Sport is a central pillar of British society.
Not just in terms of shared experience and associated culture but also in taking part and the numerous benefits it brings through exercise and social engagements. The lockdown has been particularly tough for sports enthusiasts.
Economically, like every other sector of the UK economy, sport has taken a big hit. We’ve previously written extensively about sport and insolvency but the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have acted as an accelerant.
More than a game?
Not for the first time, football and it’s response to the predicament has split it down the middle. Fans, players, managers, CEOs, broadcasters, medical staff and government all have a vested interest in how the sport responds and so far it has been a little of everything.
Non-league football up to and including the National League have declared their seasons over as has League Two in the EFL. They have completed their season using a points per game formula to obtain a final league table and have accordingly promoted the top four teams.
League One are deciding how they will proceed but seem like they will vote to finish in a similar style while the Championship and Premier League are pushing ahead to play on and complete their seasons behind closed doors.
The government has given them permission to begin modified and social distanced compliant training this week with an expected resumption date to be June 12th under the aptly named “Project Restart”.
Playing in front of empty stadiums will be a new experience and not necessarily a positive one. The German Bundesliga restarted this week and the experience was described as sterile and unsettling.
Crowds are the scenery, backdrop and special effects at matches and without them the experience might not be as compelling as the authorities are hoping it will be for viewers and broadcasters.
Finishing the season and maintaining sporting integrity are just two of the issues facing football. The financial outlook for teams in an extended offseason is another.
Swindon Town Chairman Lee Power estimates that without immediate financial support from the government or higher up in the football food chain then 30/40% of clubs in League One and Two will be at risk of insolvency.
This is in addition to many lower league footballers contracts running out at the end of June and some teams such as Oldham Athletic and Macclesfield Town already struggling to pay staff on time.
Even if the season is completed in this truncated format, there will still be restrictions placed on crowds when the following season is due to start and fans might not be allowed into stadiums until at least 2021.
Football finance expert and insolvency practitioner, Gerald Krasner who has been involved with several football administrations underlines the financial imperative for restarting football at a time when less high profile industries are still locked down.
He said: “The reality is that people have managed without football for more than a month now and there’s a real danger that unless the momentum can be regained and fans can begin to watch matches on TV again, the impetus will be lost and the draw of football will be diminished in the long term.
“Unfortunately those clubs with wealthy foreign owners may not necessarily be immune from disaster either. If that was to happen, the television money would soon desert the game too.
“Overseas owners will be forced to respond to the effects of the global pandemic on their own finances and business interests, and for some that could mean that ownership of an English football club is simply no longer viable.”
And this, regardless of health and safety, is the prime consideration for the elite of English football.
Any “one” for Tennis?
Other sports, while not taking a direct lead from football, will be at least watching closely to see how any solutions play out.
Rugby and Cricket are looking to hold some kind of competition to avoid their 2020 seasons being written-off and Silverstone have announced that they are hoping to stage two Formula One races albeit in front of empty grandstands.
Golf and Tennis appear to be faring better at least in terms of participation as they were also allowed to restart in the first wave of recreational reopenings recently.
David Rickman, Executive Director of Governance with the R&A said: “We’re fortunate that golf lends itself to social distancing, so by making a few relatively small changes to the rules and the environment in which we play, we can make it safe for golfers.”
Of course most golf clubs will be operating at a minimal level initially as their bars, restaurants, golf shops and practice facilities will all remain closed.
Additionally, a majority of staff including green keepers remain furloughed so playing will be even more of a challenge for some although the clubs themselves will welcome any influx of income.
Now unlimited exercise is allowed, the demand for facilities will be as large as it is immediate.
Playgrounds, outdoor gyms and ticketed outdoor leisure venues will still remain closed but one-on-one sports such as tennis, basketball or even batting and bowling in cricket nets is now permissible as long as social distancing rules are observed.
All of these changes are based on the latest best practice and advice based on the Covid-19 infection rate continuing to fall. Any second wave of infections, or worse any that could be directly attributable to a sporting event, might mean a second lockdown and further restrictions throwing any further plans into doubt.
One of the key tenets of sporting faith is hope. There’s always another match or season. Always the chance to start again and win this time if you’ve suffered a defeat.
In business, administration can offer a similar hopefulness and route to redemption. A lot of otherwise good and profitable companies are finding themselves in terminal circumstances because of the Covid-19 pandemic but there could be a way for them or any business in difficulty to dust themselves down and start again on a level playing field when it’s time to go again.
If this sounds appealing or you’d like to know more than you can get in touch with us here.
We’ll arrange a convenient and free initial consultation with one of our expert team of advisors who can begin our dialogue.
Once we have a clearer view of your business, it’s financial situation and immediate circumstances, we can help you plan out an effective and efficient way forward for you and your business.
Rumours have begun circulating that the Championship, the top division of the English Football League, are considering an unprecedented group or collective administration involving each of their 24 member clubs.
This would mean that as well as some of the most storied and famous names in English football such as Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough potentially folding and reforming as new entities, while releasing every single one of their players, managers, coaches and match-day employees.
They would then look to re-employ them on new but reduced terms. Alternatively, they could exit from administration via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and retain the previous ownership and identity.
Regardless what method is chosen, the rationale for what would still be a unique and staggering move, is that it would be a way of reducing outgoings and debt.
It’s also important to remember that these scenarios are being discussed at the same time as the players PFA union are in negotiations with the EFL to agree to league-wide wage deferrals or reductions which would alleviate some of the immediate pressure on the clubs.
Under current EFL rules, any team going into administration or suffering any other kind of insolvency event during the season is immediately liable for a ten point deduction, which as the season only has nine matches left to play, could be pivotal in promotion or relegation scenarios.
The league would either have to waive the penalties in this case or apply them to every club in the division simultaneously so that nobody would be at a competitive advantage.
Football also has specific rules concerning the payment of debts and the reformation of clubs at the same or a lower level.
Currently all football creditors such as players, are entitled to receive 100% of what they’re owed before any new club can be launched whereas other employees or non-football creditors, such as the St John’s Ambulance or HMRC, would only receive 25p in the pound following the takeover of the club’s assets, although this could rise to 35p if repaid over a longer period.
One of the main hurdles to this plan would be reaching an agreement against the poaching of players from other teams as every player would be a free agent and legally entitled to sign for whoever they wanted, regardless of the status of their previous contract and that their registrations would fall outside of the usual transfer window periods.
This would only apply to clubs within the EFL and there could be nothing to stop Premier League or foreign teams poaching them. Football is notorious for being based on a series of “gentlemen's agreements” rather than contractual law so this could see previous loyalties and alliances broken forever.
1,500 EFL footballers are out of contract at the end of May or June and usually leave or are free to leave or renegotiate new deals but if the season is artificially extended into July or August then this creates obvious difficulties.
It also raises questions of professionalism - if a star striker knows he is leaving at the end of the season regardless, then how motivated will they be to risk injury and put their body on the line in a vital relegation battle?
Several sports leagues have collapsed in the UK before including the National Basketball League and the British American Football League but none as high profile or consequential as the Championship or any EFL division.
Other sports such as county cricket and rugby league and rugby union are also trying to find funding formulas to keep as many clubs functioning as possible so will be looking at developments within football with interest.
Formula One, possibly the most expensive sport in the country, is also facing an existential crisis.
Chief Executive of McLaren Zac Brown has warned that as many as four of the ten teams set to contest the 2020 season could fold if no agreement is reached between teams and staff if racing restarts at some point later in the season.
Nine of the 21 grand prix’s have already been cancelled or postponed and their rules state that at least eight have to be completed for a meaningful championship to be awarded.
While the clock is ticking, Eamonn Wall, Managing Director of Business Rescue Expert is sceptical that the clubs would pursue their doomsday strategy.
He said: “As we’ve seen previously this season with Bolton Wanderers and Bury, administrations are not unknown in the EFL and sadly there may be more to come especially if the enforced lockdown means that the season is elongated or even declared null and void.
“What would be highly unlikely is that all the clubs would enter administration at the same time. As well as the contractual chaos it would cause, there’d be lots of objections - especially from their creditors and would likely be led by HMRC.
“The PFA and EFL are still negotiating for a mutually agreed settlement which would require 75% of clubs to agree to change the EFL rules and allow this or any other collectively agreed changes to the players contracts to take place.
“Each side is looking to gain leverage over the other - it’s a business negotiation after all - and the potential threat of multiple administrations might be enough to get the PFA and players to renegotiate their contracts, which is the main outcome that the clubs are seeking.
“It’s certainly a lot easier and cheaper for them to conclude the issue this way than by looking to launch a unilateral group administration before the season has formally concluded.”
We’ve written previously about sporting administrations and insolvencies and while they may look the same as other businesses and sectors they also have the added complexity and interconnectivity of being part of a wider association or league.
They also have a disproportionate emotional hold on supporters and communities.
We’ve all got a favourite shop or beer but not many of us have got that name or logo tattooed on our bodies, or can reel off the names of the previous 12 CEOs like a stanza.
But they are businesses with employees to pay and debt repayments to meet and like any business if they can’t meet these obligations then they’ve got to make some serious choices - and quickly.
If you contact us one thing we can guarantee is that you’ll be listened to.
One of our team of expert advisors will arrange a free virtual initial consultation with you to understand what you’re facing and to work with you to come up with an effective response.
The club owes debts of over £600,000 to Blitz’s company Brassbank and the club are due to attend a hearing scheduled for this afternoon. This morning the club were facing a winding-up petition in the High Court brought by HMRC for unpaid tax debts in the region of £70,000 which may or may not already have been set-aside at time of publication.
The Oldham Chronicle reports that a potential administrator has already been approached and Mr Blitz is keen to continue to provide backing through the administration process.
The Football League deadline for imposing points penalties is March 26th although any penalty incurred after this date would see the team begin next season on minus points as Bolton Wanderers did this season.
Going into administration currently incurs an automatic 12 point penalty which would effectively see the Latics relegated from the Football League for the first time since their acceptance in 1907.
The club is currently operating with only three stands open on match days as the local council has closed the North Stand over safety concerns so further financial intrigue is the last thing they’d want.
It’s been a bleak year for North West football clubs with Bury going into administration and being expelled from the league, Bolton’s points deduction effectively guaranteeing them relegation to league two and Macclesfield Town facing winding-up petitions after staff had been paid late for the fourth time this season.
It’s also just come to light that Southend United’s players are still awaiting their wages from February.
Oldham owner Abdallah Lemsagam, a former players agent, took over the club in January 2018 and saw them relegated in his first season in charge. He hired former Manchester United great and Oldham native Paul Scholes to be manager in February 2019 who later resigned only seven games later claiming he had been mislead.
Lemsagam later alleged that he was making a complaint to Greater Manchester Police regarding the financial conduct of former owners including Simon Blitz regarding grant money from Oldham Council towards the building of the currently closed North Stand.
Blitz, a US based entrepreneur, claims that the club owes £200,000 for the rent and a further £330,000 for an unpaid loan with late fees and interest accruing further debt daily.
The club accepts it has not paid rent and under the terms of the loan Blitz has the right to appoint an administrator.
There’s claim and counterclaim between Lemsagam and Blitz regarding various land and property deals involving the club and the local council which the hearing may shed more light on but the clear and present danger facing the club relates to it’s self-admitted rent arrears.
Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with Business Rescue Expert, says it’s quite unusual for a business to face an administration order under such circumstances. He said: “When an unsecured creditor is pursuing a debt, they will generally seek a winding up petition. An administration application from a creditor is a more complex request.”
“Usually, as the club is already subject to a winding up petition from HMRC, the landlord could have sought to be attached to this petition or to support the petition. The administration application however means they have brought their own separate action, which could prevent the winding up petition.”
“In addition, with an Administration Order, the creditor is able to nominate the insolvency practitioner(s) who will act as administrator. With a winding up petition, the Official Receiver will be appointed in almost every case.”
Bill Shankly said that football is a simple game made complicated by people who should know better. The same can be said for running a business.
Anything that makes profitability more difficult or impedes progress could ultimately turn into a big problem for any company.
If you’re finding running your business is more like wading through treacle than effortlessly gliding over a wet pitch then get in touch with us.
One of our team of expert advisors will arrange a free, convenient initial consultation to talk through your situation and help you plan an effective way forward to help you transform from relegation candidates to real contenders.
We’ve previously written about the sad demise of Bury FC - the 135 year-old double FA Cup winners who, in August, became the first team to be expelled from the football league during a season since 1992.
This follows the news that Bury’s owner Steve Dale has defaulted on the company voluntary arrangement (CVA) that was agreed last summer to settle the club’s £5 million debts having failed to provide the money required to fund it.
This means that liquidation of the club remains a certainty. A spokesperson for the administrators said: “The CVA has formally defaulted and we will now be looking at taking the necessary action to deal with the default”.
Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with Business Rescue Expert said: “The usual procedure when a CVA defaults is that the supervising liquidator will formally petition the court to begin a winding-up of the company.
“If this happens then whatever remaining assets belonging to the club will be sold off by the liquidator - including the right to use the name Bury FC which would be of interest to supporters looking to relaunch a new entity lower down the football pyramid.
“Of course sometimes this is impossible so recently reborn “phoenix” clubs such as Darlington, Wimbledon and Hereford United have come back named slightly differently - Darlington 1883; AFC Wimbledon and Hereford FC.”
The club’s Gigg Lane ground has a £3.8 million mortgage held by Capital Bridging Finance Solution who would effectively repossess the stadium. They could sell this to any consortium or group prepared to buy it.
Creditors were informed in January that Mr Dale had missed the maximum six-month deadline to provide the monies to fund the CVA and had been given a 21 day extension up to Tuesday 11th February to do so or the CVA would be terminated.
The terms of the CVA set out that football creditors such as former players and other clubs would receive their debts paid in full, approx. £1 million, whereas non-football creditors including staff and HMRC would receive 25p in the pound or 25% of the remaining outstanding debt - approx. £4 million.
The operation of the CVA had previously been investigated by the Insolvency Practitioners Association following concerns regarding its operation but it was concluded this week having determined that there was insufficient evidence on which any disciplinary action could be founded.
Chris Horner said: “A CVA is not a ‘get out of jail’ free card for dodgy directors - over 40% fail and it requires hard work and good faith on behalf of directors to make it work.
“They have strict conditions attached for a reason but these will hopefully allow a company to survive and restructure its debts to keep staff employed, get back into shape and eventually, profitability.”
If you feel your company might have a future if it can just get a break from its debts and obligations then get in touch with us today.
One of our team of experienced expert advisors will arrange a free initial convenient consultation with you to go through your current situation and what your options are.
Then they can help you plan out the most efficient and effective course of action that, if followed, could be a roadmap to recovery for your business.
After five league fixtures and a league cup fixture had been suspended, they were finally given a deadline of 5:00pm for the current chairman Steve Dale to provide proof that he has the money to finance the club and its debts for the current season or to satisfactorily conclude a sale.
The most promising offer from C&N Sporting Risk collapsed at 3:00pm when they announced that due to unresolvable problems with the mortgage on the club’s ground, Gigg Lane and the overall financial state of the club, they could not proceed.
Despite three last-minute offers being received for the club the EFL board announced at 11.04pm that Bury’s membership of the league would be withdrawn saying: “Having fully considered all available options, including a number of late expressions of interest provide to the EFL, the EFL board has unanimously determined with enormous regret that Bury’s membership be withdrawn.”
League One will now continue with 23 clubs including Bolton Wanderers who were also given until 11:59pm on Thursday 12th September to complete a sale of their club or show that it can be funded through a full season in administration or also be expelled.
Several other clubs such as AFC Wimbledon, Darlington, Halifax, Scarborough, Chester and Maidstone, the last team to be expelled from the league in 1992, have reformed lower down the non-league pyramid although only Wimbledon have returned to the Football League.
The FA confirmed that the former winners would not be eligible for this season’s FA Cup but “If the club reforms we look forward to them applying to make an application to The Football Association to re-join league competition further down the English football pyramid from the 2020/21 season.”
So how did we get here?
It’s a strange symbolism and while many millions of pounds owed led to their demise a single £1 was all it took for Steve Dale to purchase Bury FC from previous chairman Stewart Day in December 2018.
Day, who owned several property firms, had been in charge since 2013 and took out a mortgage for £3.7m at 138% annual interest on their Gigg Lane stadium but resolving this was one of the sticking points for C&N Sporting Risk as they were unable to reach an agreement for a reduced figure to pay off the loan and release the charge.
After selling Bury, several of Day’s property companies including one called Mederco which specialises in building student accommodation blocks, went into administration owing thousands of investors over £150m in debts.
Additionally, there were also 250 investors who Mederco had sold car parking spaces at the stadium to at a price of £9,995 each based on speculative yields from annual rents and future events.
The club was purchased by the colourful Steve Dale, who claimed in a BBC interview that he’d never heard of the club before he bought it, and previously had a registered interest in 51 companies, 43 of which went on to be liquidated.
Despite taking over the club and all of its assets, Steve Dale never satisfied the Football League that he had the necessary funds to sustain the club after buying it. This is a requirement of EFL rules for new owners before any takeover or at most, within weeks following one.
You would have expected a more robust response from a governing body than ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but the league are now shocked, SHOCKED to discover that the owner who couldn’t provide proof of sufficient financial backing could not provide sufficient financial backing.
In July a winding-up petition brought by HMRC was dismissed by the High Court after being adjourned three previous times.
Creditors eventually approved a CVA which triggered a 12-point deduction for the team although this also had an intriguing subplot when it emerged that a company called RCR Holdings owned by Kris Richards - who happens to be the partner of Steve Dale’s daughter - bought Mederco’s debts (and thereby its CVA voting rights), two days before the CVA meeting. Bury owed Mederco £7m so the proportionate weight of that debt gave RCR a deciding vote that ultimately allowed the CVA to pass.
It was also later confirmed that RCR would seek a dividend from the CVA which would be a quarter of the debt owed - an impressive return of £1.75m on a debt bought for only £70,000.
Steve Dale issued a statement saying that all dealings within the CVA had been done in the correct and proper manner but Bury North MP James Frith has written to the EFL calling for an investigation into the relationship between Mederco, RCR and Steve Dale.
The administrators will now continue to progress the CVA and arrange the disbursement of any funds to creditors while supporters wait to see what will happen to the name, ground and other assets and what they are going to do, for the next few months at least, at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.
The fate of Bury and possibly Bolton Wanderers proves that you need more than love, passion or even luck to run a successful business. The affair also proves that when facing hard reality, the only people you can truly rely upon for guidance and to act in your best interests are professionals.
If your business is adrift in the bottom three and running out of fixtures then contact one of our expert advisors.
They will arrange a free initial consultation where we can discuss what you can do immediately and in the short term to give you and your business a fighting chance of survival.
We won’t always tell you what you want to hear but we’ll always tell you what you need to.
What if many of them regularly spend hundreds of pounds on having the same uniform as the staff or even have the company’s name or likeness tattooed on themselves?
What if the business is the primary reason the town is “on the map” and people cannot say the name of the town without adding the business’s suffix to it? Try talking about Accrington without automatically adding Stanley. Even Manchester doesn’t look right without United or City behind it.
The businesses we’re talking about are sports teams. In many ways they are a business like any other and have incomings, outgoings, assets, liabilities, staff, shareholders and directors. In several other ways they are not businesses at all but community assets, focal points, standard bearers and ambassadors.
One of the ways they’re similar is that they’ve still got to generate sufficient income to pay wages and bills or else they will become insolvent and this is where the first difference between a regular business and a football club exhibits itself.
We wrote about the disaster area that the famous Bolton Wanderers have become earlier this year. Not only did they enter administration and face a winding up order along with owing millions of pounds in debt but they continue to suffer in sporting terms.
Under English Football League rules, any club going into administration automatically incurs a 12 point deduction either taking effect immediately or if after March 31, being suspended until the following season.
Bolton, already with the ignominy of relegation to League One, will now start on minus 12 points at least. At least because the players, disgruntled at not being paid on time for the third time in as many months, took unilateral strike action and refused to play a match at home to Brentford. The league eventually awarded Brentford a 2-0 win rather than force the game to be played after the end of the regular season and Bolton are still awaiting the results of a disciplinary panel investigation for additional punishment for failing to fulfill a fixture.
It’s in the league’s interest to take steps to ensure that each team fulfills its 46 scheduled fixtures to maintain the sporting integrity of the competition. Brentford were not in the promotion race but a scenario where Bolton were being liquidated would have been a nightmare for the league.
In such instances, the results of the defunct club are expunged from the records and points won by other teams against them are taken away. This can impact the promotion and relegation scenarios and ultimately cost a team promotion and forfeit the millions of pounds that entry to the premier league would bring.
It’s because of these rewards that so many clubs end up gambling with their futures by paying exorbitant wages and transfer fees to try and access the financial bonanza that promotion would bring. Alongside the glamour of fixtures against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United - a promoted team gets a minimum payment of £100m in TV rights every season just for being a member of the league.
Even if they’re relegated, they’ll be due reducing “parachute payments” to help them mitigate the change in circumstances so clubs that are run within their means can survive and even thrive under a promotion/relegation/promotion cycle.
The knock-on effect of this gold rush is that The Championship, the EFL’s top division and the one that has three promotion places to the Premier League on offer saw its members make a combined loss of over £500m last season alone.
It’s not just football that is seeing financial fiascos engulfing famous names. Widnes Vikings and Bradford Bulls Rugby League teams and Cardiff Blues and Leeds Carnegie Rugby Union clubs are also in dire debt straits all in the pursuit of sporting glory.
They think it’s all over
Redundancies are also a different matter for a sporting club in insolvency. Star players are freed from their contracts and are able to sign with rival teams almost immediately, usually with a customary signing-on fee. Their livelihoods are secure and are also treated as football creditors when claiming back any owed wages which gives them preference over other member of staff.
And what about the other members of staff? Ticket sellers, bar servers and Hospitality staff. Very often, they’re fans themselves and working for their club, while being a labour of love, is also a dream come true.
They aren’t going to walk away and look for jobs with Wigan Athletic or Preston North End - Bolton are their club so it’s a double tragedy for them - personally and professionally.
Sixteen professional football clubs have faced winding up petitions in the courts over the past two years alone. Bolton are still in administration while a sale is sought and Bury’s owner is hoping to strike a CVA deal with the club’s creditors.
R3, the industry body for insolvency practitioners, have recently produced a briefing paper for Insolvency Practitioners on the special features and considerations of football insolvencies - recognising that they have broader dimensions than a regular retailer would for example.
R3 led a campaign in 2015 based on changing the “Football Creditors Rule” that saw the EFL amend its rules so that unsecured creditors of an insolvent club (local small businesses, service providers, St John’s Ambulance Service etc) were better protected.
Before the amendment there was no requirement to provide any level of return to unsecured creditors, now any purchaser on an insolvent EFL club is required to pay them a minimum of 35p in the pound over three years or 25p on transfer of shares. If they fail to meet these stipulations the club would face a heavy sporting sanction - an additional 15 point penalty to be implemented at the start of the season following the insolvency.
R3 said: “Any insolvency practitioner who takes on the insolvency of a club will be very aware of its value to fans and to the local economy, and will do their best to rescue the club’s business as a going concern. It is very rare for insolvency to mean the end for a club, which is good news for fans, local communities and towns across the country, and the sport as a whole.”
While the wait goes on for supporters of Bolton Wanderers and Bury, who will meet in an “insolvency derby” on 7 September, fans of other teams, especially in the lower leagues, will wonder who’s next.
Insolvency Practitioners may operate under certain exceptions when it comes to dealing with sports teams in administration but they don’t operate with different rules.
No matter who you follow, if your business is in the relegation zone then give us a call. We’ll give you our full support from our free initial call, helping you make the crucial tactical tweaks to tighten up your financial defence and scrap your way to survival if possible.