially sustainable, although their crowds are OK by League One standards – they occasionally reach 7,500 but 5-6,000 is more common. Their parent company will ensure they survive as a club  – the chairman has promised to write off another £10 million when they move – and their win against us shows they do have spirit, but I still think they could be at the bottom end of the table again next season.

Tranmere Rovers

Tranmere haemorrhaged money while dropping and remaining out of the Football League and it wasn’t until Mark Palios (and Mrs Claire Palios, according to Companies House) took over that some stability was restored to a very threatened enterprise. Their takeover included the writing off of some debt (been there, got the T shirt) but a lot of work still needed to be done.

Since the takeover there has been a lot of restructuring, including changes to the status of the Tranmere Academy and the sale of their old training ground, and the club has become much more community focussed. The Supporters Trust has a seat on the Board (though I wonder what good it does because my experience of the supporters’ trust is completely negative) and the club is connecting with fans in a way that will be familiar to manyof our readers.

Revenue streams have been explored and exploited and now bring in more money. On the pitch success has also brought its own dividend, with crowds rising and season ticket sales improving year on year although numbers aren’t yet anything special for League One, (3,000 season tickets sold for 2019-20). Mark Palios reckons an average gate of 5,000 will just about pay the running costs of Prenton Park, so these alternative income streams are essential.

The club is definitely heading in the right direction and hopes to achieve breakeven status and run without an operating loss, and then repair its balance sheet. I’d expect them to achieve their goal at some point in the future but how about them challenging for yet another promotion next year? That’s probably too much. There is still some way to go before Mark Palios can say “job done.”

Wycombe Wanderers.

Companies house lists Wycombe Wanderers Trust, The Trading Name Of Wycombe Wanderers Supporters Group Ltd” as the only active person with significant control of the club, the trust having control of over 75% of the shares and the right to appoint directors. I’d quite like us to be in a similar position, though I’m not complaining about our current owners.

Adams Park – a bit out of the way

Their accounts seem to show a lot of debt but the directors elected not to include a copy of the profit and loss account and Wycombe’s financial strategy seems to be to develop and sell players (such as Luke O’Nien) while expanding the club’s commercial activity. Given where the club is situated I can see them struggling with some of that, but you never know. They are also seeking external investment – two possibilities pulled out recently – and are in talks with “interested parties”.

Wycombe have been in the Football League for about 25 years (I think) and are not likely to drop out but they really need more than their usual 4-6,000 supporters to ensure financial security. Last year they finished below Rochdale, three points above the drop zone. It might be a big ask to expect them to do a lot better next season.

That leaves Sunderland, Blackpool, Bolton and Bury to consider. I don’t foresee any problems with Sunderland; their planned takeover should go smoothly and administration has never been an issue. Blackpool also seem to have been sorted and Bolton mght not be too far away (or maybe not) but I get the impression Bury will take some time to resolve. I will be back eventually, but don’t hold your breath.

McCormick’s dogy numbers: the arithmetic’s correct, it’s just the rest could be a bit wonky
New York Stadium © Rotherhamlad1983  Creative Commons License. If there is any copyright claim on the other images used in this report, not answered by “fair comment” please let us know and we will remove or acknowledge as requested.
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