Originally written for The Mag and posted here.
While I was writing this piece the Swiss Ramble blog posted an overview of the 2014/15 accounts with historical context which is essential reading for any supporter interested in the finances of the Newcastle United. If you haven’t read that, please go there now, if you only have time for one article, that is the one to read and covers all the major issues.
Having thrown out a lot of what @SwissRamble has already covered, I’m only going to look at the questions, contradictions and omissions that remain bubbling under the surface
Contingencies trigger clauses for payments to other clubs depending on the performance of players we buy from them. These are the contingency payments the club was liable for over the past 7 season.
However, the payments were only actually made prior to 2011 (grey). In every set of accounts since then (blue), the club have stated that “the directors do not currently think that it is probable that such sums will be payable on the basis that the qualifying criteria are not currently expected to be met”
While the immediate thought that springs to mind is that the club are holding players back from first team action to avoid triggering payments, the other point of view would be that the players the club are buying are less able to play at a Premier League standard. Neither reflect well on the club, but we have very recent evidence of the former from the Jonas Gutierrez case, where a player that was good enough was not played purposely.
Also noteworthy are the decreasing sums that the club are liable to pay. It looks to be a policy decision that the club don’t want to be required to pay clubs anything but an initial fee. This severely restricts the club’s ability to sign good prospects at a reasonable price, as most clubs that have invested in coaching a youth through their academy or feeding them into their first team want some payback when their potential is met. Mike Ashley is clearly opposed to any other clubs benefiting from the performance of his players, no matter how great the on pitch benefit to Newcastle United.
The accounts claim that the £0.9m increase in matchday income was down to an extra cup game.
However we played no cup games at St James Park in 14/15. Indeed, we played 3 home cup matches in 13/14. So, there’s been almost a £1m increase income in matchday revenue, despite playing three fewer games and despite attendances falling.
For me, this can only be due to an increase in ticket prices that is clouded by price manipulation. I’ve written about this issue previously here. The club can’t really justify the increase without an admission that fewer people attending less games are now paying more for the privilege.
The 13/14 accounts stated that net debt on 30 June 2014 was £94.9m
The 14/15 accounts stated that net debt on 30 June 2014 was £106.5m
This is not a huge fib. net debt is just the gross debt minus cash in the bank. The club current account will obviously fluctuate up and down on a daily basis, and on this date we did sign Remy Cabella. The point to note is that it looks like the club took the morning balance in the 13/14 accounts and the afternoon balance in the 14/15 accounts, and spent £11.6m in between. This could be genuine and unintended inconsistency, but given what we know about the club and the way they’ve acted previously, I automatically consider the nefarious approach and assume that it’s an effort to give the appearance of the debt lowering as much as possible in each season. While the gross debt, of course, remains static at £129m.
In 14/15, for the first time in their Premier League history, Newcastle did not spend more on wages than they received in TV income.
This meant that £63.7m of the club’s turnover was left after paying the wage bill. That is £12m more than in any previous season, continuing a 4 year upward trend.
Despite having all this extra lovely cash swilling around the club leading to a £32m profit, they still sold three first team defenders (Santon, Mbiwa and Debuchy) and brought in just one replacement (Janmaat). It led to the club conceding more goals than all but one other Premier League team in 14/15 as we struggled against relegation and it’s a choice that continues to have repercussions now as we repeated that feat in 15/16. Potentially with even more disastrous results.
Charitable donations have more than halved under Mike Ashley. From an average £25,000 to £11,000.
I don’t know about how the club used charitable donations in the past or presently in terms of offsetting tax liabilities. Given the historic losses incurred by the club and the lack of any taxes paid accordingly, I don’t see why it would have been used for anything like that though. It indicates a certain lack of social conscious that we’re all well aware Mike Ashley suffers from.
Highest paid Director
Much has been made of the raise received by Lee Charnley, in spite of his poor performance at the helm of the club. The accounts don’t actually state Charnley’s salary, only what the highest paid director earned and the total earnings of all directors.
There were several changes to the board of directors at the club in the season 14/15 though. Lee Charnley was a director throughout 13/14 and 14/15, but Mike Ashley and John Irving were removed from the board on the 10th and 14th June 2015 respectively. Also, on 19th June 2015 Steve McClaren, Graham Carr and Bob Moncur were added to the board to replace those that vacated places.
In 13/14 the Directors remuneration totalled £189k. The highest paid director was on £107K. As Ashley wasn’t taking a salary, this suggests that Charnley was on £107k and Irving was on £82k as the only other director.
In 14/15 the Directors remuneration totalled £296k. The Highest paid director was on £150K. Where the other £146 went is unclear. It is safe to assume that Steve McClaren was on more than £150,000 a year, even as a twice failed championship manager. Many players earn double that in a week. So assuming the club have failed to disclose his salary as a director (or purposely set things up so they don’t have to) that would leave £146k shared between Graham Carr and Bob Moncur.
Ashley’s shop were paid a further £2.3m last season by Newcastle. This means that over three seasons they have received a total of £5.9m. Under £2m has been paid the other way from Sports Direct to the club, which means the net transfer of money has been £4m from Newcastle to the sporting goods chain.
As has been reported elsewhere, the accounts do state that from next year Sports Direct will pay Newcastle United for Promotional services. However, this is unrelated to the retail agreement that the above outlines. It only covers advertising in the stadium and at the training ground.
We do not know any details behind the deal that Newcastle get from the owner’s shop. Given that the bulk of incoming funds were received in 2013, one would hazard a guess that this was for stock the club still owned and it will not be repeated. The payments to Sports Direct could cover materials, manufacture, storage, transport, rent or any number of things. But the accounts don’t break it down in any further detail.
Under the retail deal that Rangers had with Sports Direct, the club earned 4p for every £1 spent in club stores.
Finally, Alan Pardew was poached from Newcastle by Crystal Palace in January 2015. Pardew had over 5 years remaining on an 8 year contract with Newcastle United. But there is no mention of this major event in the accounts at all. This is a transaction that should have earned the club millions of pounds. Previously accounts have covered the costs incurred from discarded managers such as Kevin Keegan and Sam Allardyce. But nothing in this instance.