Having failed to meet the Companies House filing deadline for the last two years, one might have expected the club to file its accounts late again given the current situation it finds itself in. Against all expectations then, the 2016/17 financial statements were actually filed a day early – the new chairwoman’s influence perhaps? Natalie Christopher (aka Oyston) looks to be eclipsing her predecessor already, albeit the lowest of low bars.
Another pre-tax loss
The contents of said accounts contain few surprises however, with the anticipated increase in losses in black and white for all to see, despite winning promotion during the season covered in these documents. In 2015/16, the Neil McDonald League One relegation season, the club recorded a pre-tax loss of £1.7m. While in League Two, the losses widened to almost £2.2m.
The chart below plots the extraordinary collapse of the club’s profitability, from its Premier League season in the sun down to the basement tier.
Some crude maths shows that the club is racking up weekly losses of around £42,000 and without ownership change it’s hard to imagine that figure moving much. The football club has become a serious drain on Oyston resources at the time they can least afford it – the power of “not a penny more” is clear to see.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that with bigger losses, a reduction in turnover is also to be expected and a season in the bottom tier meant exactly that. The drop wasn’t as sharp as the previous year when the Premier League parachute payments were cut off along with relegation from the Championship, but turnover still fell from £4.4m to £3.8m, a reduction of almost 14%.
The accounting period covered in this set of accounts is also the first that wasn’t part of the so-called “Riga Revolution” season ticket deal, and naturally meant a significant drop-off in the number willing (against all logic) to part with their cash and financially back the club. The following graph again shows the impact of NAPM and the revenue hit the club took.
Only £224k was earned through season ticket income, a year-on-year drop of 69%, despite having some of the cheapest prices in the entire EFL. It’s a far cry from the days of 2011 when the club took over £3m in season ticket receipts. The people of Blackpool, or at least those still possessing a spine and a sense of morality, have voted with their feet and their wallets.
One odd quirk of the 16/17 accounts was that the non-season ticket gate revenue actually increased slightly, up 9% to £661k. However, it’s worth considering that this will likely include ticket sales from the play-off games, including the Wembley final. Had Gary Bowyer’s side not snuck into 7th and got to the final, then it’s likely we would also have seen a downward trend here too. There were also slightly better runs in both the League Cup and FA Cup compared to the previous season which also boosted the coffers.
“Brand Blackpool” is hardly a great one to be associated with these days, so it’s no surprise that sponsorship revenues continue to fall. The relationship with the previous season’s shirt sponsor Village Hotels was virtually over before it began, as the company admitted overlooking the toxic atmosphere and publicly expressing their regret at ever getting involved. At one point, it seemed that the club might even go into the 2016/17 season without a sponsor on the shirt at all, but local marketing firm “tp.” filled the vacant slot just weeks before kick-off.
As the chart above illustrates, it’s clear that the shirt sponsor deal, or any of the other sponsorships the club was somehow able to drum up, provided much in terms of revenue. Turnover for this line item just about scraped over the £80k mark, a 44% year-on-year fall.
Smaller away followings in League Two was likely a contributing factor to a reduction in revenues from programmes too, as the club took in only £11k from this source, a 36% drop. In 2011 the programmes revenue was over £100k higher.
It’s at this point in the turnover line item list that things take a turn for the bizarre. Despite relegation to the bottom tier and almost all other sources of income being reduced, the bar and food takings somehow remained stable, with a tiny increase in revenue.
What this means is that those still choosing to attend were actually spending more on catering per head than the previous year. Quite frankly it’s just weird, although perhaps they are trying to make up some of the shortfall being left by those pesky boycotters.
The same pattern is visible in the club shop income. Again, revenue in this department stayed flat indicating the fans still attending home games were actually throwing more of their money at the club than they had been. Utterly baffling, but then some people don’t want to miss out on that once-in-a-lifetime League Two play-off final souvenir so that they could say “I was there with the true fans!”. It’s quality, not quantity, apparently…
Footballing wage bill
Moving away from the turnover, it was interesting to note that despite relegation, the wage bill barely changed. It does appear that Gary Bowyer was given a competitive (for the level) budget to work with, whereas his predecessor Neil McDonald, while clueless, was dealt a rough hand a league higher.
It will obviously be another year to wait, but we’ll have to see if Bowyer was given more to work with this season back in League One, or if he has a similar budget. That will give us better information on how to truly judge this current up-and-down season.
Inter-company loans and going concern
The auditor’s notes make for worthwhile reading this time around, especially related to the intercompany loans. In his damning judgement last November, Justice Marcus Smith had some damning words for the club’s long-time auditor A I Cherry, stating “it was incumbent upon him to maintain a degree of independence from the companies he was auditing. At least so far as Blackpool FC was concerned, I consider that such independence was lacking.” The quotes taken from the auditor’s notes show that Cherry has held back little this time around:
The Blackpool Football Club Limited was owed £26,818,907 by Blackpool Football Club (Properties) Limited (its holding company). The Blackpool Football Club Limited was owed £348,364 by Blackpool Football Club Hotel Limited.
The impact of the court order creates material uncertainty over the carrying value of the intercompany debts of £27,167,271.
We are unable to obtain sufficient audit evidence that Blackpool Football Club (Properties) Limited and Blackpool Football Club Hotel Limited will be able to repay any or all of the intercompany debt of £27,167,271. Consequently we are unable to form an opinion that the assets shown in the statement of financial position of The Blackpool Football Club Limited are properly stated net of any impairment provisions required by Section 27 of FRS 102.
Unfortunately, as of the time of writing, the accounts for BFC Properties Limited have yet to be filed, but the above note is revealing and only backs up Justice Marcus Smith’s ruling related to the “illegitimate stripping” of the football club. Quite how the large sums transferred out of the club will ever find its way back has always been unclear, and the club’s own auditor now (belatedly) agrees.
In fact, Cherry goes further in his statements, continuing to state:
The impact of the matters set out in Note 19 is such that we are unable to obtain sufficient evidence that the holding company Blackpool Football Club (Properties) Limited and its subsidiaries will continue to trade as a going concern for twelve months from the date of this report.
Clearly this is a worst case scenario, but the auditor has raised the (albeit remote) possibility that there might not be a club in the near future, should this whole sorry mess not be resolved amicably between Owen Oyston and Valeri Belokon. The group is clearly in a vulnerable place right now and Mr. Cherry’s comments confirm the severity of the situation.
While the parent company has not submitted its accounts just yet, the BFC Hotel accounts were published alongside those of the football club. There was little of interest here, but whereas in past years no mention was made of the amount of revenue the hotel gets from the football club, it is stated this time around.
Included in turnover is a sum of £176,207 (2016: £313,872) relating to transactions between Blackpool Football Club Hotel Limited and The Blackpool Football Club Limited.
What this essentially means is that without the above charges to the football club, the hotel would have made losses in each of the last two years rather than the modest profits it has posted. In 2017 the club represented 13% of the hotel’s turnover and without it, the hotel would have made a loss of £120k. In 2016, the club represented 21% of the hotel’s revenue and without that income, the hotel would have reported a loss of £204k.
There has been much debate in recent years that withholding our money as part of the NAPM boycott would only lead to a reduction in spending and that the Oystons would “cut their cloth accordingly”. This set of accounts illustrates quite clearly that there’s only so far you can cut, and even then you can’t prevent a significant loss. These losses are sure to continue if Owen Oyston attempts to hold onto the club, but ultimately that will only do more financial damage to the balance sheet he was once so proud of, and is likely to have negative consequences on the pitch as the noose tightens.
Now, more than ever, the power is with the fans and NAPM has never been more crucial. The whole sorry mess could all unravel very quickly now, but here’s hoping it will be sooner rather than later. We are in the death throes of Oyston rule. Time to dig in and finally reclaim our great club.