Finances show why Crystal Palace feared the drop

WHEN CRYSTAL PALACE sacked Patrick Vieira in March, there were a few raised eyebrows concerning the wisdom of their decision. Admittedly, Vieira’s team had gone through a 12-game spell without a win and were three points clear of the drop, but he was supposed to represent a brave new world for Palace. 

Indeed, Steve Parish, in the financial statements for 2021-22, recalled that the club had “an exciting new manager and many new faces on the pitch” and that there was “definitely a feeling of positive change, optimism and energy surrounding the club.” But it all went wrong and with the reinstallation of Roy Hodgson, this did ask some questions about the club’s vision for the future.

However, Palace’s nervousness about being close to the relegation zone is understandable when you look at the stark financial facts. Life in the Premier is lucrative and falling out of the elite band can be very damaging for any club. Palace are enjoying their longest spell at the first level – the 2022-23 campaign is their 10th consecutive in the Premier League. In total, Palace have had just 23 years as a top flight club in their long and recently revised history. Why would you want that to come to an end?

Palace generated record revenues in 2021-22, a total of £ 160 million, representing a rise of 21% on 2020-21. All aspects of the club’s operations had an upward trajectory, from matchday revenues going back to pre-covid levels (up by £ 11 million to £ 11.4 million), commercial income up to £ 22.6 million, thanks to new sponsorship deals, and broadcasting hitting an all-time high of £ 126 million.

The club made a pre-tax loss of £ 24.2 million, an improvement on the £ 40 million lost in 2020-21 and £ 61.1 million deficit of 2019-20. Parish added that the club is “in the best shape since I joined in 2010.” It is hard to disagree too much with that statement.

Palace’s wages went down by around 5% to £ 123.8 million, which equated to 77% of income. This was a favourable development on the previous season when the wages consumed 99% of revenues. The club’s wages are roughly just below mid-table in the Premier.

Palace spent £ 89 million in the transfer market in 2021-22, their highest outlay since 2017, and in doing so acquired some interesting talent. They paid £ 23 million for Chelsea’s young central defender Marc Guéhi, who has since won three England caps and £ 17.5 million for Lyon’s Joachim Anderson. Another promising signing was Reading’s Michael Olise who cost £ 9.3 million. 

On the other side of the balance sheet, Palace have been somewhat inconsistent in their player trading efforts. The financials show no profit whatsoever in 2021-22, but in the previous two seasons the combined profit was only £ 10 million. 2018-19 was the last strong year, a positive of £ 46.2 million. 

Palace have some good youngsters and they may benefit in the market in the near future. Their current crown jewel, Wilfried Zaha, is now 30 and his contract expires in June 2023. In all probability, he will finally be moving this summer and there will be no shortage of takers. Arsenal, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Roma are all said to be interested in the Ivorian international. He has, allegedly, turned down the chance of linking up with Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr.

In 2021-22, Palace finished 12th in the Premier and they are currently occupying that position in the table. They have won their last three league games, all against relegation-worried teams – Leicester City, Leeds United and Southampton –  but these are their only victories in 2023. They are nine points clear of the bottom three.

With 10 years in the Premier, Palace have become accustomed to a life of relative luxury, so they will be desperate to ensure that continues. It looks like an 11th year is almost guaranteed, but presumably, they will be looking for a new coach in the close season which will mean more change at Selhurst. Their rivals down on the south coast, Brighton, have shown what a club can do with a decent manager and a realistic approach to team building.

Chelsea’s new era starts with another big loss

CHELSEA are constantly in the news for one reason or another, from managerial changes, player acquisitions and finances to their below-par performances on the field of play. The club has even changed hands, but the constant scrutiny of the club’s spending behaviour has dominated this new era at Stamford Bridge. 

The 2021-22 season saw the club pass from Roman Abramovich to the consortium fronted by US investor Todd Boehly. The club made a pre-tax loss of £ 121.4 million, taking the accumulated losses since 2003-04 (RA year one) to well over £ 1 billion. In three of the last four seasons, Chelsea have run-up losses of well over £ 100 million. According to football finance expert Kieran Maguire, the club has lost £ 900,000 per week for 19 years.

Chelsea generated record revenues of £ 481.3 million, a rise of 10% on 2020-21’s £ 436 million. Broadcasting, inevitably, was the highest source, the £ 235 million derived from this stream, contributing 49% of total income. Commercial revenues, thanks to increased sponsorship and the renewal of existing deals, were up by 14% to £ 177.1 million, representing 37% of turnover.

With stadiums free of covid restrictions in 2021-22, Chelsea’s matchday earnings were £ 69.2 million, the highest since 2018 and a massive increase on the £ 7.7 million earned in 2020-21. Chelsea’s average attendance fell by 6.8%  to 37,810 and was the 10th best in the Premier League. The club has a clear disadvantage in its relatively small capacity at Stamford Bridge, but the new regime is looking to revisit the new stadium project.

Chelsea’s player trading profits rose substantially from £ 27.9 million to £ 123.2 million, the second highest profit the club has recorded after the £ 143 million posted in 2019-20. Chelsea signed Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan for £ 97.5 million, but they also received around £ 115 million from the sale of Tammy Abraham (Roma), Kurt Zouma (West Ham), Marc Guéhi (Crystal Palace) and Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan).

The club’s wage bill for 2021-22 was a record £ 340.2 million, equating to 71% of income. It will be interesting to see how the wage situation looks in 2022-23 with all the big money signings now on board.

Chelsea’s wages compared to the other members of the Premier’s “big six” places the club fourth highest after Manchester United (£373 million), Liverpool (£366 million) and Manchester City (£354 million). They’re also fourth when it comes to revenues behind the same three clubs. In the transfer market, Chelsea’s 2021-22 activity resulted in a net positive of £ 7 million but they were also among the biggest spenders. The biggest net spenders were Arsenal and Newcastle United. Of course, Chelsea have broken all records in 2022-23 with their £ 500 million spending spree, the outcome of which has yet to reveal itself.

The willingness to invest in new talent demonstrated some level of ambition, but it will have downsides. A trend has developed in the form of longer-term contracts, which helps deal with financial fair play concerns. However, Chelsea may find they have a top heavy squad in the near future which will need some pruning. Furthermore, the lack of stability in the manager’s chair, a feature of the Abramovich era, appears to be continuing under Boehly. The sacking of Graham Potter was the second such dismissal since the US consortium took over. Abramovich’s aides could at least point to a long run of success to justify the continual  churning of the team management, but the first Boehly sacking, Thomas Tuchel, has just been appointed coach at Bayern Munich, which serves to highlight the flaw in their current thinking. The answer may have been there all along. It just needed a little patience, perhaps?

At present, Chelsea look like a club that has – temporarily – lost its way despite the influx of players. The return of Frank Lampard as stand-in, a popular figure considered unsuitable for the job in his first stint in the role, appears to be something of a desperate move to win favour from the Chelsea faithful. After all the spending this season, it would seem unlikely that anywhere near the same amount of cash will be made available in 2023-24. Whoever gets the job full-time may have to work with a pre-assembled squad of random players. The short-term, at least, looks a little tricky.