Brentford: Popular, prudent and just a little smart

BRENTFORD should be heading for a third successive Premier League campaign in 2023-24, a scenario few would have predicted five years ago, or even in 2021 when they won promotion to the top flight from the Championship. Since they arrived in the Premier, however, Brentford have won admirers throughout English football for their approach, their business model and the attitude of their every agreeable manager, Thomas Frank. In short, Brentford have shown how a club outside of the elite group can enjoy relative success on and off the field. As their annual report emphasised, they are all about “thriving, not just surviving”.

The Bees have just announced their financials for the 2021-22 season and they make good reading. Brentford made a pre-tax profit of £ 29.9 million, a £ 38 million turnaround from their £ 8.5 million loss in 2020-21. This was not only evidence of Brentford’s firm management of their finances, it also dramatically underlined the difference between the Championship and Premier League and how it can transform the very fabric of a club. 

Brentford’s revenues in 2021-22 totalled £ 140.9 million, a rise of more than £ 125 million (+921%) on the previous season. The total of the club’s income from 2017-18 to 2020-21 was just over £ 50 million.

Broadcasting, needless to say, was the main contributor, accounting for 81% of total earnings. In 2020-21, TV money amounted to just £ 10.6 million. But every revenue stream was up substantially, with matchday rising from less than £ 0.2 million to £ 10.4 million, thanks to a return to full stadiums once more, and commercial income up from £ 4.6 million to £ 15.5 million. 

Brentford moved into their new stadium in September 2020 but with the pandemic preventing normal conditions, it wasn’t until 2021-22 that they enjoyed a full season of crowds at their new home. Brentford had 11,111 season ticket holders and the average crowd at the Gtech Community Stadium was 16,912 , the lowest in the Premier League.

In all probability, Brentford also had the lowest wage bill in the division in 2021-22. When they won promotion, they were paying £ 41.4 million, representing 270% of income. With the massive increase in revenues, wages of £ 68.2 million became a more acceptable 48% of earnings. In five years, Brentford’s staff costs have gone up by 377% from £ 18 million to £ 68.2%, but it is clear they are not assuming their current situation can go on forever.

These figures highlighted the impressive performance of the club in their first Premier campaign. In fact, including the current season, Brentford have beaten Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. They have failed to defeat just five clubs.

In the past few years, Brentford have boosted their income through player trading. Between 2018-19 and 2020-21, they made profits totalling almost £ 100 million from selling talent into the market. In 2021-22, they managed to retain their best players, but the club has acknowledged they may need to revert to their trading model in the future. Players who have been sold for sizeable fees include Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa £ 28 million), Said Benrahma (West Ham £ 21.7 million) and Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa £ 12 million). 

They’ve also shown they can be shrewd in their acquisitions, signing Ivan Toney from Peterborough United for just £ 5 million plus add-ons. Toney has scored 64 goals in 116 games for the Bees and has won an England cap. In 2022-23, they broke their transfer record when they paid £ 16.7 million for Sampdoria’s Denmark international Mikkel Damsgaard.

Damsgaard is one of seven Danes in the multi-national Brentford squad, hardly surprising given the club’s links with Denmark. Brentford’s owner is Matthew Benham, a former hedge fund manager and derivatives trader (Deutsche Bank and Bank of America) who took full control of the club in 2012 and two years later, became majority owner of Danish club Midtjylland. Benham has an analytical approach to the game, developed from his career in banking. Christoph Biermann in his book, Football Hackers, describes him as a “football scientist” and a “highly gifted nerd”. Whatever the secret, his methods seem to work.

Brentford have a smart new stadium and they are doing their best to leverage its revenue generating potential. They host rugby union games for London Irish and they were a designated venue in the women’s Euro 2022 competition. The club is also developing a new training centre and aims to relaunch its youth academy.

Maintaining Premier League status is essential to keep the ball rolling at Brentford. They have shocked a few people so far, but the element of surprise will surely be gone in Premier season three. Much will depend on their recruitment skills and ability to reintroduce player trading into their model to increase income. In 2021-22, their profit on the disposal of players was just £ 4.6 million, a little more than 10% of the amount raised in 2020-21. The club has been something of a breath of fresh air to the Premier League and long may that continue – they have shown there is another way to judge success.

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