Norwich City should be eyeing a return to the Premier, but can they do it?

NORWICH CITY, one of English football’s genuine yo-yo clubs, enjoyed a 134% rise in income in their last Premier League campaign. On the face of it, that looks like good news, but the season ended in relegation and a pre-tax loss of £ 23.6 million.

The club’s revenues were a record £ 133.9 million versus £ 57.2 million in 2020-21. It was the second time in three years earnings have been risen above £ 100 million. But like Norwich’s playing status, their financials fluctuate, emphasising the gulf between the Championship and Premier League.

However, the club refuses to believe they cannot compete with the big-spending Premier League. Norwich’s record is such that they are currently playing in a different division for the fifth consecutive season. In the past decade, they have won promotion three times and have been relegated four times.

Norwich’s CEO, Zoe Ward, said that while rubbing shoulders with big names with greater resources is a challenge, it is not insurmountable. “We have the fanbase, the infrastructure and staff to compete,” she said. “Relegation is disappointing, but our model allows us to bounce back.” Norwich have a loyal audience and season ticket sales were over 20,000, but the way they were relegated in 2021-22, with just 22 points, suggests it might be a little harder to return at the first attempt. They are currently in the top seven, but recent form has been poor.

Although their wage bill when they are in the Premier League –  £ 118 million in 2021-22, 88% of income – is lower third, it will be among the highest in the Championship. Norwich are paying an uncomfortably high level players wages, the average wage was £ 45,600 per week, the highest in their history. The club is smart enough to have relegation clauses embedded into contracts, which means the cost for 2022-23 will be much lower.

What is also clear is Norwich’s flow of saleable talent seems to have temporarily dried up. In 2021-22, they made very little from player sales, unlike 2020-21 when they made a profit of £ 59.6 million. The sale of Emiliano Buendia to Aston Villa in June 2021, for £ 38 million, was included in the previous accounts.

There were some positives, however. Their commercial revenues totalled £ 21.2 million, a best-ever figure, while they made over £ 100 million (£101.8 million) from broadcasting for the first time. Matchday income totalled £ 10.8 million as normal services were resumed.

But the lack of player trading profits meant the club had to cover its losses through other means, especially as the pandemic hit Norwich quite hard. Their borrowings went up to £ 48 million, almost £ 20 million higher than the previous season. Consequently, the club’s net debt is now £ 44 million.  

Norwich City are the sort of football institution that investors are eyeing at the moment as they seek out opportunities beneath the elite band of clubs. They recently gained a new shareholder in Mark Attanasio, an American businessman who owns the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. Attanasio, who comes from the Bronx in New York, has acquired 16% of the club from long-time shareholder Michael Foulger. At some point, the club’s majority shareholders, Delia Smith and her husband, Michael Wynn-Jones may decide it is time to dispose of their stake.

The Canaries, as a forward-looking Championship club, at the very least, would be an attractive proposition, but anything lower than that would make them less appealing. Their track record in recent years indicates it won’t be long before they are in contention for a place back in the Premier League, but are they really equipped to do it this time?

Walsall taken over – another US investor in English football

WALSALL FOOTBALL CLUB have surprisingly been taken over by US investment company Trivela Group LLC of Birmingham, Alabama. The company have acquired 51% of the club’s shares from Leigh Pomlett, who decided to end his three-year tenure as owner. Pomlett took over from Jeff Bonser and is a long-time supporter of Walsall. Only a few days earlier, Pomlett told the local media that he was still proud to be chairman and that the club was “league one and above”. He now believes Trivela are the “right group with the right vision to help take the club forward”. The sum of money involved has not been disclosed.

Not a lot is known about Trivela, although it is common knowledge they were formed in 2021 with the mission of,  “creating enduring value through the acquisition and management of association football clubs”. Their team includes Benjamin Boycott, Kenneth Polk and vice president of global football, Matt Jordan. Polk is CEO of Arlington Family Offices, a firm that manages some US$ 12 billion of capital for wealthy families.

Walsall seems to be their first investment, but reports suggest this is the start of the construction of a multi-club model. Their arrival is another example of American investors snapping-up EFL and Premier clubs. US owners are rapidly becoming the most influential segment in English football.

Trivela have, apparently, injected cash into the club for strategic investment. It remains to be seen if they will adopt the date-driven approach which seems to characterise many US football club owners.

Walsall have spent the last three seasons in League Two, finishing 16th in 2021-22. Despite a mediocre period, the club’s home attendances were over 5,000 which was an improvement on 2019-20 and 2018-19. The club has been prudent compared to many of its rivals, and although this has meant they came through the pandemic relatively unscathed, fans have accused the current regime of lacking ambition.

Nevertheless, Walsall have reported a profit for 16 consecutive seasons, including a pre-tax profit of £ 13,000 in 2020-21 and £ 25,000 in 2019-20. Their turnover was a modest £ 4.2 million, compared to £ 5.6 million in 2019-20 and £ 6.7 million in 2018-19, an understandable development given the affect of the pandemic of gate income. Walsall’s wage bill was £3.1 million, more than 10% lower than the previous season, but 74% of income versus 62% in 2019-20.

With the arrival of Trivela, Walsall fans will be hoping for fresh impetus and more resources to build a better team on the pitch. The first phase of the transaction is taking a 51% stake in the club, followed by a second phase in which a further 25% will be acquired. An important part of Trivela’s takeover will be the purchase of the Bescot stadium freehold from past owner Bonser.