Catlin backs Pompey ownership model – but sees limits

Pompey are going well in League Two as they chase promotion. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey are going well in League Two as they chase promotion. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Mark Catlin believes it remains possible to earn Championship football on the back of Pompey’s ownership model.

However, he has warned the chances of making such Football League progress are lengthening by the season without external investment.

I am not saying we can’t get to the Championship – and I want to stress that again – I’m just saying how it is going to be extremely difficult, but not impossible

Mark Catlin

Under community ownership, the Blues are debt free, self-sustainable and on course for once again turning in another slight operating profit.

Similarly, matters on the field are encouraging, with Paul Cook’s side clutching a six-point cushion in the automatic promotion spots.

Yet the onset of negotiations with Michael Eisner has thrown up the possibility of ditching the model which has restored Pompey’s financial fortunes.

Should the Blues achieve taking the first rung in the clamber up the leagues, inevitably longing glances will be cast towards the Championship and beyond.

It’s an ambition Catlin is adamant can be accomplished utilising the current model of a self-sustainable club.

There are concerns, however.

He said: ‘We are at a crossroads.

‘Carrying on with this model, if our ultimate aim is to get to the Championship, it is going to be extremely difficult – but not impossible.

‘You cannot say this model can’t get us to the Championship. If you look at the likes of Yeovil and Burton as examples in recent years, it is possible. You could never say we can’t do it.

‘However, the law of averages and rule of thumb say that financially it will be difficult given the budgets that now exist in the higher end of League One and beyond.

‘This season it looks pretty favourable for Sheffield United and Bolton winning promotion. They have two of the biggest budgets in that league and budgets which, should we get into League One, we will struggle to compete financially.

‘All the figures tell you it is becoming more and more expensive year-on-year. As a general rule, players’ salaries are going up and up and up.

‘The only way we’ll be able to compete with that, financially, is from outside investment or us, as fan-owners, being the investors – but it won’t be cheap.

‘I am not saying we can’t get to the Championship – and I want to stress that again – I’m just saying how it is going to be extremely difficult, but not impossible.

‘From what I see online and talking to people, around 90 per cent believe we are either a Championship club or a Premier League club. If that’s the case, history shows you require outside investment.

‘Of course you can buck the trend, yet you cannot indefinitely, look at Yeovil. Leicester bucked the trend to win the Premier League title.

‘If we see ourselves as a stable Championship or Premier League club, personally I do not see any way other than attracting significant external investment, either now or sometime in the future.

‘I am not saying it has to be at this time – I am just saying at some point.’

Eisner and his Tornante investment company last week secured a 70-day exclusivity to finalise a deal.

Pompey’s ownership model has been held aloft as the beacon for those dogged by financial uncertainty to follow.

Successful implementation at Fratton Park has been driven by current average home attendances of 16,712.

But Catlin believes there could come a level when even that financial advantage will diminish.

He added: ‘Our greatest chance of success as a football club and staying within the existing model is with more and more clubs becoming fan-owned, but that doesn’t seem to be the trend, unfortunately.

‘More and more clubs are relying on outside investment. I am not saying that’s right, far from it, I wish every club was fan-owned.

‘The revenue we can raise as a fan-owned club is dwarfed in the top-two divisions by money that rich benefactors are willing to put in. Some people, myself included, don’t like that model, but they’re the rules we are playing with.

‘The Pompey crowds obviously help with our finances. At the moment, our gates enable us to compete without outside investment and could arguably in League One to a level.

‘But where do we see ourselves as a football club?

‘If it’s the Championship and Premier League, even with our crowds, the gates as a percentage of your total turnover go down and down.’

Ultimately, should agreement be reached with Eisner, it is the shareholders among the fans who will decide Pompey’s next ownership path.

Catlin said: ‘It is key people wait for the full details, nobody knows what they are voting on at the minute.

‘All you can do is put the facts out there of where we are as a football club in regards of other leagues and where we are as a football club in regards of our personal finances.

‘That obviously becomes part of the decision-making process for the shareholders and we will keep doing that.’