The Evolving Business Of Football: ‘Insuring Against The Cost Of Success’

‘This article was written for and first published on LawInSport – click here

Have you ever considered that a football club may be financially worse off in the short-term for achieving promotion or winning a trophy?

You would be forgiven for dismissing this as a bizarre concept.

The idea some clubs need to consider insuring against the cost of paying players and managers cash incentives for winning a trophy, league title, or even gaining promotion may seem unusual.

However, clubs are increasingly looking at ways to protect themselves from the financial risks associated with success.

To find out more about how clubs are using insurance to protect against increasing levels of performance bonus liability, I interviewed Saul Paine, Business Development Manager at Hedgehog Risk Solutions, who specialises in insuring contractual bonus liability in football and a number of other sports.

Backround

Money and success often go hand in hand in professional sport, with successful performance bringing about significant financial gains. This is no more evident than in professional football, where wages at the top level have steadily increased over the last 10 years (Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance1).

With clubs and their wealthy benefactors continuously demanding better results, it is no surprise that performance related bonuses can create significant exposures that can run into the millions.

Performance bonuses have long been a part of football club culture and clubs have readily adopted player contracts that remunerate players for a job well done based on a wide range of conditions.

Player contracts now typically include bonuses linked to a number of conditional circumstances i.e. number of appearances, loyalty bonus, performance targets (e.g. goal scoring bonuses / clean sheets), as well as an additional share of the clubs bonus pool, which can be linked to a specified performance measure such as promotion, winning a specific trophy or qualifying for European competitions2.

Saul provides some examples to illustrate this point:

“In 2012, the Independent3 reported that Man City paid £6.2m across the squad for winning the Premier League as part of their bonus incentive scheme, which also included separate bonus pools for the Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup, which in total amounted to just over £14m.”

“This is not an uncommon as all clubs up and down the leagues will have their own bonus schedule with varying levels of liability and different structures”

“Such bonus schemes are not limited to the domestic game either. A large majority of the National Associations will have had a pre-agreed bonus schedule for the World Cup and other major international tournaments. For example, players in the German national team will have brought home more than just a winners medal in the summer, with each squad member picking up a reported bonus of €300k for their triumph in Brazil.4

Whilst in most cases these bonus structures are designed to be offset against any increase in revenue or prize money, clubs can easily become over exposed financially even when they achieve success on the pitch. An infamous example being Portsmouth Football Club, when in 2010 having made the FA Cup final, they were not able to field certain players as they could not afford to trigger related bonus payments.5

Whilst the above demonstrates that these schemes can be successful there have also been situations where bonus schedules have had an adverse financial impact (see Portsmouth example above).

The Football Association Stance On Bonus Insurance Schemes

In accordance with The Football Association (“The FA”), each club is required to submit their bonus schedules to The FA prior to the start of the season (Rules C 1 (b)(iv), The FA Rules and Regulations of The Association).

In 2012, The FA introduced the Bonus Insurance Scheme Policy (“BISP”) after they had “been made aware that clubs may wish to enter into insurance arrangements to cover contractual liabilities that would become payable should a particular competitive outcome occur, for example promotion bonuses to players.” 6 The FA took “the view that such insurance arrangements have similar characteristics to a ‘bet’ and therefore may contravene Rule E8 in certain circumstances.”7

However, the suggestion that The FA consider this type of insurance similar to bet is dispelled in the policy as Saul points out that “it would seem the FA are keen to differentiate between their regulations on betting and insurance contracts in regards to performance bonuses.” The FA’s policy states:

“Following detailed consideration together with its stakeholders of the issues arising, and recognising the particular circumstances of clubs and their desire to mitigate their financial exposure, The FA has agreed that Clubs may be permitted to enter into certain prescribed arrangements as an exception to Rule E8.” 8

Saul adds, “This policy has been introduced as an exception to Rule E8 and it recognises that clubs should be able to manage their exposure through regulated insurance contracts, providing clubs fulfil each and all of the criteria the FA outlines in their policy. This includes the club receiving prior written consent from the FA (see BISP 3.3).”

Saul is strongly supportive of The FA’s approach on this matter, “The FA has been forward thinking in introducing such a policy. This policy ensures it is a regulated activity and that clubs are acting in the best interests of the game when they are entering into such agreements and have recognised that success can create significant financial liabilities.”

This ensures clubs are taking out insurance with Financial Conduct Authority approved insurers and are not entering into private financial agreements with wealthy individuals or private companies that are not financial services regulated (see BISP 3.2).

What Is The Benefit To Clubs For This Type Of Insurance?

Saul is of the view that “for clubs with restricted financial resources, contractual bonus insurance is one way that clubs can offer bonus incentives that can have a significant impact on the motivations of players whilst controlling their financial exposure. For some clubs it will allow them to attract and retain players in which they are investing a lot of money in, whilst also protecting themselves financially when they are doing well. In that respect, when used correctly these schemes can help clubs to:

  1. budget with certainty
  2. limit their exposure and protect the balance sheet
  3. incentivise players for specific competitions/performance objectives
  4. reduce wage inflation on basic salaries
  5. implement a more sustainable remuneration model
  6. act inline with the principles of financial fair play”

I wanted to know if other businesses use this type of insurance. Saul assures me that “contractual bonus insurance is something that apparel manufacturers and sponsors have widely used to cover their liabilities linked to an ambassador’s performance, typically in golf or tennis – this has helped them determine what sponsorship agreements offer a better return on investment for them. From that point of view, sponsors appear one step ahead in the thought process as they seek to negotiate higher performance related deals with less of a focus on larger retainers, which may reduce the overall costs involved. For example, it is not uncommon for us to receive a call from a sponsor wishing to assess what coverage terms are available before or during the negotiation stage with athletes or clubs, in order to weigh up the costs of entering into a new sponsorship agreement.”

Effects Of FFP And The Growing Interest In This Cover

Clubs also now have to navigate the financial regulations when competing in European competitions and in their domestic leagues, which has made them more prudent in their financial management. Therefore clubs will increasingly be looking to different ways to protect against liabilities and access alternative means of finance. Saul’s view on how the insurance market fits into this is an interesting one:

“Certainly the introduction of FFP has brought the topic of financial sustainability and risk management to the fore and whilst it is relatively a new concept in football it is beginning to have an impact on how clubs are run both internally and also how they do business with other clubs. Take the recent transfer window for example; the FFP regulations made a noticeable impact in the window, arguably for the first time, as it was apparent clubs accepted they could only afford to invest what they generated in revenue. Real Madrid (€113m), FC Barcelona (€79m), Atletico Madrid (€77m), Chelsea (€94), Liverpool (€92m) and Manchester City (€62.2m) all recouped record figures for player income – that was in figures released by The Soccerex Transfer Review by Prime Time Sport.

Whilst there is no direct relationship between the emergence of contractual bonus cover and the introduction FFP it is certainly a product that resonates with UEFA’s primary objectives:

  • to introduce more discipline and rationality in club football finances
  • to decrease pressure on salaries and transfer fees and limit inflationary effect
  • to encourage clubs to compete with(in) their revenues
  • to protect the long-term viability of European club football
  • to ensure clubs settle their liabilities on a timely basis

As a result, we have certainly noticed a large increase in clubs taking an interest in this type of cover and taking stock of what options are available to them.

When you consider UEFA’s primary objectives you can begin to see why more clubs are taking performance related pay more seriously. This is an area that has received some media coverage in the past.9

For example, comments from Liverpool’s Managing Director, Ian Ayre, in 2013 about Liverpool’s shift towards a more performance related pay structure show that this is something that is on the agenda of clubs even at the highest levels of the game.10

With that in mind, I expect financial liabilities linked to a clubs performance will grow rapidly in a number of different areas over the course of the next few years and as result clubs should be looking more closely at the benefits contractual bonus cover can offer them.”

How Other Football Associations In Europe Regulate Insurance Policies?

One question that immediately sprung to mind during our discussion was ‘how does this approach compare to other leagues?’, Saul provided an example: “Whilst other football associations on the continent may require clubs to lodge their insurance policies with their association, not necessarily for approval but for full disclosure, there is no other recognised ‘Bonus Insurance Scheme Policy’ elsewhere in Europe, and therefore there is more flexibility for clubs on the continent to also insure against negative outcomes. This is something widely used by clubs in respect to relegation, lower league position, or failing to qualify for European competition. They also have the advantage of looking at insurance of this nature at any point in the season”.

Being cynical this does make me consider how this effects the integrity of European competitions where it is conceivable that and English club is playing a club where they have been able to fund a squad because they do not bear the same financial risk as they have offset their exposure to relegation or non-qualification. Although it may be unlikely, it is conceivable that a club in financial distress could be incentivised to lose to help ease liquidity issues; pay-outs from insurance policies of this nature can help clubs in such circumstances as they will receive the funds more quickly than those derived from the distribution of broadcasting or competition revenues.

Other sports like cricket and rugby have also outlawed betting, for example in rugby the IRB regulations enforce a global ban on betting for ‘connected persons’ (see IRB Anti-Corruption and Betting – Regulation 6.1.411), something the RFU has readily acknowledged in their own regulations (RFU Regulation 17.1.4 – Anti-Corruption and Betting12).

Saul believes that we may see other national sports association and international federations make “the distinction between betting and these permitted insurance arrangements as an exception [BISP’s] as they look to regulate this activity through similar bonus insurance schemes

Conclusion 

Insurance is tool that is used widely to protect consumers and businesses alike. It seems The FA have been proactive and pragmatic in their approach to how football clubs can use contractual bonus insurance whilst protecting the integrity of the sport. As more money flows into sports across the globe it will be interesting to see how other governing bodies approach the regulation of insurance linked to performance related bonuses.

As always, your comments and feedback on this article are welcomed.

By Sean Cottrell

Sean is the founder and CEO of LawInSport. Founded in 2010, LawInSport.com has become the “go to sports law website” for sports lawyers and sports executives across the world.

sean.cottrell@lawinsport.com  @SeanLawInSport


Saul is Business Development Manager at Hedgehog Risk Solutions, a specialist sports insurer with particular expertise in managing financial risk linked to sports performance. Saul manages the companies football related business – specialising in contractual bonus cover and revenue protection, and has delivered insurance and risk management solutions for a wide array of professional football clubs from across Europe.

spaine@hedgehogrisk.com @hedgehogrisk

Footnotes:

  1. ‘Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance 2014’, deloitte.com, accessed 18 November 2014, http://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/sports-business-group/articles/annual-review-of-football-finance.html
  2. R Berry, ‘Bonus structures in English professional football’, LawInSport.com, 16 April 2014, accessed 4 November 2014, http://www.lawinsport.com/features/item/bonus-structures-in-english-professional-football
  3. S Wallace, ‘Manchester City bonuses enough to change a life (if they were not already millionaires)’, independent.co.uk, 31 July 2012, accessed 18 November 2014;http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/manchester-city-bonuses-enough-to-change-a-life-if-they-were-not-already-millionaires-7988202.html
  4. G Akoto Boafo, ‘Germany to pay 300,000 euros for World Cup win‘, allsports.com, 23 December 2013, accessed 18 November 2014,http://allsports.com.gh/features/germany-to-pay-300-000-euros-for-world-cup-win-id2688516.html
  5. ‘Portsmouth’s FA Cup final dilemma: the seven players who may not feature’, telegraph.co.uk, 12 April 2010, accessed 18 November 2014,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/portsmouth/7581689/Portsmouths-FA-Cup-final-dilemma-the-seven-players-who-may-not-feature.html
  6. Policy 1.2, Bonus Insurance Scheme, The Football Association
  7. Policy 1.3, Bonus Insurance Scheme, The Football Association
  8. Policy 1.4, Bonus Insurance Scheme, The Football Association
  9. S Ingle, ‘KPIs and GPS put the geeks in charge of players’ pay packets’, theguardian.com, 12 May 2013, accessed 18 November 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/may/12/geeks-players-pay-packets
  10. R Bailey, ‘Liverpool’s Move Toward Performance-Related Pay Is the Future of Football‘, bleacherreport.com, 14 May 2013,http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1639732-liverpools-move-towards-performance-related-pay-is-the-future-of-football
  11. IRB Regulation 6. Anti-Corruption and Betting, irbintegrity.com, accessed 18 November 2014, http://www.irbintegrity.com/resources/IRB_Reg_6_EN.pdf
  12. RFU Regulation 17 – Anti-Corruption and Betting, accessed 18 Novmber 2014,http://www.englandrugby.com/mm/Document/Governance/Regulations/01/30/35/16/RFU_Regulation_17_Neutral.pdf

A Bid To Stay In Existence: Hereford United’s Struggle

The financial state of those clubs in the top tiers of the English Football League is well documented throughout the media, but sadly those lower down the divisions in non-league, such as Conference Premier side Hereford United, just don’t receive the same amount of coverage and support when they fall into a financial mess.

No league club has gone out of business in the past twenty years, since Maidstone United back in 1992-93, yet it is a common occurrence in the grassroots world, with Chester City, Rushden & Diamonds and Darlington just some of the most recent examples of teams going into liquidation.

Many football fans out of the Herefordshire area can be excused for not knowing about the ongoing situation at Edgar Street due to its lack of coverage by the national media, so here is a quick catch-up of the facts.

  • Losses of £541,000 were announced in March 2014; the largest at the club since it was formed back in 1924.
  • Already this year the club has managed to stave off two winding up orders from HM Revenue and Customs, thanks to the fund raising attempts of Hereford United fans desperate to keep their football club in business.
  • Players at the club have received minimal wages since February and many players are still in fact owed money.
  • United are in deep financial trouble needing to raise £300,000 by the end of May this year otherwise the club is likely to fall from existence.

Hereford narrowly avoided relegation from the Conference on the final day of the season in dramatic style, when an 88th minute winner from Michael Rankine and a late equaliser from Salisbury City against relegation rivals Chester sent the phoenix side down, after only one season in the top flight.

Avoiding relegation is likely to only be a stay of execution, with the likelihood of administration and a ten point deduction for next season’s campaign looming large.

In the 2011-12 season the side were relegated from the Football League and Chairman David Keyte has already admitted that the club has never fully recovered from this. Keyte admitted that he overspent on the playing staff budget in a bid to get back into the Football League.

This same phenomenon happens at almost every level, where clubs set their sights on trying to gain promotion in search of a better future for themselves, often taking large financial risks to try to succeed, sometimes these risks backfire and like Hereford United the club fall into major financial difficulty.

The Conference is notorious for being very difficult league to get out of, with just two promotion places back to the football league available and four clubs are relegated from the bottom of the league.

Media coverage is very importance in a clubs bid to survive through a financial crisis and it makes the financial struggle just that bit more difficult for a non league team when they don’t receive that kind of support.

Portsmouth are a fine example of surviving with help from the media. The club were a Premier League side when their extreme financial difficulties came to light, the media coverage on the situation was massive and it made their battle against survival easier as the world seemed to rally around the side, doing whatever they could to ensure a community doesn’t lose their only team.

The Football Association even allowed Portsmouth to sell players outside of the transfer window to help sort out their finances.

Teams like Hereford don’t seem to gain the same treatment, it begs the thought that if you’re not a big club then your demise is not important to the majority until it’s too late.

Their survival so far is completely down to their incredible support, the fans have raised all the necessary funds to keep the club running, including finance for the two winding up orders and the part payments of the player’s wages made recently.

Comedian Omid Djalili offered his support to the cause raising £20,000 pound from a show in the area whilst Dutch brewer Heineken also pitched in with £10,000 donation.

The club supporter’s trust is preparing a bid for the club, with them confident of completing a deal to take over the club by the end of May before they fall into more trouble.

Vice-chairman of the trust Martin Watson has reiterated to many that the organization feel they have enough money raised to take the club forward and out of trouble and the current board seem open to the idea of the fan run club.

The decision needs to be made fast and its clear to see that to keep the club in existence heavy investment is needed to clear the debts. It may be some while before we see the side back in the football league but for fans that does not matter at this particular moment in time.

Whatever happens the club have only lasted as long as they have because of their incredible fans, Hereford United is clearly a football club close to the hearts of many and life in the area just wouldn’t be the same without their local team.

 

Source: Sean Caulfield

What Links….

Question: What links Paul Clark, Trevor Birch, Bob Young and Harvey Madden?

Clue: From a club and fans’ point of view these are the names of the men you hope will never be associated with your football club any time soon.

Answer: Unfortunately for Rangers (Paul Clark), Portsmouth (Trevor Birch), Port Vale (Bob Young) and Darlington (Harvey Madden) these are the administrators who have been drafted in to sort out the mess of these mis-managed clubs.

RangersYes, these are the latest names that are making more headlines than the players on the pitch at these clubs. No Roy of the Rovers last minute equaliser in this story.

No longer are their names the preserve of dusty old accountancy journals; these guys are at the forefront. Football’s bean counters are de rigueur these days but how long will this unwelcome fashion last?

For the sake of the game, we hope it’s not long!

Football Finance – Can Clubs Survive?

Football finance expert Professor Simon Chadwick speaks about his fear of clubs going out of business during the summer, clubs operating in the wrong century and football’s likeness with food retail.

By James Fielden

Football is at an all time high. Not the amount of people watching the sport and not the amount of great players like Messrs Messi, Rooney and Ronaldo gracing the world’s pitches. Instead, it is the amount of debt that clubs are in.

The worldwide recession has impacted further upon clubs and now fans are starting to lose the clubs they have supported all their lives. Clubs in the Premier League alone are estimated to be in debt to the tune of £1.92billion which is actually down from a previous total of £3.1billion

To all fans who are not business experts, the big question is what has got so many football clubs into the mess that they are in?

Chadwick has a different view to many others: “There’s a tendency to say the clubs have spent too much money, they didn’t control their finances and what you see with Portsmouth, Chester and Southend is the consequence of that.

“I take a different view in that the problems we are seeing now date back to the origins of football. Football clubs as they stand today were not constituted to be 21st century businesses; they were set up to be hobby clubs.

“It was groups of people getting together to play in leagues against one another. It wasn’t supposed to be about selling TV rights, sponsorships and going global. It was about playing football and making sure you had opposition to play against.”

Football began as a game for the working class. Mass teams used to play from one end of a town to another; how times have changed. Chadwick thinks that clubs are such now that they can’t operate within a game structured two centuries ago.

He said: “The strength and popularity of football as an industry has grown and we now have broadcasters and sponsors. The organisation of the game hasn’t changed so what you now have is a 19th century industry operating in a 21st century environment.

“I don’t think the structure, organisation and the culture of clubs is such a nature that will allow it to function appropriately or efficiently in a 21st century environment.”

“There’s loads of scrutiny in the high value broadcasting and commercialisation of sport – it’s a global phenomenon. What happens in China has an impact on Stockport County. What we are going through now is a period of transition and clubs are going to have to learn to do things differently and unfortunately part of that learning process will mean that some clubs will go out of business.

“Walsall and Burton Albion are already learning that if you are going to be a 21st century business you need to operate accordingly. Controlling costs accordingly, not spending too much, looking for ways of seeking new revenues, their financial management is much better; it’s the culture change we are going to have to see.”

Decisions that put football clubs in trouble ultimately come from the management. Chadwick is of the impression that there are too many people trying to run football clubs for the wrong reasons or without the required expertise.

He added: “There are too many people involved in football because of the football culture. Monday to Friday these people are hard nosed business people. On a Saturday they run their club as a fan and they need to move away from that.

“They are not being run as commercial entities but as football clubs. They need to run a lot more efficiently in a managerial sense.

“I think there are some skilful, educated and clever football people out there. There are too many people in football who are drawn from a football background. In some ways it’s a good thing because they care and it’s a passion.

“I think as an industry it needs to more outward looking and bring people in who have worked in other industries. People at Coventry City and Bolton Wanderers have come from a different background and are doing things in a different way and that’s important for football.”

Football clubs are difficult to run as they are different from most businesses. Chadwick explains his theory about how the product you give people is not always predictable.

He said: “I think all businesses are difficult to run. In football there’s an intangible element that Amazon and HSBC don’t have, it’s about what happens on the field of play.

“There’s lots of brand loyalty in football, even if a team loses and product quality is poor people still follow you whereas if Microsoft’s product is poor people don’t buy it.

“Microsoft doesn’t need wins on a wet Wednesday night away at Scunthorpe whereas Walsall do. You can’t guarantee huge results, it boils down to have you won – yes or no – that’s crucial.”

Money started being pumped into the game in huge amounts in 1992 when the Premier League was formed. BSkyB paid £304million for the rights to matches and the deal has been increased every few years since then. Chadwick thinks that it is easy for people to say to criticise BSkyB’s part in the money problem football now faces.

He said: “It’s easy to point the finger at BSkyB but if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem and the amount of money they’ve brought in is massive. When you juxtaposition that with the absence of a clear managerial culture in lots of clubs then what you will get is clubs spending huge amounts on transfer fees and wages.

“It’s a bit like saying to your granddad that has never had lots of money, here’s £100million; he wouldn’t make good decisions.

“There has been a huge influx of TV money but then you can’t see it in isolation. Here, you have too explosive elements: a lack of efficiency and huge amounts of TV money which makes a hugely explosive combination.

“Then the Bosman ruling came along just after the inception of the Premier League. It didn’t need external intervention from the European Union saying people could move around for free. It confused the system.”

Players take criticism for the wages they earn but Chadwick argues that the labour market is completely different to some working sectors. It all comes down to elasticity of demand.

He said: “I think one thing about players is that they are employees and wherever they are that they will try to get best possible deal they can from their work.

“Players need to earn as much as possible because their career may not last long past their 30s. They (clubs) pay far more than they need to pay and they probably don’t use strong decision making techniques for signing players. Players and their agents take advantage of that.

“It’s a strange labour market because players are not like shelf stackers at Sainsbury’s; there are thousands of them so their wages aren’t as high as footballers.

In recent months Chester City, Farsley Celtic and King’s Lynn have gone out of business. With high profile clubs such as Portsmouth and Crystal Palace currently in administration you would assume that more clubs are likely to fold or at least enter administration during the summer – Chadwick agrees.

When asked how many clubs he predicted would fold during the summer, he said: “In terms of popular perception it could be any number. I think there will be a few clubs that go and it will pass in the glow of the World Cup.

“What it means and shows is that football is polarising and there are a very small number of powerful, rich clubs at one end and a big majority that have very little money and struggle at the other. Ultimately some will go out of business.

“There will be a process of equalisation. The shrewd, well managed teams will be in a better state in the medium to long term.”

Fans may moan about the state that their club is in but Professor Chadwick thinks that fans are not putting their money where their mouths are.

He said: “I don’t think fans can walk away scot free and say it was nothing to do with us. Fans buy the merchandise, tickets and Sky subscription. Fans often desert clubs when they don’t like what they see and they’re not prepared to put their money where their mouths are.

“They’re not prepared to be part of the football community. There were proposals for Liverpool to be a fan-owned club in the style of Barcelona; however no-one stepped forward with the money.

“If fans cared that much, they would find a way to step forward with the money. They don’t step up to the mark.”

Fans all over the country are trying to take their clubs back from owners (often foreign) who they do not want at the club, none more so than Manchester United’s army of green and gold scarf wearers. Despite buying these scarves to show their support against the Glazers, Chadwick feels that it is not enough to take the club back.

He said: “I think the green and gold is a fantastic campaign but if you want to stage a revolution you’ve got to get up out of your armchair and stage it like the French and Russians have in social history.

“Buying a scarf won’t get rid of the Glazers. You’ve literally got to take positive direct action. Stop buying tickets and merchandise and boycott the club. You need people to form a consortium.

“The problem is they bought a public limited company and the Glazers incurred a huge amount of debt that won’t disappear. Anyone taking over will take on that debt.”

Chadwick thinks we as people are not sure of our opinions of football. More importantly, domestic and international governments need to collate their ideas on how football should be run.

Chadwick added: “We are not sure what we think about football. UEFA has an agenda that it’s working to and the European Union has a different agenda. Then there are domestic governments and individual clubs and the cities they are in that have their own views.

“What we haven’t decided is the extent that football should be the same as other industries or sectors. Such payments, (i.e. transfers) under European Union law is in my view not allowable.

“If the English government was to subsidise one of its industries to make it more competitive then the European Union would rule against it. Subsidies are being paid to clubs to give them an advantage but no-one is doing anything about it.

“There needs to be a consensus generally about what should be in place for European football and currently I don’t think we have that.”

When looking at what consumers choose when purchasing football, Chadwick draws parallels with supermarkets.

He said: “Look at what’s happening in British food retailing; it used to be a small local shopkeeper who knew you personally. Now people are going to supermarkets because it’s cheaper.

“What you have now is a large part of the market served by a small number of retailers. People complain that it’s not how it was but they are the ones who buy their food from there.

“We complain about the cost of the Premier League and everything that comes with it like merchandise but the fact is we still watch them, buy TV subscriptions and match tickets.

“What we’ve got is a situation where people are dominating the market. When Lennart Johansson was president of UEFA there was constant talk of a breakaway and the G14 group were saying we are making money and people want to see us the most so therefore unless you concede to our demands we will breakaway.

“He was more conciliatory with the big clubs. The threats of breakaway leagues were from billionaire owners of elite clubs and I think it will come more to the fore over the next five years

The search for the Holy Grail!

The Red Knights!

You have to admire the ‘Red Knights’. Their charge to the rescue of the damsel in distress has been of epic proportions, so too the publicity it has generated.

We all know the story by now. The Glazers took over Man Utd in 2005, they saddled the club with more that £700m of debt in the leveraged buy out. Some fans disapproved so much that they split from the club and FC United of Manchester was born. After a series of ticket price rises and the revelations that the club was struggling to service the debt including an emergency £500m bond issue, the fans spoke out once again. Then a group of wealthy Man Utd fans headed by Keith Harris and Jim O’Neill came along and created the Red Knights with a plan to buy the Glazers out for an estimated £1.25bn.

But it all seems a bit Monty Python and the search for the Holy Grail to me!

After being subjected to a torrent of abuse aimed in their general direction, our hapless King, Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table try a number of times to storm a castle occupied by the French. However, their epic attempt comes to an abrupt end when the ‘Trojan Rabbit’ they were supposed to be hiding in is fired back over the castle wall towards them to the collective shouts of “Run away!”

It’s all very amusing and the French have the upper hand.

But how does this relate to the Man Utd story? Well, the Red Knights have a justifiable cause, but what must be remembered is that the Glazers bought a public limited company and apparently they don’t come cheap! This is their castle and they are up for the fight.

Now I’m not suggesting that Keith Harris is as hapless as our King, but the tale of his attempts to storm the Old Trafford board room have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The whole anti-Glazer jamboree has gathered remarkable momentum with so many groups voicing their discontent to the backdrop of the Green & Gold campaign.

They are all making the right noises, but I just can’t help feeling that it all seems a bit empty and will ultimately fall flat. And if the Knights do gain control of the club will they be any better than the Glazers?

The debt is there now and unless the new owners are going to turn this into equity then it will remain a burden. What is also overlooked is the £500m bond issue will make up part of this bid, the very thing that caused the whole uproar.

I’m not for one minute suggesting that I support the Glazers. My stance on this is that the Premier League and the previous Man Utd board failed in their foresight to protect the club from the leveraging of debt onto the club. The business plan has some serious flaws that make it hard to believe it was agreed, but then on the other hand the club has acquired record sponsorship deals and turnover is at an all time high.

I just can’t help feeling that when the Red Knights finally think they’ve found their Holy Grail, they will be told to “go away we already have one!”