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The Mark Catlin column: It's a business Jim, but not as we know it!

Some of our younger readers may have never seen the original Star Trek. So just to bring you up to speed... On finding a new species, the doctor (Mccoy) used to say to Captain Kirk: "it’s life Jim, but not as we know it!" This pretty much sums up my views on the business that we know as ‘football’.

The success of almost any 'normal' business is judged upon how much money it makes, but in football, it's success on the pitch that dictates how successful it is, often working completely contrary to the actual off-field financial results (more success on the pitch, more debt off of it).

More on-field success requires more off-field revenue that in most cases cannot be supported from a purely business perspective, Chelsea and Manchester City being the extremes, although pretty much the norm, across a whole number of clubs throughout the league structure.

Do fans really care? I honestly do not think that they do, as long as it does not look to push their club into financial jeopardy. I think that almost all of us fans do not like the fact of a sugar daddy bankrolling another club to success, but let's be honest, if it was YOUR club being bankrolled, would you turn it down? Do you think Manchester City or Chelsea fans are really bothered where the money is coming from to finance success?

Different strategies 

I believe clubs can effectively be split into four categories.

1) Clubs that live within their means running a relatively neutral budget.

2) Clubs losing money that 'get out of jail' with a player sale or cup run.

3) Clubs accumulating long-term debt as the (perceived) value of the business increases.

4) Clubs being bankrolled by a wealthy benefactor(s).

Maybe there should be a number 5, you know the one about a club in it to earn money (a proper business!), although incredibly I struggle to find any clubs that fit into this category!

Apart from number 1, all the rest carry a degree of risk, but realistically do supporters really care until it's too late? I think that there is a general fear in football that a 'sugar daddy' will one day lose his passion for a club and stop its funding, leaving it high and dry. It may not happen next week, or next year, but it WILL happen, of that I am sure.

To a degree, Portsmouth have already endured this, but my opinion is that this is just the warm-up to a main event about to unfold sometime in the future. I hope that I am wrong.

New rules 

It's not all doom and gloom and thankfully many football clubs are now adopting number 1 as the business model. The Football League are discreetly guiding clubs through various new rules that will guide clubs down this route, and as long as football continues to be so appealing, so glamorous, there will always be business people out there that look for the buzz that football has to offer.

What’s the answer? Unless stringent rules with massive penalties are generally imposed (which would never be approved by many clubs) there is no silver bullet to changing the business that is football. However, to finish and perhaps plant a tiny seed for the future in supporters' minds, I would just like to throw a curve ball into this article!

I know that the Inland Revenue are publicly in hot pursuit of every last penny that they can get from the football coffers (I have no problem with this), but here's a little thought. Should football be allowed to have a CHARITABLE or ‘not for profit’ tax status? Not as silly as it first seems, and I was amazed when I first went onto the board of a Spanish football club that it was EXEMPT from paying many taxes due to its ‘not for profit’ classification!

Imagine that: if a business is set up us a ‘not for profit’ organization, as many clubs effectively are, if a club has no intention of making a profit with everything being ploughed back in to the sport and work that it does with youth and in the community, is it a charity or is it a business?

It's a business Jim, but not as we know it!

By Mark Catlin, Bury FC Director


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