SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/Franchises

Key business issues facing EPL franchises

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As the EPL begins its season, we take a look at some of the key business issues facing 10 of the league’s franchises.

Chelsea FC
Despite some of the EPL’s most expensive season-ticket prices ($970 to $2,050 for adults), Chelsea has sold out all 24,000 season tickets in 42,000-seat Stamford Bridge. That’s not the case with premium sales, as a team representative said the club has seen a fall-off in sales of its $1,000-a-game premium seats and its 70 luxury boxes for games against lesser clubs. Like other clubs, Chelsea’s prime partnerships are in the beer (Singha) and betting (188BET) categories, as well as in high-end men’s fashion (Dolce & Gabbana) and champagne (Laurent Perrier). With its affluent fan base, the club will look to sign partners in the telecommunications and banking categories for 2011-12. A representative said the club’s two marquee partners, Samsung and Adidas, account for more than half of its partner revenue.

Liverpool FC
After the tumultuous ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., the team in 2010 was acquired by Fenway Sports Group. The business objective that has remained atop Liverpool’s list for a decade is whether or not to expand 45,500-seat Anfield Road stadium to beyond 60,000 seats or build an entirely new facility at nearby Stanley Park. In July, managing director Ian Ayre said the club favored the idea of redeveloping the current stadium, but there were no immediate plans. The indecision has not hurt ticket sales: The club has sold out of its 28,000 season tickets, which range from $900 to $1,300.

Manchester United
Manchester United is on pace to sell out its 52,000 season tickets, which range from $900 to $1,550. The club also announced it had raised single-game tickets by just one pound (about $1.50), with the cheapest seats selling for $46. The small increase was in response to criticism that followed the club’s 6 percent annual price increase since 2005, when the Glazer family purchased the club. The club has no plans for renovations to the 76,000-seat Old Trafford, which saw its last addition of seats in 2006. The club is in its first year of a $20 million construction project at its $36 million Carrington training facility. That project will build a football science department and a fitness and rehab center, as well as a press facility.

Sunderland AFC
This year marks the fifth consecutive season in the EPL for Sunderland, which has waffled in and out of the second division three times in the last 15 years. The club’s primary focus is ticket sales; its age-based pricing structure is one of the cheapest in the league. Adult tickets range from $670 to $890, but students can buy in for $450, seniors for $500 and teenagers for just $122. The prices have helped the club sell roughly 25,000 tickets for its 49,000-seat Stadium of Light. A club source said the number should help the club improve on its average attendance of 40,000 from last season.

Aston Villa FC
In July, the team signed a jersey sponsorship with the UK’s largest casino operator Genting, which is part of the global hotel and leisure company Genting Group, based in Malaysia. The deal means the club will try to grow its brand in Asia, and the team traveled to Hong Kong and made its debut in the Barclays Asia Trophy event this summer. Club sources declined to divulge season-ticket numbers. The club plays at 42,789-seat Villa Park, which was originally built in 1897 and last renovated in 2000. Sources said the team hopes to upgrade the stadium’s north stands as a mid-term goal on improvements.

West Bromwich Albion FC
West Bromwich Albion is another team that has yo-yo’d in and out of the EPL, but its 11th position finish in the league last season helped business. In June, the club signed a two-year jersey deal with gaming company Bodog Europe valued at $2 million a year. In August, the club signed Irish striker Shane Long to a $9.5 million contract, which is the biggest in club history. The team added Big Cola, Nivea For Men and tailor Harvey Nichols as new partners. The club also unveiled a three-year construction plan to add 3,500 seats to The Hawthorns, its 26,500-seat stadium. This summer, crews added new LED boards along the main stands at the venue, an addition officials believe can bring in $550,000 in new advertising. Two corporate suite areas also were added, and club officials estimate those can bring in an additional $250,000 this season.

Everton FC
Everton recently signed a three-year renewal with its jersey sponsor, Thailand’s Chang beer, worth $20 million. The deal makes it the longest running shirt deal in the EPL. Next year, Chang will bring Everton on its first Asian tour. The club has sold out its 24,000 season tickets at Goodison Park, which seats 40,000. Built in 1892, Goodison Park is the oldest standing stadium in the EPL. This summer, the club renovated its corporate lounge, named after famed goal scorer Dixie Dean, and decreased branding signage in the stadium by 50 percent, creating a cleaner image and aiming to add value to existing ad space.

Tottenham Hotspur
The Spurs’ business interests revolve around a new facility that is part of the Northumberland Development Project, a 20-acre private-sector regeneration plan for the depressed North Tottenham section of London that includes a supermarket, a hotel and a $650 million, 58,270-seat stadium. The proposed stadium would be built on the site of the team’s current home, the aging White Hart Lane, which seats 36,230. The bigger stadium would help shrink the Spurs’ waiting list for season tickets, which is currently close to 75,000 people. Financing has been a major hurdle. In July, it was reported the club was asking supporters to partially fund the stadium project by paying fees for long-term seat contracts up front. It is seeking potential naming-rights partners to help fund the project.

Blackburn Rovers
One of the EPL’s smaller clubs, the Rovers were unable to find a paying jersey sponsor, so the club donated the front of its shirt to Prince’s Trust, a charity for disadvantaged youth founded by Prince Charles. Prince’s Trust replaces previous jersey sponsor Crown Paints, which in 2008 signed a three-year deal worth $8 million. The club’s primary corporate partners are local industrial engineering company WFC Group as well as Umbro. This season marks the club’s second with the Venky’s ownership group, an India-based food manufacturer that purchased the club for $81 million.

Manchester City
In July, Manchester City signed the richest stadium naming-rights deal in soccer history, with Etihad Airways. The Abu Dhabi-based airline, which already pays $3.7 million a year to sponsor the club’s jersey, will pay $16 million a year for the 47,805-seat stadium, which opened in 2003. EPL team officials criticized the deal, saying it violated UEFA’s Licensing and Fair Play regulations, as the Abu Dhabi-born chairmen of the team and the airline are half-brothers. UEFA has yet to veto the deal. The club, which won the 2011 FA Cup in May, raised ticket prices 6 percent for 2011-12. The club sells 36,000 season tickets annually.
—Fred Dreier

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