Deloitte with intent

Keith Butterick looks at how Deloitte have gradually enhanced their reputation

The Deloitte & Touche Annual Review of Football Finance is celebrating its tenth an­niversary. Things have changed dramatically since Gerry Boon, Oldham Athletic fan and an accountant at Deloitte’s Manchester office, produced the first report. Colleagues, who tolerated his interest in comparing the fin­ances of football clubs like an indulgent father looks at his son’s latest craze, considered him slightly barmy.

Ten years ago, the Deloitte PR people had to work hard to generate interest in the report. Why, even I got an interview with Gerry. Not now. Things have changed. Gerry’s much too busy. These days he saves himself for the big appearances on TV and in the national press.

The Deloitte sports unit has also grown into a big and exotic business. The Review itself  costs £120 (free to clubs, football organisations and students). But that is only the tip of the iceberg, because the Review is more use as a marketing tool than a revenue earner. Boon has an impressive list of clients, including both Manchester clubs, the Prem­ier League, Ajax, UEFA, Real Madrid and Lazio. Beats doing the accounts of a widget manufacturer.

Deloitte is one of the many beneficiaries from the huge influx of money into the game. If clubs or their investors want to spend, then Deloitte has the complete shopping list to help them do it. The list of management services on offer includes “business strategy and plan­ning”, “concept validation” and “project origination”. It reads like a lexicon of management studies and is completely removed from the experience of most football supporters. Yet arguably, with the money that goes into foot­ball, expert advisers are needed in order to ensure it gets spent wisely and no one gets ripped off.

For that to happen, however, and to ensure that situations like the one at Chesterfield do not recur, complete transparency of financial information is required. And this raises a real problem, because for all the talk of a “football industry”, the financial information available to the public is virtually non-existent.

This is why producing the Review must be a completely mind-bending task for Gerry and his team, because so much of foot­ball in the UK is not run like a business but like a rich man’s plaything. The normal rules of bus­­­i­ness just not do seem to apply. For ex­ample, on the inside front cover of this year’s Review, there is in effect a dis­claimer. This is because different clubs at different levels produce dif­ferent types of financial information. Other than the clubs that are quoted on the stock ex­change, there is no consistent information available.

Clubs have to comply with the requirements of all limited companies, but the foot­ball authorities do not demand any additional level of dis­closure. To do so would be to enter a minefield. It is, for instance, well known that businessmen have in the past offset the losses of foot­ball clubs against their own companies for personal tax gains – and probably still do. Some of the smaller clubs only have to pro­duce what are known as abbreviated accounts and if changes to small company auditing requirements are passed, the number doing so will increase.

The current Review attracted publicity because it speculated that it would not be long before the UK had its first £100,000 a week footballer. Looking into the future, the Review states that: “Given the huge boost to clubs’ finances as the new TV deal kicks in, the future’s bright!!” Though that was written be­fore the viewers turned off the idea of watching Des and Tel spouting on.

It is easy to be cynical about the Review. Deloitte clearly does well from it,  but nevertheless it does contain some sound advice. It argues, for example, that the money from the current TV deal “represents a once-and-for-all opportunity to put the basic foot­ball financial model on a viable long-term footing”. And it points out that football can­not sustain growth if it continues to pay such high wages. “There is one over-riding business imperative for the next few years  – on wages, and on transfer activity, spend what you can afford.”

Naturally, one pleasing result of such fin­ancial prudence would be that clubs would have that much more to spend on Deloitte con­sultancy services.

From WSC 176 October 2001. What was happening this month