Tim Payton: Two billionaires, no buys: Arsenal must smarten up
Wednesday 06 July 2011
Three weeks ago fans attending the Arsenal Supporters' Trust Q&A with club chief executive Ivan Gazidis were promised a busy summer of transfers to strengthen the first-team squad.
But so far the news is all about likely high-profile departures, deepening the concerns among our members who, in the last three months, have endured the team's failure to end a six-year wait for a trophy, being told their season tickets were to increase in price by 6.5 per cent and witnessing long-standing, Arsenal-supporting board members end 70 years of ownership stability by selling a majority stake in the club to Stan Kroenke.
For many years now Arsenal have operated a sell-to-buy policy and can no longer compete with the very top clubs in Europe in transfer fees or wages paid. This is a strategy dictated by the club's decision to adhere to a "self-sustaining" business model.
Arsenal have neither the commercial revenues nor benefactor income to enable them to match the finance strength of the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea or Barcelona. This inevitably means that the transfer window will be drawn-out as we wait to see who leaves and what budget this creates to buy players not coveted by those who offer riches of £150,000 a week. It is a precarious arrangement that relies ever more on manager Arsène Wenger to secure top fees for players no longer at their peak, while continuing to unearth and develop superstars and persuade them to stay.
So what can be done? Arsenal need to grow their overseas presence and broaden their commercial programmes. The commercial gap behind Manchester United is now £50m a year. After years of AST pressure to do so, they will embark on a long-overdue overseas tour of Asia next week. But the stark truth is that the long-term deals for shirt sponsorship and kit supplier put in place when raising the £400m plus to build the Emirates Stadium do not expire till 2014 and the opportunity cost of lost revenue is now estimated at £35m a year and growing.
The AST does not support an unchecked sugar-daddy approach to ownership. But we do think the club should thoroughly review the options for its two billionaire shareholders – Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov – and other supporters to make sustainable investment into the club. Sustainable long-term options include paying down the remaining debt or undertaking a rights issue, as was concluded to the tune of £80m also to raise money for the stadium project. There is certainly an appetite from supporters to own shares in the club as the Arsenal Fanshare scheme, which has gained 2,000 members in just nine months, demonstrates.
Sadly, player loyalty is all but gone in modern football. They are employees doing a job. It is supporters who love the club and build a relationship for life. But we should not be held hostage or priced out of the ground for it. If our money and the backing he got from the stands last season isn't good enough for Samir Nasri, and he won't commit to a new contract, then we would fully support a club decision to cash in.
You can't blame the Arsenal board or Gazidis if players try to break long-term contracts or refuse to sign generous new contracts offered to them months ago. But you can judge them on how they handle the situation and act to take Arsenal forward. The priority has to be protecting the club's long-term interests and making any other club who wants to take them off our hands pay full whack, then reinvesting the money in other world-class talent. So far Gazidis has refused to be bullied by Barcelona over Cesc Fabregas and as long as he holds this line he will be on good ground with Gunners.
Tim Payton ( @timpayton ) is a leading member of the AST
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