Trumpeting into Newcastle United with a rapturous fanfare came Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct, an English entrepreneur who was going to save our club from the impending financial meltdown caused by the previous regime.
“Newcastle attracted me because everyone in England knows that it has the best fans in football… don’t get me wrong. I did not buy Newcastle to make money. I bought Newcastle because I love football.”
Everything seemed too good to be true, a British billionaire owner, out to enjoy football, seemingly to revive the sleeping giant that has consistently had one of the highest average attendances in world football in recent times.
From nufcblog.org, September 2011:
However, previous Newcastle United owner, Sir John Hall, gave a different, and far more convincing reason in a recent interview (August 2011) with Newcastle United website “Toon Talk“. Hall spoke of the negotiations which led to Ashley’s takeover of the club saying:
“I was told that the man behind the deal was Mike Ashley and I sat with his representatives over 3 days thrashing out a deal. I was keen to know why they wanted the club and they were quite honest. They wanted to market their sports goods in the Far East and would use the club to help do this.”
In June 2007 when Ashley gained full control of the club, debt was assumed to stand at £71m. A large sum, but not an insurmountable pile of toxic club-threatening debt. Upon gaining control, a clause in the mortgage stipulated that if the club was ever to be sold, the mortgage would have to be immediately paid in full. This would cost the new owner £53m. So what did Ashley do? He ‘invested’ £111m as an ‘interest free loan’.
A statement from Newcastle United in May 2010:
“In relation to recent media speculation following the statement made by the Club on May 9, Newcastle United would like to make it clear that owner Mike Ashley is not looking for his interest free loan to be repaid, or to take any money out of the Club.”
Interesting, yet in a question and answer session with club officials in the 2013/2014 season, the club had this to say:
“The club suggested that while it is always pro-actively looking to attract new commercial partners and to sell that advertising space, in the current climate it could not command a sum for that space anywhere close to the £129m invested into the club interest free by the owner.”
This is a direct contradiction as Ashley is profiting directly from his loan to Newcastle in the form of revenue gained by the ‘free’ advertising in the ground for Sports Direct.
What is interesting to note, is how we keep hearing from Alan Pardew how we are not able to financially compete with clubs around us, even Cardiff:
“They spent a lot of money Cardiff, they’ve got some good players and Zaha on loan from United is a threat, but we did the job.”
“You look at a club like Southampton, and they’re in a much stronger financial position than us in terms of purchasing players.”
Why is this the case? A look at the numbers will provide a sobering conclusion. Below is the revenue table for the top 14 clubs in the world as they stood in season 2006/2007, just before Mike Ashley took full control over Newcastle United.
So of the 14 clubs, which one has gained the least revenue in the following 6 seasons? Newcastle United. Whose fault is this? The owner. Squeezing Commercial Revenue by not taking paid advertising in the ground, then doing the same with Matchday Revenue by reducing ticket prices in a bid to placate fans by giving with one hand and taking with the other. It’s like saying ‘we could compete if we didn’t have to reduce the ticket prices so much just to keep the fans happy’ – it’s absurd.
The owner is directly responsible for the commercial fortunes of a club and the buck stops with Mike Ashley. So, after 7 years of ownership, what’s happened to the £71m debt we had before he arrived? Well, it’s not only still there, it’s increased now to £129m. This is despite astronomical increases in television prize money, an overhaul in player wages, and 7 years of Mike Ashley’s commercial expertise to work its magic on the club’s finances.
Perhaps we’ve been blessed with a billionaire owner who cares not for mere millions of pounds in fees for players and has lavished the club with star names in a bid to compete once more with the Premier League elite.
But that hasn’t happened either. With the debt still standing at £129m, £45m taken out of the club in net player transfer spend, the TV Prize money of each season disappearing into thin air and Sports Direct having risen in value from £1.60 per share (July 2007) to £7.89 per share (May 2014), it’s safe to say that Newcastle is run by somebody having a laugh at our expense.