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How Might Financial Fair Play Have Affected Fulham's Transfer Window?

I was reading an excellent article by Jake Cohen on We Ain't Got No History about Financial Fair Play. It got me thinking about Fulham's transfer window. I commented on a previous post about it, but I think it deserves to be fleshed out into a longer post of its own for discussion.

Laurence Griffiths

As you may be aware, The Premier League has adopted Financial Fair Play rules for all of the clubs competing in the competition. Though they aren't actually called FFP, they are the same thing just with another name. If you want to know more about the rules; Daniel Geey, a London based attorney, is much better than explaining them than I. They also are published starting on page 104 in the 2013-2014 Premier League Handbook. You may be thinking that the rules were designed to reign in big spenders like Chelsea and to stop another Portsmouth from happening, but in reality the rules effect a club like Fulham much more than they do someone like Chelsea.

If I understand the BPL FFP rules correctly, a team has a wage cap £52M, with a £4M increase each year. You may be asking, how can that be? Teams like Chelsea and Manchester City are way above that cap. That cap only counts for broadcast revenues. If your balance sheet shows that you are spending more, you have to back that up by showing match day and sponsorship revenues to match your expenditures. Chelsea (according to We Ain't got No History), had match day and commercial revenues of £148.2M. This gives them a theoretical wage cap of over £200M. They pay a lot of players, but I don't think even their wage bill is that high. For Fulham though, the calculus is a little more dire.

I can't find exact numbers, but Fulham seem to be either right up against their cap, or already past it. And that's with just the current squad. Bringing in new players would obviously push them even farther away from where they should be. The numbers I've found show that Fulham had a wage bill of £62M and match day plus commercial revenues of £26M for the 2011-2012 season. A more recent article from Forbes at the time the club was sold put things in a worse light. It reported a wage bill of £60.3M (I'm pretty sure that the wage bill should have been in dollars but was given in pounds) and match day revenues of £11M. They don't show the sponsorship and commercial revenue but it can be divined by looking at the other numbers. If you add the losses to the total revenue, subtract match day, broadcast, wages, and prize money you get £11M. This makes sense compared to £15M it was in 2011-2012. Fulham's sponsorship deals have gotten bigger, but they also don't have Europa League money and finished lower in the table. If those numbers are correct, Fulham shouldn't be paying more than £74M on wages, and they are nearly there. We don't know exactly what the current wage bill is, but it may be closer to that number than my numbers show (Parker, Bent, Stekelenburg, Taarabt and Amorbieta all aren't cheap). There is a loop hole that allows a club to overspend by £105M over the next three years, so long as the club’s owner is willing to cover at least £90M of those losses. I'm not sure Khan wants, or we should expect him to shell out to cover all the possible losses. He's talked about sustainability a lot, and getting the salary structure in line is going to be a huge part of that.

You may be thinking to yourself right about now that these rules seem to affect Fulham much more than they do the big clubs. You would be right. The regulations affect teams that have high wage to revenue ratios. The clubs with the largest ratio of wages to revenue are: Aston Villa, Manchester City, Sunderland, Fulham, Everton, and West Brom. You might also notice four of those clubs voted "No" to the new rules. Aston Villa is working to get things in order by dumping high salary and going young. West Brom seems to be doing the same. Manchester City is jettisoning high priced players (Tevez, Ballotelli, Barry) and bringing in players who will be on lower wages. At the same time they are investing heavily into a youth academy. If I were a fan of a club like Sunderland or Southampton, I'd be extremely frightened of the rules. Those clubs are spending massively, but don't have the revenue to back it up.

These rules do a little bit to explain why their were so many rumors of Riise and Senderos being allowed to leave on free transfers. Just clearing their salaries would have give Fulham a lot of wiggle room to bring in new players. Having them on the book makes it harder to bring in new players. This also might explain the Fulham strategy of trying to clear salary going forward. Without being tied up in salary, and having a quite a few youth players on the squad, the team will be able to have much more financial flexibility under the rules. Were the rules the driving force behind Fulham's actions in the transfer window? Probably not, and since we have no way of knowing the real numbers, we can't say much of anything for sure. But we do know what the rules are going forward, and it's best to keep them in mind when looking at club decisions. Rather than just say that the club is cheap, it might very well be that they are just trying to stay within the financial rules laid out by the league.