When Theresa May was asked a question about the public sector pay freeze by a nurse whose own pay hadn’t increased for eight years, she responded with the now infamous, ‘There isn’t a magic money tree that we can shake.’

This flippant, derisory response to a reasonable and justified question showed the disregard she holds for the general public and the arrogance that this is an appropriate and sufficient answer to this woman’s genuine concerns. The nurse is well aware that there is no magic money tree. She is not expecting May to grow one. She just wants to know where the money has gone and why her and her fellow public sector workers seem to be the ones who aren’t seeing any of it.

When Mike Ashley recently appeared on Sky Sports, that was his ‘Magic Money Tree’ moment.

In Ashley Speaks Direct, he was ‘interviewed’ by David Craig, or ‘Craigy’ as he affectionately called him during their pre-rehearsed, pre-approved question and answer session.

‘You can say to me I’m wealthy, in theory I’m a billionaire or a multi-billionaire, but in reality my wealth is in Sports Direct shares, which are the same as wallpaper, I don’t have that cash in the bank, so I don’t have that ability to write a cheque for £200m.’

There is no magic money tree here folks. Mike Ashley has an estimated net worth of £2.4bn and in 2015 wrote a cheque for £200m to buy the Clearings in West London, a luxury redevelopment site. On August 22nd, Debenhams announced that Ashley had increased his stake in the company to 21%. This followed announcements in July that he had bought up a 25% stake in video game retailer Game Digital and 27% in fashion retailer French Connection. I’m assuming that he paid for all of this with wallpaper.

‘I am not wealthy enough in football now to compete with the likes of Man City.’

In 2009, Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City for £265m. A man with an estimated personal wealth of £20bn from a family with an estimated combined wealth of £1 trillion, putting him firmly in the number one spot in a list of England’s richest football club owners. Mike Ashley is 11th on this list. He is right, he can’t compete financially with Man City.

But who asked him to? Who expects him to? Man City spent £220m on players this summer alone. Ashley is 11th on the list though and, at 11th on the list, surely he can compete financially with the majority of clubs.

With the recent surge in the financial side of football, due mainly to broadcasting and commercial rights, the money available to football clubs has hit unimaginable levels over the last few years. Of the 20 current Premier League teams, 19 have broken their club transfer record between 2015-17. The one club that hasn’t? Newcastle United.

Newcastle’s transfer record was set in 2005 when they signed Michael Owen for £16.8m. At the time, the British transfer record was £30m. 12 years later, the British transfer record is £89m. Newcastle United can’t compete with Man Utd for the likes of Pogba but how are our more comparable rivals doing?

In either the 2016 or 2017 transfer windows, Bournemouth signed a £20m player, Crystal Palace signed a £27m player, Burnley signed a £15m player, Leicester signed a £29m player, Stoke signed an £18m player, West Ham signed a £20m player. Aren’t you wealthy enough to compete with the likes of these clubs, Mike? Newcastle finally signed a much-needed striker for this summer for £5m – less than the figure we spent on Les Ferdinand 22 years ago.

Newcastle United’s most recent published accounts (2015/16 season) revealed a turnover of £126m (9th highest in England). The wage bill for the same period was £75m (16th highest in England).

The average attendance last (2016/17) season was 51,064 (6th highest in England). Newcastle United sold 38,000 season tickets for that season (5th highest in England). For six consecutive years, our accounts have shown a profit after tax. Over these six years, that combined profit totals at £87m.

In the ten years since Ashley bought Newcastle for £134m, they have made a net profit on transfers in five seasons. Not including this current transfer window, as it is not yet complete, Newcastle has spent £330m on transfer fees and received £292m. A net spend, over ten years, of £38m.

‘Every penny the club generates he (Benitez) can have, but it doesn’t generate enough. It’s Newcastle United, it doesn’t have a £40m a year stadium naming rights deal, it doesn’t.’

When Arsenal moved stadium, Emirates paid £100m for an initial 15 year naming rights deal.  Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have refused to make such deals with club history and tradition overriding the opportunity to make money, at least until new stadiums are built in the future.

Ashley attempted a stadium naming rights deal in 2011, using his own company Sports Direct to ‘showcase’ the opportunity. The move was a PR disaster and the idea was dropped the following year. No doubt Ashley’s reference to Newcastle United not having a £40m a year deal was a thinly-veiled attack on Newcastle fans, who strongly protested against his previous attempts. Interestingly, Stoke, in naming their home ground the Bet365 Stadium, earn a reported £5m per year. In fact, no club has a £40m a year stadium naming rights deal.

In terms of shirt sponsorship, the ‘Big 6’ have deals worth anywhere between £16m per year (Tottenham) and £55m per year (Man Utd). The other 14 teams have shirt sponsorship deals worth £6m per year or less. Newcastle United’s deal with Wonga was worth £4.8m per year. Their current deal with Fun88 is said to be greater than this figure.

So ten years down the line, how do you sum up Ashley’s tenure? Well, one of his final answers to ‘Craigy’ summed it up better than I ever could:

‘I think you always have the ambition to turn something into more than it was. So you think maybe I can make just that little bit of difference. In my case, it was to think in a different time frame, maybe if we didn’t live for every Saturday and for that game, maybe if we had a three-year plan, a five-year plan, a seven-year plan, we could actually build on something at Newcastle United. You must remember at the time that Manchester City didn’t have the owners they have now, and if you look back 10 years, Newcastle United could have easily been the fourth club in [English] football. Easily.’

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])

  • Guest 2

    Oh oh! Fleckman and Clarko have a twitch in their pants. Expect a bean counter onslaught in the comments to follow.

    I wonder if his two previous 5 year plans purposefully involved sacking managers, shelling out compensation as a result of that, appointing cronies in their place and achieving 2 relegations while constantly skirting the depths of the PL?

    Genius he is….

    • hetonmag

      Doesn’t matter what picture those two paint of the fat lad his record at this club has been nothing short of a disaster, you can’t run a football club like a market stall.

  • MadMag83

    Clearly Fat Mike has as much distain for the fans as they do for him, so why doesn’t he just leave for the good of both parties?

    • magpiefifer

      I would say that it’s impossible for Ashley to have as much disdain for me as I have for him!!
      The man is beneath contempt for what he has done to MY club.

      • MadMag83

        😂😂 The way he uses his media appearances to make underhand comments about supporters is childish, unprofessional and down right disrespectful

  • lukegte

    Thanks for the write up, great article. Thanks to you, I’m now slightly more repulsed by him. I was seething after watching that bile. Not just all the lies and deception, but the way he used the generalised opinion of NUFC fans as deluded and insatiable… We absolutely SHOULD be able to compete with Palace, Burnley, Stoke, Bournemouth, Watford.

    You all need to stop going to games. YOU ALL NEED TO STOP GOING TO GAMES.

    • Paul Busby

      If Rafa leaves we do.

  • TheFatController

    Sadly Ashley operates well in the world of cheap sportswear retail, where customers don’t spend enough to care, staff don’t earn enough to have power, and you do well in periods of recession when you can take advantage of the poor fortunes of competitors by having sheer scale to stay afloat (buying cheap, paying peanuts for wages etc).

    Football? Customers care massively, employees are all millionaires and have powerful agents, its in boom so competitors are getting stronger. We do have a scale advantage but he seems unable to make the most of that commercially.

    So, putting aside his very bizarre personality issues which see him unwilling to sell cheap probably due to wanting to get one up on fans and club legends when we rejoice at his leaving, at a basic level of business skills, his success comes in a business wholly removed from the skill set required to succeed in football.

    I also suspect when he told Rafa he could spend all the transfer money on one player if he liked, he was mocking Rafa as he knew he’d then say ‘you can’t break a wage limit I have imposed’ – so Rafa went for, say, Hart and wanted to pay him £100k / week only to he told ‘we won’t pay that
    …’ and hence we can’t buy players over £15m as they want wages we won’t match …

  • Leazes Ender

    Great article, and you would have expected Ashley’s bull**** to be repeated throughout the anti-United media but I wasn’t expecting it from Tyne Tees reporter Rob Jones (Brummie co-opted from Liverpool regional television) who simply took Ashleys words as true…..

    I’ve a message for Tyne Tees Television….. Ashley tells whopping big LIES….. and has done for ten long years!

    Get your act together!

    • Oooh bobbi fleckman

      So do you though

  • Steve Pearce

    Just hang him from the “Money Tree” next to Theresa May and I’ll be happy…

    • Albert Stubbins

      and her with him!!

      • Oooh bobbi fleckman

        As long as you throw Corbyn on a pyre

        • Albert Stubbins

          he would be the kindling- another worthless shytebag.

  • Rich Lawson

    Can’t be long before we see him enjoying the hospitality of Philip Green’s boat,another like minded individual ? ”How do you fancy buying a football club ” (No pension scheme involved) ?

  • Lord

    Well done for calling out some of the nonsense like £40m naming rights. Was SD really going to pay that much for for renaming SJP – I don’t think so?

    One inference I would disagree with is that because he is rich he should be paying out for transfers out of his personal funds. Just because he’s bought stakes in other firms, I don’t see he has any obligation to spend his own money on buying players.

    What he should be doing is running the club in a more professional way, staffed with a more experienced management team + board who can build the club revenue up – not just relying on TV + gate money but all the other revenue streams a top club can generate domestically and overseas. Fine if he wants the club to ‘wipe its own nose’ but in that case put a bit more effort into making it more self sufficient.

    • Oooh bobbi fleckman

      I agree with this, I have shares in BT but they don’t come knocking on the door when they need a new record collection for ‘dial-a-disc’

  • Marveauxless

    Interestingly we have the 11th highest bet spend in the Premier League this season suggesting that Ashley is spending the appropriate amount expected of him as the league’s 11th richest owner.
    However since he’s bought the club, match day revenue has fell by 10% and commercial revenue by 20%, the only source of income that has increased is TV income which he has no control over.

    • Oooh bobbi fleckman

      If matchday revenue has fallen, ticket prices have fallen which from a fans’ point of view is a good thing. Certainly, we’re now quite cheap compared to many clubs and we’ve enjoyed cheap away ticket prices as well due to the reciprocal deals the club as down with visiting clubs.

  • mactoon

    A couple of facts he has said which put our position into context. He won’t put any of his personal finances in because he has ‘put his £250 million in the club and there is no more, that’s it’. So any discussion about how rich he is, becomes a moot point as he will not spend any of it on the club. He says now, ‘the club has to generate it’s own money’ and become self-sufficient therefore what we make, we can spend. There is no speculating by spending money we don’t have yet such as Premiership TV money (which other clubs have from last season), he has provided a transfer budget and admitted, ‘it’s not enough’. We don’t know how much of it is left but it won’t be added to unless existing players are sold. Other clubs seem to be a bit more flexible and willing to pull £20 million out to buy a player, he will not.

    With regards to other avenues of revenue, shirt sponsorship would seem to be in line with where we are in comparison to the 14 clubs outside the ‘top 6’ quoted (although I would have suspected we could have attracted a better deal) but he needs to address the free advertising for SD. (Sports Direct International said they were in the process of agreeing an arms length rate for these services in 2016 but so far it hasn’t happened and he, as a major shareholder is hardly going to push it) and a stadium rights naming deal. Would the fans be happy changing the name of the stadium for additional profit?

    It’s not the best news but that’s the way he is running the club.

    • Marveauxless

      Brighton and Huddersfield are the 4th and 5th highest spenders respectively this season. How are these clubs, who are also not benefitting from the increased TV revenue of the Premier League so comfortably out spending us? Why have commercial and match day revenue plummeted throughout his game despite his alleged efforts to focus all of his energy on improving them?

      • Oooh bobbi fleckman

        a lot of commercial projects have been outsourced so the income has gone down but the club don’t have the costs.

        Brighton & Huddersfield have borrowed against the TV income.

        • mactoon

          Which Ashley refuses to do. Even the £8 million from the first 8 games guaranteed TV appearances this season has not been made available

          • Oooh bobbi fleckman

            Yes, he’s not keen on putting more debt. He used to guarantee the overdraft facility so he may not be keen on being any more at risk than he is now. St James Holdings had to finance last season with £15m, I suspect he thinks the paying out has to end at some point.

          • mactoon

            That’s what he said, “If I keep pumping £20 million of my own money it will become unsustainable” and end up like a Leeds

          • Oooh bobbi fleckman

            The problem being is the competition. Football has generally relied on a rich benefactor to finance success. With the TV deal, it appeared to level the playing field but the reality is the amount the rich benefactors put in has to go up even more to be significant.

        • Damon Horner

          Would you then expect our transfer budget either in January, next summer or both to be a more than competitive amount relative to our counterparts in the league?

          • Oooh bobbi fleckman

            It depends on which league!!!

            I’d hope that our need to spend next season is reduced, I’d hope that there would only be a need to buy a couple of players to make us better.

            If we are struggling or at risk in january, I’d expect us to spend.

        • Lord

          Yes, the point about Brighton and Huddersfield is interesting – they simply can’t be worse off than ourselves.

          I get the feeling that MA’s way of working is to only allow a spend if the cash is in the bank. Then that brings in a razor sharp focus on cash flow with scrutiny on the structure of transfer payments (Sissoko – staged payments or one off?) and when the all important TV money hits the account.

          I do feel with a dedicated and experience CFO with a sports background, there would be ways to release future guaranteed funds today, e.g., using loans or invoice leveraging, rather than waiting for payments to hit and maybe missing out on strengthening the team in the meantime.

          • Oooh bobbi fleckman

            We were unusual in that we paid on the nose because we were cash rich. If we buy players with installments, we are doing what 90pc of other clubs do. Matching these payments to income is fine.

    • Steve Smith

      We had the tv money last season though from the previous premier league season. We made a net profit on transfers which implies the prize money wasn’t dipped into for the year surely?

      • Oooh bobbi fleckman

        Making a net profit on transfers does not mean we made a profit overall. St James Holdings had to put an additional £15m in to finance the championship season, how much was left at the end of the financial year will be declared at the end of March (we will see it in April)

        • mactoon

          People need to look at the overall accounts. He has made available how much he decides is within budget at the present moment, regardless of what profit has been made in the past.

  • MadMag83

    I get the impression he bought Newcastle under the illusion that with a small investment the club would comfortably compete around the top 4. But the football world changed, he made some shocking appointments, failed to invest properly and now he wants everyone to feel sorry for him and cut him some slack. Well tough because everyone knows Newcastle’s problems are mostly his fault.

  • Oooh bobbi fleckman

    The £40m a year stadium naming rights deal was a reference to Tottenham who are selling the naming rights to WHL2 for £400m for 10 years.

    • Lord

      This hasn’t happened yet though, has it? They are still playing at ‘Wembley’.

      Nevertheless, I still think it was disingenuous to mention this hypothetical figure given that his plan was to rename the stadium as the Sports Direct Arena and there is simply no way he would have pumped £40m a year into NUFC from SD for that name change.

      • mactoon

        I think you are missing the point on that one. He used the name change to The SD Stadium to ‘showcase’ (as he put it) to other potential companies who may have been interested in doing it. In other words, he had NO intention of paying for any of it, he just used it for free advertising under the cover of saying “Look at the exposure you could get if you sponsored my stadium).

      • Oooh bobbi fleckman

        I don’t think that was his point, rather that the naming rights for Newcastle United may not be the same as Tottenham.

  • LA Toon

    Before Rafa was taken on and the fact relegation was on the cards, I believed that relegation down to league 1 or 2 was the only way to rid us of the parasite. I know this scenario would be unpalatable to many and we could languish in the lower leagues for years, but consider Brighton as an example of a Phoenix rising from the ashes. I maybe dead before Newcastle would return to the premiership but the past 10 years has been painful and soul destroying. The previous idea of a boycott will never materialize due to the fanaticism of the supporters and the need to support the team.

    Rafa gave me hope and I was upbeat about the future, only to be let down by Ashley.

    • mactoon

      how would he recoup £250 million if the club was in the 1st or 2nd league. No one would buy it

      • LA Toon

        What would he do with the club which does not increase the image of his brand? Take a hit and get rid of. Otherwise a mediocre club in crisis year after year after year. I am sure die hard fans would eventually become disillusioned and follow Gateshead.

        • mactoon

          Absolutely no way he would take a hit and get rid. Simply no way. He wouldnt allow it to get to that state by investing enough to keep it out of that position.

    • Oooh bobbi fleckman

      Doing a Brighton? that would mean the fans buying into the club. We’ve had the NUST going for 8 years and they’ve not raised a penny yet.