BCFC: Forward Funding

On Friday Birmingham City filed details of two charges with Companies House, outlining forward financing of payments relating to the Che Adams transfer to Southampton and the Jude Bellingham transfer to Borussia Dortmund. A total of £18M has been used as security for the charges, which show Macquarie Bank’s London branch as the lender.

Birmingham City Accounts

The charges, which can be viewed at the Companies House website at this link, are not unusual in the football world.

In return for agreements which see £5M of instalment payments due next July with respect to the Adams transfer and £13M of instalment payments due over the next two years with respect to the Bellingham transfer paid directly to Macquarie Bank, the bank have forwarded BCFC cash now.

There are no details of how much of a cut Macquarie have taken of that £18M but BCFC will receive a lump sum now when it is needed.

There is a good piece on how Macquarie work on the Guardian website at this link.

Why have Blues done this?

Quite simply, to secure cashflow for the club.

As mentioned in my previous piece, the lack of revenue from tickets and commercial sponsorship will leave a huge hole in the Blues accounts. BCFC would normally expect to receive season ticket revenue over the summer and the lack of this coming in means that money has to come from somewhere else to pay the bills.

Transfer payments are almost always paid in instalments, which means that while Blues have received large fees for both Adams and Bellingham in successive summers, most of the cash hasn’t actually landed at St Andrew’s yet.

With EFL chief Rick Parry sharing his fears that fans will not be allowed back into EFL club grounds until March 2021, it’s inevitable that most clubs will be staring into a financial abyss right now.

The EFL have pushed for a £250M bailout from the Premier League and/or other sources to help out clubs but there is no guarantee of that happening – which means clubs have to act now.

This only goes to show just how important it was for BCFC to ensure Bellingham signed his professional contract on his 17th birthday; without that, it’s possible that they would have received a miniscule sum for Bellingham’s services which would have left the club in a much bigger hole.

Credit must be given to Blues CEO Ren Xuandong and to Kristjaan Speakman for sticking to their guns with respect to Jude Bellingham even when it cost the club the services of Garry Monk as manager. In hindsight that decision looks more of a no-brainer than ever.

Of course, receiving this money now kicks the proverbial can down the road with regards to finances; however if receiving this cash can get BCFC through the next year then there are all manner of possibilities of what could happen in that time which could secure the club’s future for a longer period.

Have Blues done this before?

Although Blues have never received fees like they did for Bellingham and Adams in previous seasons, this is not the first time that they have come to an agreement like this to bring in much needed cashflow.

BCFC Forward Funding 2012

Forward Funding 2013

The accounts for the club for both the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 seasons show that Blues forward financed parts of parachute payments to keep the club going.

At that time Blues were in all kinds of trouble; Carson Yeung had been arrested for money laundering and his assets had been frozen. Blues had a self-imposed salary cap of £5kpw for players and were struggling with the salaries due to Nikola Zigic and Peter Pannu.

By forward funding the parachute payments, the club did their best to keep cashflow at the club stable without selling assets such as Demarai Gray, having already lost Jack Butland and Nathan Redmond in 2013.

Unfortunately for Blues Gray demanded a release clause in his contract which ensured Blues wouldn’t receive the full value for his transfer, but on the flip side Blues had the benefit of Gray playing for the team until January 2016.

Again, I’ve found it impossible to find out the cost of selling those parachute payments to a forward funder but I’m reasonably sure that it was not cheap.

If Blues needed cash, why didn’t they go to Paul Suen or “Mr King” for it?

This was a question that popped through my head when I first saw these charges on Friday. I don’t know the answer for certain, but there are a couple of reasons that might make sense to use the route that they have taken.

The simplest answer would be that neither Suen or Wang Yaohui (aka “Mr King”) have the cash to give to Blues.

It’s difficult to know for certain how much coronavirus has affected the businesses of Suen or King, but it wouldn’t be improbable that they have taken a hit financially.

I do know that King has decided against redeveloping his property in Highgate, London and has put it on the market as I’ve seen the sale brochure for it last month. What I do not know is his motivation for doing so; particularly as he is in the middle of redeveloping another property in Belsize Park.

It might also be that it is physically difficult for Suen or King to inject any more funds into Birmingham Sports Holdings. For Suen or King to put money into BSH, they have to loan the company money.

Past accounts have shown that BSH have a few loan facilities in use and the levels of borrowing are already quite high when the last accounts came out, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that those facilities are now maxed out – something we can find out from the accounts due out on Wednesday.

If you want to understand more about the debt situation, I covered it on my vlog which you can view at this link.

One of the other things that crossed my mind is that it might potentially be cheaper to go through Macquarie Bank. While I do not know what Macquarie Bank have charged BCFC for these agreements, I do know the interest rates that BSH are paying on their loan facilities as it is outlined in the BSH accounts.

The loan facility supplied by Suen has an interest rate of 4.5% per annum, while the two with unknown third-party external lenders were both at a fairly high 8% pa.

With bank interest rates low at this moment in time it’s possible that it was cheaper for BCFC to go to Macquarie Bank than to borrow from another “third-party external lender” in Hong Kong. Going to Macquarie Bank also ensures that BSH do not attract HKSE attention to the amount borrowed and viability of the holding company.

Are these agreements good news or bad news?

This is a difficult question to answer.

I think in the short term at least it’s a sensible thing to do. There is no question in my mind that fans won’t be allowed back into St Andrew’s for some time and that arranging for cashflow is imperative to the club continuing on a normal trajectory.

Making these agreements with Macquarie Bank has ensured that charges are filed with Companies House, making the whole transaction quite transparent and as such it’ll be easy to know when they are satisfied.

In the long term, I’m a little less optimistic. I’ve long been concerned about the sustainability of the club and in doing this BCFC have less guaranteed income in the future to look forward to.

It’s made it more imperative that the transfer business Blues conducts is with an eye to resale value in the future – and that wages are kept to a reasonable level to ensure Blues aren’t faced with an even bigger problem down the pike.