Tag Archives: profit

£104 for a Standing Season Ticket at Leeds United? Ja, Danke! – by Rob Atkinson

Uli Hoeneß in happier times

Uli Hoeneß in happier times

A stunning quote from a couple of years back drifted randomly across my desktop earlier today – and it fair brought me up sharp. It all had to do with the stark distinction between admission prices in the Premier League as compared with those charged for Bundesliga clubs in Germany. Across the board, the English clubs charged prices well towards the rip-off end of the scale, whereas their German counterparts had a much more enlightened view of match-day revenue – summed-up extremely neatly by this quote, which was not so much food for thought as a veritable banquet for a delegation of philosophers.

Before I go any further into that, I should highlight a couple of salient points. The person being quoted is Uli Hoeness, famously and unforgivably the wearer of the number 10 shirt when Bayern Munich cheated Leeds United out of the European Cup in 1975. Hoeness it was, incidentally, after that match, who described Terry Yorath’s early challenge on Björn Andersson as the “most brutal foul I think I have ever seen” – clearly, he was unaware of the thuggish prowess of one Norbert “Nobby” Peter Stiles. Andersson was so badly injured in fact, that he had to quit football and join Abba – just kidding. Anyway, I digress.

Hoeness made this quote, the one that’s belatedly struck me only today, when he was the Bayern Club President – a role he later had to relinquish on account of a conviction for tax evasion, for which he was sentenced to three and a half years in jail. However, I do not accept that either his recent criminal conviction, or his part in the swindling of Billy’s Boys in 1975, constitute any reason to dispute the fact that Uli Hoeness was responsible for the most earth-shatteringly sensible statement in the entire history of football.

So, without any further ado, let’s just look at that quote. Commenting on Bayern’s advertised price at the time for “safe standing” season tickets, Hoeness said:

‘We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us?

‘In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan.

‘We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody.

‘That’s the biggest difference between us and England.’

Just sit back and take that in. Have you ever heard a simpler, more concise statement of good sense and unarguable logic? The man is stating that, in England, the fans are treated as cattle, to be milked for what they can give – and simply herded from pillar to post the rest of the time. He’s utterly right, indisputably and brilliantly spot-on. The fact of his links to Paris in 1975 – something the mere mention of which can still make a Leeds fan’s ears bleed – is neither here nor there. His tax-evasion and subsequent conviction and incarceration are likewise irrelevant. The guy is simply right – and it’s just as undeniably true today, as we face another football season here and in the newly-crowned leading football nation in the world, Germany.

What’s more, although the figures from the time, two years back, are a comparison between Bundesliga and Premier League, that comparison applies with almost equal impact to the English second tier, the Championship – and this is most certainly true of my beloved but obscenely pricey Leeds United. Have a gander:-

Rip-off England v Value Germany

Rip-off England v Value Germany

Remember, all of these figures are from a couple of years ago – but there are no grounds to suspect that the comparison is any less eye-watering today. The central point that Hoeness was making – that the actual benefit to clubs of higher prices is minimal, as compared to the burden it puts upon hard-pressed fans – is just as valid now as it has always been, and it’s unaffected by the sad fall from grace of the man himself.

Just think of it – what would be the effect if, for instance, Leeds United were able and willing to charge a lower rate of maybe £120 per season for a season ticket – said ticket to be for admission to one or more vast safe-standing areas? The first thing you’d get would be a years-long waiting list for those tickets – the demand would be incredible. Secondly, differentials would have to reduce in proportion, making higher-price seating tickets relatively cheaper. Again, demand would rocket; the stadium would in all likelihood be over-subscribed for every home game. A bigger stadium would become necessary. Leeds United would also be pioneers, the club that broke the mould and stopped ripping their fans off. Didn’t Big Mass himself say something along those lines just the other day?

The fact is that, with increased attendances, everything else improves – including profit margins. Incidental match expenditure would be a much bigger revenue item, as souvenirs, food, drinks, programmes – everything – sold in much higher numbers. Safe standing is, of course, a whole separate argument, with uneasy connotations for anyone who remembers Hillsborough ’89 – but it’s a case that is slowly gathering momentum as the policy is seen to work well elsewhere. The atmosphere under such conditions would improve out of all recognition. The “safe standing” areas would give back an area of the stadium to the fans who always used to generate that atmosphere: the singers, the shouters, the passionate and involved people that really got behind the team. 

Football would, at least in part, be returned to the working man and woman, from whom it has been so rudely snatched in the Sky/Murdoch era. It would be returned to the children too, the raw material for the next generation of hard-core fanatics. Football would be regaining its present and its future. The whole thing would be so incredibly better and more entertaining and inclusive, that people would be scratching their heads and wondering – why had nobody thought of this before? But somebody did, or at least they summarised the philosophy behind it. A former German international footballer, currently languishing in Landsberg Prison.

The current situation in English football is ridiculous when looked at in these terms. The seeds of disillusion for many Leeds fans – and I know this for a fact – were sown long before the club’s dramatic fall from grace from 2004 onwards. For many, the last straw came with the ending of the “East Stand Bond” arrangement, whereby bond-holders, who had contributed £500 each to the construction of the Magnificent New East Stand, had their season tickets pegged at early-nineties prices, and adjusted only for inflation. When that deal ended, those bond holders faced a dramatic rise in the cost of their season tickets because, in the real world outside of the “bond bubble”, match-day and seasonal costs had risen so dramatically. Many were sickened by the sharp elevation in their football expenses, and disappeared off the club’s radar.

The reason for the sharp rise can be divined from a glance at the bottom line on a Premier League player’s wageslip – but as Hoeness said, there’s no real logic to it. Look at that quote again – a club can get a few million quid extra with higher prices – which amounts to a haggling point in one major transfer deal, at the cost of inflicting debt and misery on their loyal supporters. Where’s the sense, or indeed the justice, in that?

As in so many things since the end of the Second World War, Germany gets it right where we get it spectacularly wrong. It just keeps happening time and time again, in industry, culture, sport in general and football in particular – on and off the field. The difference in pricing policy between the two countries’ league structures is not down to Hoeness, of course. It’s a function of logic and common sense on the one side, as opposed to greed, short-sightedness and muddled thinking on the other. It’s just that Hoeness came up with that memorable quote, that devastating logic. You’d think that even a complete fool, a purblind ass, a clueless ditherer without the first idea of how to organise inebriation in a brewery, would be made to see sense by the sheer rightness of his summary.

And on that note, gentlemen of the Football League, the FA and the EPL – it’s over to you.

 

 

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High Time That Profiteer Parasites GFH Took Some Responsibility – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - silent and unimpressed

Cellino – silent and unimpressed

The fact that Leeds United have missed a 21 day deadline imposed by a Statutory Demand – for payment of just under £1m allegedly owed to David Haigh’s Sport Capital outfit – is capable of interpretation in a number of ways.

One is to take the gloomy view that new United owner Massimo Cellino is not quite as minted as we have been led to believe; that he is starting to struggle under the weight of outstanding bills left behind by previous owners notable mainly for their incompetence and lack of experience, along with sundry other negative attributes.  And yet Cellino has acted swiftly to clear debts up to this point; when HMRC were owed £500,000 in unpaid tax, the bill was settled in the first flush of the Corn King’s reign.  Likewise, former suitor for the club Andrew Flowers was paid off quickly and the players’ deferred wages were restored to them, saving them from inevitable penury and the soup kitchen, I shouldn’t wonder.

Cellino has remained silent on this latest financial demand.  The form-book, though, suggests that if he was both willing and able to pay up, he would have done so promptly, perhaps with a few typically acerbic Latin observations on the craziness of running a Championship club along the lines of one in the latter stages of the Champions League.

But nothing has yet happened – and obviously this has persuaded some that the scenario above – of Cellino being not exactly skint, but cash-strapped enough to prevaricate – is being proved true.

Another possible version of reality, though, is that Cellino, a downy bird if ever there was one, is determined not to be taken for a mug; determined not to pay up meekly when others might be liable for at least some of the burden.  The money that Haigh is demanding was put into the club at a time when GFH – as they loudly and repeatedly trumpeted – were still Leeds United owners, for as long as Cellino’s purchase of a controlling stake was still held up by Football League red tape.  As has since become clear, however, GFH throughout this time were resolved to avoid meeting the club’s running costs and relied instead on what they claimed were contractual provisions supposedly obliging Cellino to meet those costs – even though the success of his purchase was in extreme doubt. Cellino differed on that matter; although he had been funding the club, he cut that off when the League initially ruled against him, a ruling that made his chances of ultimately owning Leeds United seem remote indeed.

At this time, Leeds were therefore grubbing about for money wherever and however it might be obtained, in order to keep the ship afloat.  Can Cellino, who must have seen his prospects of becoming owner receding by the hour, really be held totally responsible for the debts incurred in running the club and paying the bills during this awkward limbo period when nobody really knew what was going to happen?  His verdict on that is likely to have been: Not on your Nélie.

Another relevant consideration is of just how well GFH did for themselves during the time they were in charge of Leeds.  The bald fact of the matter is that Gulf Finance House has reported a net gain of $6.46m (£3.8m) from the investment bank’s time as majority owner.  This will, of course, include those last few weeks of uncertainty when they basically backed away from any financial responsibility, pointing fingers at just about anybody else, but refusing to meet business costs from their own purse.  Elementary arithmetic shows that the money they avoided paying not only had to be provided from elsewhere – but also that the cash thus saved by GFH will appear as a significant part of that £3.8m GFH net gain.

Profiting from an abdication of responsibility?  You can bet that Signor Cellino is not too impressed by that – especially when he is now faced with a bill from one or more of the people who did pay up when Cellino was hamstrung by the Owners and Directors test – and when GFH were pouting and sulking and claiming that, despite being owners, it wasn’t their responsibility.

It is also a fact that, as part of the deal whereby Cellino’s Eleonora Sport bought a 75% stake in Leeds United, GFH have retained a 10% stake “in order to take advantage of future revenues” – in other words, because they wanted to make damned sure that they would get a fat slice of the cake as and when Leeds United return to the Premier League.  This will be seen by some as just good business practice – but it means also that GFH are still a part of the entity which now faces a winding-up petition – and yet they are apparently showing absolutely no sign of wishing to contribute towards the settling of that matter, even though the debt was incurred on their watch, due to their unwillingness to meet owners’ responsibilities at that time – and despite the fact that they were telling anyone who would listen that they were still in charge.

So now we have a situation whereby Cellino, having already stumped up millions during his brief time as owner, to settle legacy debts and repel winding-up orders, is faced with yet another bill – one incurred while he was not yet owner and one arguably attributable to the fact that the nominal owners GFH had put their wallets away and abandoned their financial responsibilities.  The same GFH who recorded a fat profit from a time in which they managed the club in a cack-handed way, the results of which are now at Cellino’s door.  And the same GFH that remains one-tenth owners of Leeds, ready to profit in that proportion from any future success, but seemingly unwilling to take anything like 10% of the responsibility for the currently pending litigation.  Does that seem remotely fair to you?

Football is business – big business.  But it’s not simply that.  It’s also an emotional matter, with complex questions of loyalty and commitment very much to the fore.  GFH remain on board at Leeds United – but it appears that they are here simply as parasites, unwilling to help or assist their host in any way, intent merely on sucking away greedily when the good times come around again.  That’s a deeply unattractive position to adopt, and the better it is recognised and understood by the fans, the worse it will reflect on GFH who, presumably, still have some interest in retaining a good name in the business world if not in the more parochial football sphere.

Cellino’s silence and inactivity in respect of David Haigh’s winding-up petition should really be seen in the light of the GFH stance – and not as any sign of poverty or lack of commitment on the Italian’s part. Massimo is no mug and it could well be the case that he is preparing to fight over this, even if the amount of money involved is small beer to him.  If GFH really are prepared to “lie low and do nuffink” until such time as there are dividends to be reaped on their 10% holding, then it’s laudable on Cellino’s part to stand up to them and make them pay up on their responsibilities, if possible – instead of simply allowing them to sit tight and reap a fat reward at some future date.  Surely fighting such unfairness has to be the right and proper thing to do.

The bill is due; it was incurred under GFH while they were cocking a deaf’un to the club creditors – including the playing and general staff.  Now it’s landed on Cellino’s doormat, and when he looks around, he sees only parasites – not partners.  That’s a tawdry and disgusting state of affairs.

If Massimo Cellino is prepared to contest this current matter on that basis, then this blog is of the opinion that he deserves the support of all Leeds United fans in bringing GFH to account.  Good luck to him in this – and also in the greater battles ahead as he looks to restore Leeds United to the game’s top table.