O'Neill Unbelievably Happy With Season Ticket Sales as Blues Face Financial Reality of Relegation
Tuesday, 14th May 2019 10:20
Lee O’Neill, Town’s general manager of football operations, says he’s “unbelievably happy” with the Blues’ season ticket sales ahead of their first third-tier campaign in 62 years, a boost to the club’s finances which will take a £9 million hit following relegation from the Championship.
The season ticket total at last Monday’s early bird deadline was 11,748, short of the 12,000 mark which would have seen a drop in prices but up 15 per cent on this season’s figure of 10,200.
“Unbelievably happy,” O’Neill said when asked about the total. “When you look at the basic facts we’ve gone down and yet we’ve managed to get more support for next year. It just shows you that remarkably the fans have been absolutely brilliant with the club.
“Hopefully the way that [owner] Marcus [Evans] and the team had structured the season ticket campaign was something back to them, not just this year but over the two-year period when you look at the added discount over that period of time, trying to get that pricing right.
“Will we ever get it spot-on? The answer is probably no because you’ll always have people who want more off etc etc, but for me I was delighted that we had nearly 12,000 people that are willing to get behind the club for next season, that was an amazing achievement to get that.
“We fully appreciate that support because it does help towards the revenue that we can get in.”
O’Neill felt it was unfair to confirm former manager Mick McCarthy’s recent revelation that Blues players are facing pay cuts of 50-60 per cent following the drop into League One.
“It wouldn't really be fair for me to comment on personal contracts for players,” he said. “What is negotiated with players and agents is private information and I think that should stay private.
“You can read into that as you want. I think it’s unfair to say who’s on what, what they’re receiving and everything like that.
“If you look at what players earn in the Championship and what players earn in League One, there is a difference. And the same with the Championship to the Premier League, there is a difference in leagues.
“But it would be very unfair for me to comment on what kind of percentages and who is receiving those percentages.”
But they are taking what would be viewed as hefty pay cuts? “I think when you look at it across the board they might be in some cases but players when they do their deals they negotiate things and they’re fully aware of that situation and what could happen.”
Quizzed about further cuts elsewhere in the club with off-field redundancies usually following a relegation and the consequent reduction in income, he added: “When you use words like cuts and redundancies, we’re in a situation where we review every department and every part of the club every year, how we operate.
“There will be some areas where we’ll need to look at making improvements, adding additional staff in to make improvements, and there’ll be areas of the club where we’re not doing as well in and we have to look at, and how we’re going to make that department better.
“So, as I explained from January onwards, Marcus has taken a hands-on view on all of those areas and heads of department in talking to them about how they’re operating and we’ve constantly reviewing all those processes.”
Given the financial situation and the Blues’ aim of returning to the Championship at the first attempt, it seems not unlikely that the contracts offered to new signings will be significantly incentivised. O’Neill says that’s an approach which is already taken at Town.
“Again, I’m not going to go into specifics but that is an area I think with anyone you look at,” he said.
“It’s a performance-based industry and incentives are there, if you do well you’ll be rewarded, and that is something that Marcus is keen on.
“If the player does well, if the club does well, there is a reward system for that to happen. So that’s an option that we can look at.
“Again, without identifying any specific players, I think sometimes those structured contracts work really, really well for players.”
Relegation means the Blues have got to get to grips with League One’s SCMP Financial Fair Play rules, which stipulate that player wages can’t be any more than 60 per cent of turnover, 75 per cent in the first year down from the Championship, although with three-year contracts signed before September of the relegation year and those of young pros aged under 21 not counting towards the cap.
“It’s complicated, there’s a lot going on with it,” O’Neill reflected. “When you look at the season tickets, the amount of revenue we get in, that’s why it was really important that we do have that support from the fans and it’s been fantastic because it helps with other aspects of the running of the club.
“But there is still a large deficit that has to be filled and that has to be filled by one owner. Yes, getting our heads around the finances of the club and making sure that it can operate effectively and to the performance levels that we want going forward, we have to look at all those things and obviously [financial director] Mark Andrews and the finance team are working heavily on all those areas so we know what’s going on.”
But he says staying within the constraints of FFP isn’t a concern: “Definitely it’s manageable. You get grace period of 12 months coming into the league so it’s definitely something that’s attainable and manageable for us. It’s just making the right decisions going forward.”
The club has stated that their revenue will drop by £9 million following relegation with drops in media, commercial and sponsorship income.
Despite the cuts in player wages and any other reductions the club makes over the next few months, it seems likely owner Marcus Evans will have to inject more than the usual annual figure of around £6 million to help balance the books in League One.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money, isn’t it?” O’Neill said when asked whether Evans’s input would have to increase next season.
“There’s a lot of money lost in revenue from TV and other things, so it does cost him a lot of money to run this football club.
“Where possible we’ll look at everything. When people say we’ve got to get back to the Championship, there’s a reason why we need to get back to the Championship as quickly as possible because somebody has to put that money into the club to keep it operational.
“We’ve seen this year a number of other clubs that haven’t been able to operate with wages not being paid and things like that.
“It’s really important and fortunately for us we’ve got an owner that puts that money in every year and manages to keep it in a situation where we’re operating.”
He added: “Marcus is as determined as ever to take the club forward. You’d have heard from him in interviews when he has spoken, he’s a competitive businessman and he wants to make sure we can put the club back into first of all the Championship but obviously the long-term aspirations of the football club are to get into the higher league.
“That’s definitely his aspiration. It’s a process and it might take a number of years to happen but he’s definitely as enthused now as he was when he bought the club over 10 years ago.”
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