Championship clubs made combined operating losses of over £510million last year, revealing the staggering price they are willing to pay in pursuit of reaching the Premier League.
With soaring wage bills regularly exceeding income, several clubs put themselves at risk of financial crisis in an attempt to climb out of the punishing second-tier.
Wolves made the biggest gamble on promotion in the 2017/18 season, posting £64.8m of trading losses and overall losses of £57m, but it ultimately paid off, as it did for Fulham, who had the second-highest operating losses, at £59m, and also climbed to the top tier.
Both Wolves and Fulham took huge risks to make the Premier League and were promoted
But Aston Villa – who are once again battling it out in the play-offs this year – failed in their target despite being £54m in the red in terms of revenue and operating expenses.
Villa’s accounts stated that the ‘prime goal is securing a return to the FA Premier League’, and their wage bill of £71million reflected this ambition.
The cumulative operating losses of £512.9m are for the 22 clubs that have published their accounts, representing an average loss of £23.3m.
Sheffield Wednesday were due to publish their company figures by 30 April but have so far failed to do so and have not responded to Sportsmail’s request for an explanation.
Bolton Wanderers’ missed deadline is less surprising given the club’s well-documented financial debacle.
Net operating profit and losses are calculated by taking operating expenses (including wages and transfer fee amortisation) from the club or group company’s revenues, and do not take profits in player trading into account.
Comments made in some clubs’ accounts painted a worrying picture of the lengths clubs will go to boost their chances of achieving promotion, and the awareness of the financial difficulty regularly experienced in the Championship.
Bristol City’s accounts said that ‘the principal risk to the company is the availability of finance to fund the continuing losses’.
Meanwhile, Sunderland’s accounts said: ‘The directors consider the major risk of the business to be a continued absence from the Premier League. Ongoing restructuring of the playing squad aims to reduce this risk.’ Despite this, Sunderland – whose annual operating loss of £20.3m contributed to an overall cumulative loss for the club of £249m – were relegated to League One at the end of the 2017/18 season.
Leeds’ directors acknowledged: ‘The primary risk facing the club and its subsidiaries continues to be the divisional status of the club’s first team. This is due to the material effect of divisional status on all revenue streams.’
Aston Villa said their £71million wage bill reflected their ambition to get promoted
These comments reflect the impact of income streams such as the broadcast deal in the Premier League versus the Championship and match-day revenue. Parachute payments for clubs relegated from the Premier League create a disparity between Championship clubs, particularly in comparison to those recently promoted from League One.
However, one of the key determining factors on the financial status of Championship clubs is the cost of wages and transfer fees versus income.
As University of Liverpool football finance lecturer Kieran Maguire has explained, in his blog Price of Football, ‘being so close to the Premier League and its riches has meant that clubs often overspend on player cost as they gamble to get promoted’.
Burton were the only club to post a loss of less than £1m, with an operating loss of £292,711 comparing favourably to other clubs. However, despite these modest losses – helped by the spending of £1m on player signings being matched by around £1m on player sales – the club was relegated to League One.
Maguire told Sportsmail: ‘Championship losses have nearly doubled over the last five seasons despite FFP being in existence to in theory act as a form of restraint. The figures for 2017/18 exclude Bolton (about to go into administration it would seem) and Sheffield Wednesday.
Operating loss (excluding/before profit on player trading):
Wolves – 64,818,000
Fulham – 59,140,000
Aston Villa – 54,017,000
Derby – 46,662,814
Birmingham – 38,570,167
Cardiff – 34,026,000
Reading – 28,721,317
Bristol City – 23,796,310
QPR – 22,407,000
Leeds – 20,709,259
Nottingham Forest – 20,324,000
Sunderland – 20,273,000
Middlesbrough – 20,186,000
Brentford – 18,483,896
Sheffield United – 10,204,143
Ipswich – 8,391,000
Preston – 7,059,000
Hull City – 4,556,341
Millwall – 3,833,000
Barnsley – 1,403,156
Burton – 292,71
Total operating loss for 22 clubs:
Average operating loss for 22 clubs:
‘On an individual basis every club in 2017/18 made an operating loss, with three of them losing more than £1 million a week and others close to it.
‘The main driver of losses is poor cost control, with clubs paying out as much as £202 in wages for every £100 of income.’ Profit on player sales have not been included in these figures, and clubs use player sales as a legitimate way of recouping losses.
Meanwhile, the accounts for Cardiff, Fulham and Wolves all include payments related to their promotion to the Premier League of between £10m and £20m.
An EFL spokesman said: ‘The Championship continues to be one of the most attended and competitive divisions in world football, and in what is an increasingly competitive marketplace, Club owners provide financial support to match their ambition of achieving promotion to the Premier League. Of course, that has to be achieved in a ‘fair’ manner, which is why the financial regulations in place in the Championship determine the level of losses that can be made, over a period of three seasons.
‘This approach to financial regulation is one of the reasons why the Championship is so highly regarded and unpredictable. Our Clubs compete on varying budgets which adds to the drama of the competition with the EFL’s biggest Clubs comparable to many in top tier leagues across Europe.
‘In the past five years revenues across the EFL have grown by over 50% and, through the sale of its domestic broadcasting rights, clubs are guaranteed financial certainty for the next five year period as a result of a 35% increase in rights fees. In addition, overall revenues for Championship Clubs continue to increase through club generated income, improved central contracts and as a result of EFL negotiated solidarity payments.’
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