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Watford FC: An Unlikely Financial Success Story?

Wed 26th Apr 2017 | Money & Finance

The business model carried out by the owners of Watford FC is unlikely to be adopted by too many sectors outside of football, but by hiring and firing a conveyor belt of managers, they have managed to reach and subsequently survive in the top flight of the English game.

Success can be measured in many ways and while a tenth-placed finish might seem underwhelming, it’s estimated that it will bring around £120 million in prize money so it will benefit the Hornets to stay in their current position.

Punching above their weight

When Watford lost 1-4 to Spurs on New Year’s Day, their grip on Premier League football seemed tenuous even though they remained outside of the relegation zone. Beset by injuries and suspensions to key players, a tough schedule suggested that Walter Mazzarri’s side faced a tricky run in.

The Hornets are, however, a team that seems to rise to the occasion and that’s a theory backed up by research from online betting company Betway Insider, who list Watford as the biggest overachievers in the whole of the Premier League. The study shows that Mazzarri’s men have defied the odds on more occasions that anyone else to give punters who had backed them a more regular profit.

One look at the Hornets’ set of results will show some strange contrasts and this is a team capable of losing to Hull City last time out without putting up too much of a fight, while they have also managed to lose to Sunderland, a team destined to miss out on Premier League revenue completely when they make their expected return to the Championship at the end of this season.

Meanwhile, Watford have won away to Arsenal while thumping West Ham 4-2 at the London Stadium so, anyone backing Mazzarri’s side in their toughest fixtures could be looking to a decent profit over the course of the campaign. Certainly, you could consider the Hertfordshire club in contrast to Manchester United; the latter being a clear underachiever despite off-field trading making them one of the league’s financial successes.

Still not safe

Watford’s main goal must surely be survival first and then to get as much revenue in as possible by climbing the table. Can they really be expected to move beyond tenth place and challenge for the European places and the extra money that trips around the continent can bring in?

The owners seem to think they can and Walter Mazzarri will be aware, more than anyone, that his job is far from safe. In 2015/16, the club finished in 13th place, not a bad position for a side just coming back to the Premier League, but it wasn’t enough to save manager Quique Sanchez Flores, who became the latest victim of the merry-go-round as instigated by owner Gino Pozzo.

Player trades

Anyone can gain access to Watford’s 2016 financial report and it makes for interesting reading for what is a mid-table club. Also worthy of note is the first team squad and the overall salaries that are paid. As far as transfer fees are concerned, the club has saved some money by bringing in three loan players including Everton’s Tom Cleverley who, it is rumoured, could be arriving on a permanent deal in time for next season.

Meanwhile, some of the transfer fees paid are quite eye-watering with a then club record of £6.3 million going to Spurs for Etienne Capoue, but the stand out is the £12.3 million subsequently paid to Granada for the services of Isaac Success. The Nigerian forward could one day become a headline writer’s dream but with one goal in his 17 league appearances to date, he has yet to live up to his name.

The cost of… Success

£12.3 million for one player is a sizeable fee for a club of Watford’s stature but just getting to the Premier League was an achievement that saw the Hornets make a pre-tax loss of £4.7 milliom for the year ending June 2015.

Compared to the potential earnings from a top half finish, that sum is peanuts and along with the prize money comes greater sponsor deals that are more fitting for a team in England’s elite league. Watford are not a glamour club and their exploits go under the radar in terms of financial football news, but this monetary path is a fascinating one.

They may be a dream for the punters but Watford’s monetary reports, the delicate balancing of their squad and the constant firing of managers are an interesting reflection of just what finances are needed to get into the Premier League and to merely make up the numbers when you’re there.

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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