THE suspension of top level football may just save Middlesbrough from relegation to League One, but the club’s finances are still in recovery mode.
Middlesbrough’s revenues for 2018-19, their last year of parachute payments from the Premier, fell from £ 62 million to £ 55.6 million, a drop of some 11% on 2017-18. To counter that decline, Middlesbrough’s wage bill went down by 18% to £ 40 million, £ 25 million lower than their last Premier League season in 2016-17. The club continues to follow a strategy of cutting the wage bill and this season, it has come down to well below £ 30 million, according to media speculation.
Middlesbrough have, to a certain degree, adjusted to life outside the Premier, but after missing out on promotion in the play-offs in 2018-19, this season has been disastrous for the club. Attendances are at their lowest level for five years and have dropped by almost 15% to an average of just under 20,000.
The club made a £ 2 million pre-tax profit in 2018-19, partly due to a healthy profit from player trading. In 2017-18, the club loss more than £ 6 million. Middlesbrough have offloaded expensive players like Adama Traore and Ben Gibson as well as Patrick Bamford, the trio earning the club £43 million. Middlesbrough are still feeling the effect of excessive spending when Garry Monk was briefly in charge. Over the next 18 months, a big percentage of the squad comes to the end of their current contracts.
Jonathan Woodgate, the club’s current manager, was appointed in the close season of 2019, becoming the third full-time coach since the club was relegated in 2017 from the Premier. Tony Pulis left the club after the club decided not to renew his contract. Woodgate’s first season in charge has seen the team fall to the fringe of the relegation zone and some have called for his head, but club owner, Steve Gibson, has given him the chairman’s vote of confidence.
Gibson has come out in public and called the Championship a “financial basket case”. The level of spending on wages is precarious and a number of clubs regularly pay-out over 100% of income on player salaries in a gamble to win promotion to the Premier League. Middlesbrough have reduced their wage bill from £ 65 million in 2016-17 to £ 40 million in 2018-19. Gibson has said that Middlesbrough’s own position will improve in 2020-21 after a “sticky spell” that has seen the club try to stay within Financial Fair Play limits.
Although it may be academic now, should Middlesbrough be relegated to League One, it will be the third time the club has sunk as low as the third tier of the English game. Their two previous spells – 1966-67 and 1986-87 – have lasted just one season. It would be another blow to the North-East, with Sunderland already in League One and Hartlepool United plying their trade in non-league. Add to that the ongoing soap opera at Newcastle, and the area once called the “hotbed” of football looks very tepid once more.
Middlesbrough are under-achievers. They have an excellent stadium, good support that, despite a lack of historical success, is still waiting to fill the ground. They also have stable ownership structure compared to some clubs. They are arguably, one of the biggest clubs never to have been crowned champions. That may seem a tall order given football’s modern-day structure, but Middlesbrough should be able to achieve the more realistic ambition of returning to the Premier League. If the unthinkable happens, even that objective will receive a significant blow.