Thursday, 22 November 2012

The F Word

The F Word

Fudges, Feudalism, Faltering, Farago, Financially parsimonious

Episode 2 of the blog deals with everyone's favourite's Arsenal's board members and directors.

Let me again make it clear, the purpose of the article isn't to demean or dismiss anyone, but to look at the issues impacting on AFC, which have simmered away for years, boiling over recently during Norwich, Schalke, and United games. The boiling receded to a heavy simmering following the traditional 5-2 humiliation of a small team from Middlesex who profess to be our rivals.

One good result however won't undo the impact of the last 7 years, or the decisions made prior to the period which caused the current situation.

Before we can discuss The F words and parties at play here, we need to understand the nature of the beast, its habits, habitats and culture, so we know what we are dealing with.

The Arsenal, something given the indefinite article because its deemed unique and so important, the only one in a football sense (despite there being more ). Think of tradition, of Eton and Harrow, The Bank of England club as The Arsenal are referred to.

The Boardroom at Highbury Stadium
Highbury Stadium in its art deco magnificence, marble halls with oak paneled offices, crystal decanters, Lords and Ladies, merchant bankers, members of parliament, all inveigled in a culture of 19th and early 20th century Britain.  

The Famous Marble Halls Entrance at Highbury Stadium
That was a colonial, empirical Britain, with a rigid class structure, where titled chaps and landowners ruled as masters with servants, and looked down at those below. Directors brought up in an age of supremacy, where "Johnny come latelies", nouveau riche upstarts, foreigners, and below the stairs types, knew and stayed in their place. The sort of chaps whose Grandad owned Downton Abbey as a weekend house, and whose servants were more conservative and reactionary than they were.
Sir Bracewell-Smith
The Carrs, Lord Harris, Bracewell - Smiths, Hillwoods all come from this class and share that culture and upbringing. The Carrs and Bracewell-Smiths are actually related.  

Ken Friar OBE who joined AFC in 1946 as a 12 year old local lad

Then there is Ken Friar, who has only ever had one employer - Arsenal. What a rarity that is today, and to be submerged in that culture all his life for over 60 years.

It is important to see how being deeply embedded in and wed to  that culture affects the mindset  that pervades Arsenal, and their way of doing business over many decades up till the current day.

For board members for many years, The Arsenal wasn't a business expected to make a profit but a family heirloom passed on via shares to the next generation. Seen through their eyes as custodianship through philanthropy topped by an exclusive gentleman's club

A Victorian Gentleman surveying all he owns

Summed up best by Peter Hillwood's comment "investing in football is dead money" commenting on selling shares in Arsenal to David Dein. He shows he saw ownership as custodianship not profit making unless its a personal one.

A football club where the Chairman delivered a "dressing down" like a headmaster to boys,  to the whole first team and manager after the first Old Trafford brawl (set up as a stunt by George Graham to relieve FA punishment) shows how public school and upper class ways of dealing with people, staff and the business carried on even in 1987.

Conservative, frugal, steeped in their ways and set in a time getting more distant by the day. Frugal with wages, transfer fees and hiring experts to advise on issues where their knowledge was limited preferring the old boy network instead of hiring the best available.

Known as "The Arsenal Way"

Samuel Hill-Wood AFC Chairman 1929-1949

A club where marketing and sales acumen was summed up by fact the club shop in the late 70s was a green garden shed run by an ex player. Even when Dein purchased shares from Peter Hillwood , the club's retail or marketing ambition only increased to a couple of stores which were run under license by a friend of Dein's. 

The Late Danny Fiszman and David Dein

Despite Dein and Fiszman joining the board and their love of the club and entrepreneurial attitudes driving+dragging the club in to the modern age, the Colonel Bufton- Tuftons and their culture remained, with some additions of a foreign nature, yet overall still as crusty and as frugal as ever, sadly surviving Danny Fiszman even, and are sat in his legacy to the club- The Emirates Stadium. 

Today Arsenal to the board is a business. For us fans or consumers  as marketing departments call us, this already brings us in to conflict with the board's philosophy. Decisions are taken (or not) which affect us, the team we love, over which we have no control or involvement bar support. All we can do is voice an opinion.

Shareholders as part owners of the club can do the same, however should these views not please the board, then that question maybe vetoed in the AGM For having the audacity to question and expect answers, shareholders are told "Thanks for your interest in our affairs". 

Peter Hill- Wood Current Arsenal Chairman

 The culture which denounced Stan Kroenke as a carpetbagger, exclaiming "We don't want his sort here", wasn't just aimed at foreign investors invading the boardroom with their nouveau riche filthy lucre but also introducing alien cultures as well.

Cultures alien to Arsenal at the time but in modern business outside football seen as necessities such as modern business management and marketing. 

Dein added some sense of commercialisation , but because of the intense emphasis and focus placed on securing funding for and building of the Emirates by Fiszman, marketing saw some small progress, but never was marketing or management accorded the respect it would be in any non football PLC business.

Edelman, the managing director was a non football person, a financial man whose main task was to secure the funds for the Emirates stadium. He was involved closely in the Nike 8 year kit deal (later extended) and the Emirates 15 yrs naming+shirt sponsor deal. It's fair to say Edelman and the board's eyes were focused mainly on obtaining funds to convince banks to lend the club the rest needed, and for sure thought less of any marketing benefits.

In other words those deals were seen as a necessary evil to achieve the ends of raising 350 million pounds from the banks, rather than a valuable income stream.

So we can see a tradition at Arsenal of antipathy towards marketing and advertising, which was challenged by Dein, and slightly moved on by Fiszman and Edelman. That antipathy arose from a combination of the culture which would have seen marketing and commercialisation of an heirloom as frankly vulgar, and allowed the club to being wholly focused on Danny Fiszman's drive to build the Emirates and obtain funding for it.


Had the board looked down the road and saw the principles behind Irving Scholar's failed yet now acclaimed visionary plan to commercialise a small team in Middlesex or had just sent an executive on a fact finding trip to the USA, then their eyes may well have been opened. 

Opened to the potential massive income possibilities and the strength it would add to the club. Hiring an expert to advise them how to do this whilst building the stadium would have brought more money in way earlier. The lure of that revenue may have defeated their being focused on one target only and their prejudice against such nouveau riche nastiness.

As the stadium which was to provide the match day income they so sought opened, Danny Fiszman became ill and sadly passed away.
His death saw the ownership of the club pass out of the hands of the Carr's, Hillwoods and Bracewell-Smiths to Stan Kroenke of KSE an American company investing in sports brands. This company had been a shareholder of Arsenal for some time,having bought Granada's shares in AFC+Arsenal Broadband ltd.

E Stanely Kroenke

Stan Kroenke and KSE issued a takeover offer after buying Danny Fiszman's shares and took over the club and bought up to 69% of the issued shares, mainly from his fellow board members. The other major shareholder Red+White (who bought David Dein's shares) owned by Uzbek Oligarch Alisher Usmanov, didn't accept KSE's takeover offer. Seeking instead to buy shares to reach the 30% threshold, they believed would given them access to the management accounts and a board seat.  

From the first plan through to the topping off and opening of the new stadium, the board promoted self sufficiency, a responsible business spending only what it could afford. When Kroenke was victorious in his takeover, KSE's press release promised business as usual, with an emphasis on Self sufficiency.

Self Sufficiency question is whose 

Before we take an in-depth look at self sufficiency lets get a clear definition of what that really means. 

"Being able to maintain oneself or itself without outside aid : capable of providing for one's own needs" - Merriam Webster dictionary

So it would seem this is good sensible business practice, to develop a business which is totally self funding and can look after itself using its own resources. 

The question is however for what purpose and whose benefit the company in question is "self sufficient", and whose definition of that phrase it used to determine the plans.

 My definition would be a self funding business operating from funds generated from all activities, seeking break even point as minimal objective without devaluing the assets, market share or performance or level of operation. A business targeting major success in its market, with a planned strategy of over performing with budgets and assets.Note I say without devaluing the assets not the value of the share price but assets. 

Assets being the property of the company from cars to the stadium to player registrations. 

To ensure this strategy of self funding works and achieves maximum performance, all budgets, funds and assets must be maximised and deployed in the most advantageous risk free strategy.

 This is where issues with Arsenal's boards deployment of their definition and version of "self sufficiency arise.

To drive a business through a period of stadium development and raising finance for that, requires top business management overseeing, and supervising senior executives constantly.

This ensures that budgets are used wisely, and maximised and are delivering value and performance, and no source of income is left untouched or just tickled enough for purpose.

The antipathy to marketing, a necessary evil to get the down payment for the stadium, yet neglected otherwise whilst extreme focus is place elsewhere is an example of this.

Not hiring a senior business manager to handle the marketing and commercial  side whilst still planning the stadium move was a massive error. Had this been done recruiting a team and having plan to kick off that important work would have been started in 2004.

More importantly 8 years down the line Arsenal would be up there competing at the top with huge commercial revenue, and all the benefits that would bring to the business on and off the pitch.

Tom Fox Commercial Director Arsenal FC

 Tom Fox Arsenal's commercial director wasn't appointed until 2009, three years after the project of the new stadium was completed. 

He, himself, bears out my thoughts albeit it with a bit of spin to alleviate any blame for the board for neglecting commercialism. 

In an AISA Q+A session reported by the excellent Gingers4limpar blog, Tom was asked why in 2010 , Arsenal lagged behind other clubs in commercial revenue. The graph below from the expert Swiss ramble blog exhibits the issue at hand..

In the Tottenham traditional position way down where we don't belong

 Tom Fox's reply was this :-

" The football club [Arsenal] was focused for many years on building this stadium, and if you remember – this stadium was supposed to be the game-changer that closed that gap [between Arsenal's revenue and other big clubs']. And this was a fairly significant undertaking to move 400 yards from the old stadium to this stadium. Three years ago we started the journey to begin to invest in people that could capitalise on the opportunity that I spoke about earlier [from commercial revenue] around this club that exists everywhere else in the world. Other clubs, weren’t focused on building a new stadium so they may have invested in different ways against their commercial operation.

So an admittance by a board member that for 5 years Arsenal took their eye off a very important ball. A very valuable ball, and a crucial one to their plan of self sufficiency. The cost of this dropping the ball and extent of indifference to it are both incredible.

In 2010 Manchester United's commercial revenue was 45.5% higher than Arsenal's (46m) at 103 million.

Gingers4Limpar  interview of Tom Fox explains incredibly the board's indifference to commercialisation and then adds damning evidence of former MD Edelman's admittance of the lack of interest when he was CEO of the club. 

Tom Fox - " Three years ago we would have had one person full time employee out speaking to companies on behalf of the club, and two people that worked for an agency, consulting; and they would have conversations with various businesses and brands around the world about signing on as a sponsor at Arsenal. We also had about one and a half people – one part time one full time – servicing the partners the club already had… two and a half people and two consultants. We now have 13 full time people. Man Utd have 80. So when I say they started 8 years ago investing behind this, they started 8 years ago and they’ve been investing non-stop behind this area. "

Keith Edleman former MD Arsenal FC

Gingers4Limpar adds his own recollection of Edelman's comments on the subject which I have no reason to doubt knowing Gingers professionalism in note taking.

"I was at a separate AISA or AST (I forget which) meeting with then-CEO Keith Edelman at some point between 2006 and 2008, where he admitted that the club had neglected “merchandise” in recent years. It was largely brushed off as a minor issue at the time, with Edelman visibly indifferent, but looking back I can’t help but wonder if it reflected a wider ignorance of the competitive importance of targeting commercial revenue streams."  

That ball if it had been picked up would have added 20-50 million a year to Arsenal turnovers and revenue streams from 2004 to date.

Being conservative and saying 20 million for the first half of those 8 years and 35 million for the second half, with 45 in the last year means Arsenal's boards indifference and possible ignorance through their outdated culture cost the club a fortune. 

Throwing 230million pound down the drain

230 million pounds on a very conservative estimate

   65% of  350 million in debt borrowed to build the new stadium !

 A vital arterial revenue stream just neglected, left to the competition, through lack of understanding through out of date culture. Masters of the old school who didn't listen to advice and wouldn't be questioned. 

A decision that should be haunting every single member of the board who sat there in 2004 pooh poohing any mention of it.

A decision for which fans, the manager and the clubs fortunes would pay dearly for in the eight years following.

As stated previously for a self sufficient business to achieve its objectives, all assets and budgets must be maximised and then best deployed in the most advantageous risk free plan.

Clearly the evidence shows this wasn't done, therefore reliance on match day and TV income and player sales to "self fund the business" became order of the day. To counteract accusations of failure to compete on the pitch, as well as off it (we are JCLs to commercialisation) the self sufficiency mantra was extended to "living within our means"

Sugar Daddy spending all the money !

To many fans the entrance to the arena of Sugar daddy clubs made the living within our means ring more true. 

Many just swallowed the story, missing the real underlying news, the board lost the chance to gather a fortune to fund the club at a much higher level. The truth is that the club made this situation far worse than it could have been, and spun the mantra to keep banks and fans quiet and off their case. 

Nothing like admitting you spurned 230 million pounds of profit to give bank managers during re financing the jitters!

Even attempting to invent 4th position in the premier league as a new trophy. For the board it is a trophy, a trophy of income to bolster up Arsenal's budgets, shorn by the board of commercial income commensurate of London's biggest club. 

The season ticket and club level rises at the start of the recession in May 2011 demonstrate how much failure to pick up the ball in 2004 cost Arsenal in performance and its fans in pound notes.

The extra revenue which was lost, would have enabled the club to hold down ticket prices, retain players, invest in higher quality new players and improved Arsenal's chances on the pitch. It would have enabled even an increase in wages and more, year by year, again increasing the club's competitiveness as well. All that needed to happen was hiring the person to start the process and build the team in 2003 and fund the commercial team properly.

Ivan Gazidis CEO Arsenal FC

Despite all of this, and lack of commercial revenue being identified by new CEO Ivan Gazidis, quickly, and proved by his hiring Tom Fox

 Arsenal's board still refused to veer from "The Arsenal Way".

They sat honouring their word as Victorian gentlemen would have 125 years ago. Completely ignoring the changing world of Abramovitch, Sheik Mansour and others, refusing to buy out or re negotiate the deals struck to get the necessary evil and thus seeing the cost of "The Arsenal way".

The Arsenal Way

We know the cost today, the difference between the 22 million deal with Adidas rumored to be in the pipeline and the old one with Nike, over say the last 4 years. As well the cost of  losing players, showing no ambition in transfer markets whilst spinning the self sufficiency socially responsible mantra. A better title would have been  

"Self Sufficiency hampered by Self Deficiency

Again a significant cost and penalty to a "self sufficient" business, its not enough to deal with Oligarchs and Petro billionaires sponsoring clubs, but we had our own board hampering us with Self Deficiency as well

All because it wasn't the done thing.   

Only in football could a board of directors survive such a massive error, demonstrate such an attitude of laissez - faire towards such a vital subject and get away with it. Worse still the error forces them to put up ticket prices, destabilising relationships with loyal long term customers during a recession. Worse still they devalue their business by having to sell valuable players yearly to fund the gap in their self sufficiency budgets, their incompetence created. 

They continue to blame sugar daddy clubs for their inability to compete at the highest level to some extent true but not without their 230 million pound penalty hampering the club.

Can anyone imagine directors at Tesco being allowed to stay in place if they concentrated on opening new mega stores only, but forgot to invest in advertising ?

At the AGM there would be no censoring "awkward questions" , or spinning replies. Fund managers and institutional shareholders would demand blood. A full replacement of the board, bar the newly hired professionals would be demanded and enacted

That is how serious this error was, and compounded by the board seeking comfort in profit making, as money men they feel that denotes success. They feel profit is an acclamation of their philanthropy and proof of their philosophy.

Sadly results on the pitch and in the commercial revenue league don't bear out their feelings.

A board who were recently enriched by the takeover, sat waiting to be paid for their promissory notes, with little incentive to change the current situation. They will be long gone when Ivan Gazidis and Fox are running the club for KSE or future owners.

The failure to see the immense value and critical role commercial revenue would play in football, and getting in the game so late, meant Arsenal sold assets. Worse still put up prices, and weakened prospects for success on the pitch, and still had to use property income to shore up the club. 

Property income which was supposed to be a massive boost in reducing the debt and increasing the clubs capital and wealth, yet was spent on running costs in absence of commercial revenue.

You will notice I haven't mentioned UEFA FFP or Premier league FFP yet. I didn't do deliberately to ensure people could see how one blunder 8 years ago forced the board in to the policy they now follow. 

Yet despite oligarchs, and oil money sponsored rivals, they sit with 140 million pounds in cash in the bank, and despite their commercial revenue cock up

All gained from selling players and charging the world's most expensive ticket prices.

The self sufficiency and living within our means a worthwhile, admirable philosophy has been perverted by a cock up, and now possibly something more sinister.
According to the clubs accounts, this 140 million pound in cash is  reserves, not special reserves required by funding. Those are shown in separate account lines in the annual report, for sure some of the cash is to carry the club through the year.

 It is worth remembering other than his original investments in to Arsenal, Stan Kroenke and KSE have paid no cash for shares. The takeover costs were funded by the club, and shares of the other directors bought in exchange for promissory notes paying 7% income.

Arsenal does not pay dividends, however when pointedly asked at the last AGM, Kroenke refused to confirm he would not take money out of the club.

So is self sufficiency Arsenal football club living within its means hampered by its board's F**k up or is it Stan Kroenke and KSE being self sufficient by paying to buy the club using some of it's own money.

Is self sufficiency, the board being self sufficient ie not investing any money, seeing share prices rocket due to Red and White's activities, sat on a fortune, not investing it and looking forward to payout boosted by the prices fans and TV stations pay.

For sure those reserves aren't being used to invest to strengthen any facet of the club, off or more importantly on the pitch. So what are the club doing with that humungous lump of money apart from on paper reducing overall debt. Note it can't be used to clear debt early as this would incur a penalty.

As I write there is news Arsenal and Tom Fox's team have begun the long climb to catch up the rest on commercial revenue.

Rumours circulate twitter from shareholders claim a 22 million pound a year kit sponsorship deal from Adidas will be announced by Arsenal in the near future.

A deal announced today (23/11/12) with Emirates over 5 years for shirt sponsorship from 2014 to 2019 at the rate of 150 million pounds. The deal also extends stadium naming  rights till 2028, Ivan Gazidis announced Emirates will pay funds in advance so money is available now.

One has to wonder if this money will be spent, Arsenal have 140 million pounds sat on deposit earning interest, which so far hasn't been dipped in to, even slightly.

Wonder how sponsors will feel if their money is used by the clubs owner to pay for the shares he purchase with credit in the takeover, or if the club fails to progress, because the owner and club aren't investing in its future.

Surely the deal announced today will allow the club to retain Walcott?   

As successful  that deal is, even adding a new shirt will only bring us to 20 million behind Manchester United's 2010 total of commercial revenue, its nearly 2013.

Its the number of secondary, and item specific sponsors, and number of partners, Tom Fox's team need to increase. It's perfectly feasible to increase commercial revenue to twice the 2010 ,46 million pounds. Kit deal 22million Stadium and shirt naming 50million and say 20 extra partners at average of 2 million each equals 112 million a year.  if the team is enlarged and invested in to do it.

Given Arsenal's position of England's 3rd most successful club of all time, based in London, with the best demographic mix and highest disposable income of all clubs fans, this should be easy to surpass. 

However it is made harder by lack of on the pitch success, big brands like sponsoring winners and contenders, not also rans.

Just a shame Arsenal's board didn't hire a Tom Fox in 2002 and had reaped the benefits of the activity for the last decade, perhaps now we would not be where we are today.

 Lordhillwood   amended 23/11/2012

In the next episode of the F word we move to 

Management of senior executives  
FFP+Premier league FFP
Why the board like the idea so much, 
If it will work or not and the consequences 
The Red+White issue 
The holy grail, the wages bill. 

This will then give us a clear picture before I move on to the on pitch issues and the manager.

I would like to thank @SwissRamble for his brilliant financial analysis of Arsenal's accounts

Also many thanks to @Gingers4Limpar for the quotes from his blog.

Please feel free to comment or contact me or follow me on twitter at @Lordhillwood  








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