Pompey aiming for place where normal business rules don’t apply

Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Picture a division where just five teams made a profit and sides clocked up an average £14m loss.

Now consider a league where clubs had a mean debt of approaching £54m and paid up to £16m for a player.

Finally, weigh up a tier where half the clubs spend more on players’ earnings alone than their turnover – and that wage figure comes in at an average £28m.

Welcome to the Championship – the division Pompey are aspiring to reach.

Forget talk of a widening gap between League One and the second level of the English game, it’s now become a gaping chasm.

The place the Blues left six years ago is a vastly different terrain to the one they are now trying to reach.

In fact, it’s fair to say it’s more akin to how the Premier League was at the time – with the most recently available accounts from clubs playing at that level underlining that truth.

Twitter page The Swiss Ramble have amalgamated the figures for 2016-17. And they make for jaw-dropping reading.

It underlines a point chief executive Mark Catlin has been highlighting for some time.

‘The fact the three relegated Championship sides from 2016-17 went straight back up highlights a concern I’ve had for a while, there’s an ever-increasing gap between League One and the Championship,’ said Catlin on the subject.

‘You can straddle it but it’s ever-increasingly difficult to do that financially.

‘It needs to be clear that talking about the disparity is just a discussion point. This isn’t an excuse for not getting there because we’re desperate to do that.

‘But there’s an incredible mix of relegated clubs in receipt of parachute payments aligned with wealthy owners who aren’t looking at this as any sort of business in a self-sustaining way.

‘They are openly proud of the money they are pumping into their clubs to try to get them to the Premier League.

‘The consequences of what could happen if that money dries up is something Pompey know all about.

‘In some cases clubs are paying more in player wages than they are turning over. It’s crazy. Bizarre.

‘Some of the jumps in wages are staggering. It doesn’t seem long ago the figures being mentioned for the salaries in the Championship were the norm at Premier League clubs.

‘It’s scary and it’s not just parachute payments that are doing it but also an influx of owners from the Far East.

‘They are quite prepared to blow tens of millions each season trying to reach the promised land of the Premier League.’

For a club like Pompey with a mid-table player budget in League One – reported to be in excess of £3.2m – the prospect of promotion could represent a daunting task.

Normal business rules no longer apply in the Championship but Catlin revealed Pompey’s owners, Michael Eisner’s the Tornante Company, are promising to arm their manager with a competitive war chest when the club do move the next sizeable rung up the league ladder.

‘Our model is different and we’re not alone in doing it this way,’ Catlin added.

‘We want to be operationally thorough and self-sustainable.

‘We aren’t going to pump money into the playing side and completely neglect everything off the field.

‘It’s a lesson Pompey have painfully learnt does not work.

‘When the time comes, though, there may be a desire to push the club on financially on the pitch.

‘The owners are clear if we make the Championship they won’t send us into battle empty-handed.

‘We’ll be supported, as we are at League One, but at a different level.’

Catlin is fully aware an onus will fall on him, chief operating officer Tony Brown and commercial director Anna Mitchell to drive income streams to shoulder the financial burden of being in the Championship.

But being at a club of Pompey’s potential aids them in that mission.

Catlin said: ‘As an executive along with Tony and Anna there’s an onus on us not to have our hands out with the begging bowl to drive revenues.

‘There’s an advantage we’d have in the Championship because our fanbase provides us with extra opportunities to avoid that.

‘There has to be an onus on me and my team to deliver as much commercial revenue as we can.’

The 2016-17 Championship figures show Newcastle won the league with the biggest wage bill (£80m) with Wolves doing likewise last term.

Relegated Wigan and Rotherham were both in the bottom five wage bills in 2016-17, with Burton (£8m) who went down last season, the lowest.

Catlin said: ‘I’ve always been transparent that clubs can buck a trend but taken over an extended period of say three-years plus, you do tend to level out in a league where your budget is.

‘You can just look at Millwall who’ve done it on not a huge budget.

‘But if you look at, say Burton, when you get that first season in the Championship that really is your chance to go again.

‘If you don’t there is that second-season-of-struggle syndrome.

‘As much as we love fairtytales, the harsh reality of football is it’s the money you put on the pitch which really has the most impact on where you finish in the league.’

The reality is the Championship’s now Premier League 2 in all but name and that comes with significant consequences for Pompey. That could be viewed as daunting – or, in Catlin’s case, a challenge to relish.

‘This is the world we’re in and something we’ll meet head on when the day arrives,’ Catlin promised.

‘We need to buck the trend and work on ways to make sure when we do get there we remain competitive. I’m sure that will be the case.’