The concerning news this week that a HMRC tax bill threatens the very existence of Prestatyn Town FC is a reminder of just how fine a line our domestic clubs tread in order to survive.
Behind the scenes at any football club at any competitive level, the two driving forces are to keep themselves competitive and afloat. The ideal scenario in competitive sport is that the two are relative and one goes with the other – being competitive drives revenue, steady finances allow for a competitive team. That is of course the ideal model and far more established leagues systems than what we have in Wales have lost their way and have wandered well astray from that path, but in Welsh domestic football, those two driving factors are especially contradictory.
This blog is not intended to be critical of Prestatyn Town’s current plight and I sincerely hope the Seasiders come through but every person associated with a Welsh Premier League club (or below) should take heed as to what is happening to them right now.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say every single WPL club, with the exception perhaps of TNS, is potentially only two years away from going close to the wall as Prestatyn are right now. Things in football can change quickly, especially when striving for competitiveness and balancing the books are in such stark contrast to each other. An unexpected sequence of results, bad luck, poor performances, bad decision making, a change of heart from an influential investor/benefactor – any combination of these could be the trigger of financial uncertainty which then turns into an avalanche.
Such circumstances have already taken its toll on our top-flight: Neath FC, Llanelli, Barry Town, Port Talbot Town… the downfall and even liquidation of these clubs leaves us with a very geographically unbalanced league with just Carmarthen Town and Cardiff Met competing in the WPL as south-Wales based clubs.
The root of the issue is simple of course with clubs are spending more than they bring in. Revenue streams are limited, attendances are generally disappointing, there aren’t a long line of sponsors queuing up to agree deals whether it be collectively or individually with clubs and despite S4C’s commendable commitment to the WPL, the TV rights deal is of a nominal amount. The increase of FAW/UEFA funded 3G pitches in the WPL is clearly a big step forward. Regardless whether you’re in favour of grass or artificial turf, the opportunity of a new income stream and a facility which will helps clubs further engage with their local community is one that simply can’t be ignored. The clubs however need to make this work and it’ll be interesting to see over the next few years just how much impact 3G makes on a club’s income and community profile. However, the big money of course lies in European football and that is what our clubs are chasing, very much adopting the speculate to accumulate method in an attempt to land UEFA prize money cheques.
After winning the Welsh Cup in 2013, my understanding is that Prestatyn Town’s budget for its playing squad and staff increased to £4k per week. The club reached the second qualifying round of the Europa League that summer and were able to clear debts and raised their budget to remain competitive. Current club chairman Chris Tipping believes that the HMRC have made a mistake in charging the club the same amount of tax in following two years – despite the fact the wages the club’s budget was cut considerably following the 2013/14 season. This is not a direct criticism of Prestatyn Town but a criticism of the culture of WPL club expenditure in general – the clubs need to ask themselves: just how does a semi-professional WPL club with such limited income streams find itself paying £4,000 per week on wages to be competitive?
I can say with confidence that there are currently WPL clubs operating on similarly-sized budgets, I’d even speculate some were higher; yet look at the attendance figures, the lack of mainstream media coverage and subsequent lack of sponsorship/advertising, because unless the clubs make a joint collective effort to bring parity to their playing budgets, it will only be a matter of time before we risk losing another established club.
Prestatyn Town now have a Just Giving page where a supporter hopes to raise funds to help the club reach their £53,000 target. You can donate here.