Why soccer stars have share prices at their feet

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The Independent Online
AS the football season reaches its hectic climax the difference between success and failure can all hinge on the result of one match.

But these days it is not just the fans that have a lot resting on the fate of their favourite teams. Come the final whistle shareholders will also be left feeling as sick as a parrot or over the moon

Thousands of investors in Arsenal celebrated along with supporters after their exuberant 4-0 victory over Everton last Sunday which clinched the Premiership title. The club's success has seen demand for its debentures, which are traded on the Ofex matched bargain system, reach new heights. They are now almost impossible to get hold of. In contrast Manchester City's shares, which are also traded on Ofex, slipped 10p to 85p as the City digested the news that the club has been consigned to the Second Division.

In a game increasingly dominated by money, one bit of dazzling skill from an opposing player can cost a club millions of pounds in lost profits. With the gulf between the Premier League and the First Division ever widening, promotion can transform the financial fortunes of a club, while relegation can spell disaster.

Performance on the pitch has an important bearing on the football share prices as the charts above show. Shares in Nottingham Forest, the First Division club which has sealed promotion to the Premier League, have had a strong run since the start of the year, thanks to impressive league form. The financial rewards will be sizeable. The most significant advantage of the Premier League is the extra TV revenues available from BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster. The 20 teams in the league are guaranteed at least pounds 3m. For an average club that would rise to around pounds 5m after appearance fees are taken into account and the most successful teams will bank much more than that. In stark contrast First Division clubs are lucky to make more than pounds 1m a season from TV income.

Then there is the prospect of higher gate receipts. Not only can teams expect to attract higher gates, and especially better crowds away from home, but promotion gives clubs the opportunity to put up ticket prices. Add in higher merchandise sales and analysts estimate that Nottingham Forest can expect to make at least an extra pounds 5m next season in the Premier League.

That makes Sunderland's crusade to return to the Premiership all the more important to their respective shareholders. Sunderland has got strong local support and can comfortably make a profit in the First Division. But its current share rating probably still relies on it achieving its goal of a place in the Premiership. Sunderland's shares have risen sharply since last December but some City analysts believe they could fall back to around the 300p mark once again if the club falls at the last hurdle.

The shares of quoted rivals Charlton and Sheffield United, which are also vying for promotion places in the forthcoming Division One play-offs, could also suffer a similar fate. With only one promotion spot up for grabs, somebody is bound to be a loser.

The price of failure can be seen at Loftus Road, which owns QPR, the west London club.

It has invested heavily in players to regain its position in football's top flight. But having suffered from abject form it faces the double whammy of ballooning wage costs and lower TV revenues as an extra parachute payment for relegated clubs from BSkyB runs out next season.

Similarly the share price performance of Premier League clubs heading for relegation such as Burnden Leisure, which owns Bolton, has been dire. However a 5-2 win over Crystal Palace last weekend could change all that. Bolton will win their battle against relegation if they win their final match of the season. Shares in Burnden Leisure have risen 6p to 22p since the weekend on renewed hopes of their survival in the top flight.

Tottenham Hotspur has also had a terrible run on and off the pitch. The club has admitted it would have lost pounds 4m in revenues on relegation. Some analysts estimated the actual figures could have been double that.

That said, a 6-2 thrashing of Wimbledon last Saturday should ensure they stay up and help support the club's flagging share price. The shares have edged up 3.5p to 73p since the weekend.

But match day success is not the only thing that determines share prices. It affects the financial fortunes of each club to a varying degree. Manchester United, Britain's most successful and mature football club, has an excellent business away from the pitch. It has already lost its Premiership crown this season to Arsenal, but the impact on its profits is far less than the large fall in its share price of the last few months would suggest.

Football shares generally have had a terrible season. Too many over-hyped and over-priced clubs came to the market in the 1996/7 season and the sector is still suffering from the hangover.

Poor liquidity has created violent swings in share prices. But the World Cup and the promise of pay-per-view TV could finally bring renewed optimism to a sector by the time a new season kicks off.