Barber reflects on biggest crisis football has ever faced

Chief executive and deputy chairman Paul Barber says the coronavirus crisis has been ‘a very rude awakening’ for clubs throughout the game and feels it may widen the gap between those at the very top and the rest.

By Bruce Talbot • 13 April 2020

He said: “I think this is the biggest crisis we have faced in the football industry. ITV Digital going bust in 2002 was bad enough and we never forget here that it was only 23 years ago that we were close to going out of business ourselves.

“When we see everything stop overnight as it has it is a very rude awakening and it will certainly give us all pause for thought because there are a lot of jobs in the industry that could be affected by this crisis. Clearly, our biggest responsibility of all is to try and make sure we manage that loss as best as we can because a lot of people have their livelihoods invested in the game.

“The problem with Premier League clubs described as being the same actually disguises that we’re not. We are 20 different businesses in a single league generating a basic, bottom line revenue of £100m or so a year which is a huge amount of money, certainly relative to the rest of football.

“But then there are many clubs in the Premier League that generate many multiples of that £100m and we’re not one of them. I take the point that TV is a significant part of that revenue and we’re very fortunate to have such great sponsors as American Express, Nike and JD backing us.

The Amex generates a lot of revenue for the club on non-matchdays

"We sell out every game, we sell out all our hospitality for every game, we have a huge number of events in our stadium on a non-matchday and we run a big retail programme, both in the stadium and online.

“We do everything we can to maximise every possible revenue stream to reduce the effect of the TV income in terms of the overall percentage but there’s only so much we can do. We are not one of football’s global brands and therefore our ability to sell, even outside south-east England, is quite limited, let alone the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

“I do think at the end of this crisis what we’ll see is a greater understanding of the significant gap that exists, albeit within the same division, between clubs.

“I understand to some extent why some commentators, politicians, journalists and fans see the Premier League as being wealthy and we do generate a huge amount of revenue, but a lot of it flows straight out the door as costs and therefore these notions that there are huge amounts of profit in every Premier League club and huge amounts of money sitting in reserve in every Premier League club isn’t the case.

“Some may well be profitable and have cash reserves, but a lot don’t. We’re one of those clubs that doesn’t and we’re also one of those clubs that relies on one person to sustain us and we’re very fortunate to have Tony Bloom as our owner.

"I think it’s really important, not just for the football club and its employees but the whole of the community, that we manage this crisis as best we can and keep the club stable because many people rely on it, not just for jobs but also for the wider benefit it brings to the city.”