You can read the accounts for yourself at the Companies House website at this link. Note that there is a set of accounts for Birmingham City FC, and one for the UK parent company Birmingham City plc. For this article, I am using the accounts for the club (company number 27318)
These accounts relate to a period of time between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021
Please remember that I am not trained as an accountant, and that I am using my own lay knowledge to interpret these accounts. There are some great summaries out there already by people who understand accountancy such as this Twitter thread by Kieran Maguire of the “Price of Football” podcast.
Rather than repeat and rehash what has been said, I’ve picked out some highlights for discussion and deeper analysis.
Revenue or lack thereof
I think it’s no understatement to say that the last couple of years have been difficult for many businesses across the whole gamut of industry sectors. Football was not insulated from the pandemic, and these accounts relate to a season when Blues played every single home game behind closed doors.
Thus, it’s not hard to imagine how far revenues would have dipped. Revenue had already taken a hit in the previous set of accounts as the country was locked down for the last three months of the accounting period; in this set of accounts matchday revenue was zero so Blues were reliant on commercial and broadcast income for turnover.
Commercial revenue took a hit too, dropping from £9.1m to £3.8m. While some of this would have been from matchdays and sponsorship, Blues also suffered due to not being able to make money from non-matchday stadium use.
In recent years the club has supported its commercial income by hosting events throughout the week in boxes and suites at the stadium; it’s clear from these accounts that not being able to do so has cost the club dearly. As restrictions have cleared over the last six months, hopefully this has allowed the club to return to hiring out event spaces which should help the accounts for this season.
For the club to become more self-sustainable, the challenge will be for new managing director Ian Dutton to improve and build upon these income streams. While there might be an aspiration towards making Blues a global brand, I agree with people who think that there is much that could be done in the local area to improve Blues’ presence (and hopefully with that their incoming revenues). If the club can get that right, then there is more chance of growing it outside of Birmingham.
Jude Bellingham – Saviour of Birmingham City
I get why many people scoffed about Blues retiring the #22 shirt when Bellingham left for Borussia Dortmund, but these accounts paint the painful picture of how important that sale was.
I will admit it annoys me when I hear people say that the money from his sale was “sent back to China”; or for that matter people wondering where it went.
The facts are bald – before that money from his sale was counted, Blues lost £30m. Think about that for a second; the club lost around £600k per week during the Karanka season without really spending a huge amount of money on players.
However, I will add a couple of points of mitigation to this, which I think have been overlooked and put the club in a slightly better light.
Firstly, the sale of Jude Bellingham came right at the start of the season, which meant that the club knew it had £26m or so extra income that they could use to run the club that season.
The club also quickly factored the remaining instalments of the transfer fee (along with the remaining instalments of the Che Adams transfer fee) to ensure that the cashflow was there to help tide the club through the season.
Had that money not been there from the start of the season, I think the need to cut costs would have been immediately evident and therefore I think logically the club would not have lost nearly that amount of money. It would have been extraordinarily painful though, and we need to bear in mind that we will very unlikely see a transfer fee like that again for a long time.
In fact, there is a possibility that our big transfer fee for the upcoming summer might be Bellingham again, should Dortmund sell him on. I’m led to believe that the rumours that there were no add-ons was incorrect, and should Dortmund sell him on for £100m+ (which I think is not an unreasonable figure considering how high his stock is right now) Blues would be in a position to get a fairly hefty chunk of change.
Bearing in mind that had Bellingham not signed a professional contract prior to moving all Blues would have got would have been €230k (and even that wouldn’t have been guaranteed considering the mess West Bromwich Albion have had over the Louie Barry transfer), I’m personally of the mind that the club should consider a statue to Jude Bellingham, let alone retiring his shirt number.
A hefty wage bill
One of the first things I always look for in the accounts is the level of wages being paid out by the club, as I know this is always the biggest expense for any football club. The year 2020-2021 was no different, with total wage costs of £30.151m including wages and salaries of £26.6M.
This is a reduction of about 10% on the previous year, although social security costs went up slightly from 2019-20. While it might not seem much, I’m actually quite impressed it came down that much and I think we will continue to see that downward trend this year.
However, I think estimates online of a wage bill of £18m – £20m are way off; at the Craig Gardner / Troy Deeney Q&A, Gardner made it clear that wages still need to come down some way and that there were some high earners who needed to be moved on. I think if the club have managed to drop wages by more than another 10% this year they’ll have done very well.
I do get the impression that some people don’t understand how the wage bill can still be so high.
The accounts state in the wages section there are 73 players in the playing staff. Of course, at the bottom end young players will be on scholarship wages of £140 per week, but at the top end I’m sure of at least four players who will be above the £20k per week mark which is just a shade over £1m a year in basic wages. Throw in loyalty bonuses, individual bonuses, and team bonuses on top and it all adds up quickly.
Then there are a further 62 training staff, 14 training ground staff, and 68 staff working in commercial, shop and administration.
The accounts also outline how much “key management staff” get in compensation. This has actually dropped by a third since last year, but as we don’t know how many staff this is for and if that number has changed it’s not possible to make a judgement on how money has been saved.
Director renumeration for the 2020-21 period went up to a shade under £750k, with the top director earning a shade under £366k, an increase of £82k. The assumption here is that the top paid director was former CEO Ren Xuandong, which means next year these figures should drop somewhat.
Two things are worth noting here.
Firstly, the remuneration shown in the accounts isn’t just wages, but will also cover things like accommodation allowances and benefits in kind (like buying handbags on company credit cards). The last details I have for Ren was that his yearly salary was £177k with a further £43,200 in allowances, which means that if he was the top paid director then there would be £140k or so of money paid out for things on top of his wages (including whatever PAYE had to be paid).
The other thing worth noting is a bit more distressing. Up until 1 December 2020 BCFC recharged Birmingham Sports Holdings for the director’s wages, which meant it was BSH on the hook for Ren’s shopping splurges. That has now come to an end, which means whatever directors spend now has to be paid by the club.
I mentioned in my piece on Ren Xuandong back in January that the club were on the hook for the rent for his flat even after he resigned, and it would appear now that BSH had washed their hands of this too, among other things.
This means that it’s now imperative that directors do not take money out of the club that they don’t need to – and that we as fans should hold them accountable so that the club gets value for money for what they are paying.
The other important thing I always look for in the accounts is how much the club owes, who they owe it too and when it needs to be paid off.
Debt can look horrible, but it has to be viewed in context. In the Championship, debt levels are horrendous and it’s not just Blues who owe a huge chunk to their parent company or owners.
However, while theoretically BSH can call in their debt from Blues at any time, in practice it’s out of the question as it would cripple the club and thus threaten the very existence of BSH itself.
The debt to BSH has gone down from £110.311M to £86.974M which on the face of it sounds good – until one remembers the reason it’s gone down is because £21M or so was reassigned to Oriental Rainbow Investments Ltd when that Vong Pech-owned company took a 21.64% stake in Birmingham City plc.
These accounts state that ORI advanced £2.375M to BCFC over the course of 2020-21, and that loans of £3,593,725 have been repaid which left the loan account as of 30 June 2021 at £19,847,351.
We know from the interim accounts produced by BSH for the six-month period that as of 31 December 2021 this has increased again to £22.45M, which would mean that ORI has loaned the club around £2.6m over the last six months. As per the BCFC accounts, the ORI loan is interest free and repayable on demand. This bit is a bit scarier, because ORI have less to worry about if they wish to recall their loan. However, they too have promised not to do so.
There is also a very intriguing paragraph at the bottom of page 33.
This confirms that BCFC have paid £1.25M in rent to Birmingham City Stadium Ltd for the use of St Andrew’s, and that “included in other debtors was an amount of £5,588,700 due to the company.” It goes on to note that this debt has an interest rate of 4.5% pa from 1 April 2021.
What this means is that as of June 30 last year, the stadium company owed BCFC £5.5m.
What we don’t know is why. The natural assumption would be that BCFC are looking to push the stadium repairs onto the stadium company, but I must admit I would want to see some more corroboration of that to be able to state that with any conviction.
While the headline figures are worrying, they’re not actually quite as worrying as I think they could have been.
Of course, there will be talk about the wages / turnover ratio being at 230%, but with revenues so heavily hit by Covid this was always going to happen.
Birmingham spending £230 on wages for every £100 of income might seem excessive…but it’s a “Hold My Beer” reply from Reading. pic.twitter.com/9w0M9QF2UR
— Price Of Football (@KieranMaguire) April 12, 2022
Furthermore, while it looks like from these comparisons above that Blues ratio is massive in comparison to where the club stands for wages, it is worth a deeper look.
Of the teams with bigger wage bills Reading and Brentford have worse wage to turnover ratios than Blues; while Stoke City, Bournemouth, Norwich City and Watford would have all had parachute payments which skewed their ratios. That leaves only Nottingham Forest (202%) and Cardiff with bigger wage bills – and Cardiff have clearly performed some sort of financial miracle to keep their ratio to just 61%.
Likewise, while an operating loss of £30m is horrific, the sale of Jude Bellingham ensured that Blues only lost about £4m and that they are well within P&S limits, so we don’t have to worry about that either. This year is going to be a bigger test for the club as there is no big-ticket item to balance the accounts up – which should explain the continued talk of moving on high earners.
Of course, Blues are reliant on both ORI and BSH putting in the dough-ray-me to keep things on an even keel. The accounts confirm that Blues need £40M for the period up to 31 December 2022 to continue as a going concern. This for me is the bit that is scary – especially considering the issues Vong Pech is having in Cambodia (not to mention the elusive Mr King aka Wang Yaohui).
However, all that being said, I don’t think losing money will force the owners into a sale. As a contact in the far east told me, none of the businesses we can find connected to Wang Yaohui have turned a profit since 2013 and it hasn’t seemed to have affected his spending yet.