Six clubs have been ever present in the Premier League. Of the six, Manchester United and Arsenal dominated the honours boards in the early years, before Chelsea on the back of Abramovich’s funding starting competing and winning. Always part of the “Sky 4” despite not having won the Premier League, more recently Liverpool made it to the winner’s circle.Tottenham have huffed and puffed, occasionally threatening but never quite made it, and then there’s Everton. Once in the top 4, several times 5th or 6th, considered for many years the “best of the rest”, fell short of that in the post Moyes era, but now threatening a resurgence on the pitch under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti. In addition to the six ever-presents there’s Manchester City who through the ownership and stewardship of Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan are seeking to become the global force in world football through their 77% ownership of holding company City Football Group
What is it that differentiates between the successful and the unsuccessful? In a regulated business (competition) like football it can only be one of two reasons – the resources available to the clubs and the people who make the strategic decisions and run it on and off the pitch.
The resources available to a club can only come from a limited number of sources, the financial power of the owners, Premier League and European competition participation, success in player trading, plus the revenue that is driven by the commercial and matchday activities of the club.
Whilst success on the football pitch is a significant component of a club’s revenues and commercial opportunities, the degree to which non-performance related revenues are generated is down to the depth, quality and experience of the board and executive teams. The second element, as suggested above, (as is the case for any business) is recruitment. It also has to be recognised that recruiting the best director of football, the best manager, coach etc is the primarily responsibility of the board, although clearly the owner or majority shareholder may have considerable influence in this regard depending upon their degree of involvement and the governance structures around clubs.
There are a number of performance indicators which will indicate how successful a club has been over time. For example, length of time in the top division, regular qualification for European competitions, trophies won (most importantly) and the amount of money third parties are willing to spend to be associated with your club and its branding. So how have the six ever-presents (and Manchester City) fared over the last twenty nine seasons of Premier League football?
Twenty nine seasons in the Premier League combined with regular European football and trophies pays big dividends. (chart below, *commercial revenue to 2019, the latest year for which all accounts are available)
|Seasons in Premier League||Seasons in European football||Trophies won||Commercial revenue £ m*|
All of the above is driven by the strategic decisions made by boards and their ability to recruit well within the business, and for the owners, to recruit well at board level
Thus, it is interesting to look at the boards of the “big 6” to see if lessons can be learned.
Three key features of board composition stick out for me – the level of representation the major shareholder/shareholders have at board level, the degree of commercial expertise that exists on each of these boards and finally the willingness to recruit non executives to the board bringing fresh skill, experiences, scrutiny and oversight. It is not a coincidence that there is a correlation between the quality of the board and the performance of the club (company).
Manchester City are understandably the best resourced club, and the club in my opinion demonstrating the greatest vision for the future. The group structure and strategy of making footballing acquisitions around the globe provides so many commercial, financial and recruitment benefits not only to the shareholders but to the individual clubs, particularly Manchester City, the jewel in the crown (see the excellent article (albeit 3 years old now) in the Guardian about their global dominance plans).
At board level they have a number of interesting characters with extensive international, sporting and commercial experience. As you might expect senior executives from within the Abu Dhabi ruling family and Government dominate the board. Their Chairman is Khaldoon Al Mubarak, currently Group CEO and Managing Director of Mubadala Investment Company. He also serves as Chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi, Chairman of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation and Chairman of Emirates Global Aluminum. He is also a Board Member of the Abu Dhabi Supreme Petroleum Council.
He’s joined by two other senior Abu Dhabi executives in Simon Pearce and Mohamed Al Mazrouei . Simon is a member of the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi, and currently serves as special Advisor to the Chairman. He is also a Board Member of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, operator of Yas Marina Circuit and home of the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and a Board Member of Manchester Life Development Company.
Mohamed Al Mazrouei has served as the Undersecretary of the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi. He is also the Chairman of Etihad Airways, and the former Chairman of Abu Dhabi Media.
Abdulla Khouri is the Chairman of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, operator of Yas Marina Circuit and home of the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and Flash Entertainment, the leading music, sports and entertainment events company based in Abu Dhabi. He is a Board Member of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Abu Dhabi Media Zone Authority, and Miral Asset Management.
They’re joined by John Macbeth having held senior positions with BP, Statoil and BAE systems, and Alberto Galassi, CEO of the luxury goods Ferretti Group and Chairman of Piaggio Aerospace. Galassi is also an attorney at law specialising in international commerce and arbitration.
Throw in the CEO Ferran Soriani with his business experience and Director of Football Aitor “Txiki” Begiristain and you have a very powerful board and senior executive team. With the resources available to them it is no surprise they seek both at City and within the Group, national, European and global domination.
Manchester United have long led the commercial performance table. Driven by an ambitious board in the early days of the Premier League and the club’s embodiment of Sir Alex Ferguson’s desire to win they mastered the art of local, national and international commercial partnering across multiple sectors.
Their board is dominated by the Glazer family, the owners of Manchester United. Its purpose has been to provide sufficient funds for footballing success (albeit with diminished returns on the pitch in recent years), and to build sufficient income to meet their debt burden (caused by their leveraged ownership model) and increasingly to provide dividends to the Glazer family.
The board is co-chaired by Avram and Joel Glazer both relatively quiet men with limited desire for public appearance or indeed scrutiny. The public face of the board is Edward Woodward, Executive Vice Chairman, a former investment banker, now senior administrator and presented as the driving force behind their commercial success. In addition he sits on the Board of Directors of the European Club Association (ECA).
The board has four other Glazer family members and three independent directors, Robert Leitao, Managing Partner of Rothschild & Co Gestion, the top holding company of the Rothschild & Co Group, and Co-Chairman of the Rothschild & Co Group Executive Committee. Manu Sawhney, with vast experience in Asia of media, rights, distribution, consumer products and setting up entertainment businesses, currently CEO of Singapore Sports Hub and John Hooks, with a distinguished career in luxury goods, now CEO of PGM and an advisor to McKinsey & Co.
The Managing Director of Manchester United is Richard Arnold, formerly commercial director at United and with a technology and telecommunications background prior to that.
Cliff Baty is the Company’s Chief Financial Officer with many prior years experience of being finance director in the gambling and technology sector.
Despite under-performance on the field, in financial terms Manchester United continue from strength to strength. Whilst there is concern from their supporters that their financial dominance is not reflected on the pitch they clearly remain well-resourced and remain the leading example of the effect of long term commercial strategic thinking.
As is well known to many Everton fans, Arsenal are wholly owned by Stan Kroenke, the serial investor in sporting franchises and a shrewd property investor. As a football club Arsenal have built a brand new stadium, re-developed their old ground for residential use, been a model of financial security and enjoyed consistent ‘success’ on the pitch all without their majority shareholder putting funds into the club. Whilst they maintain a status and security most other clubs can only dream of, the frustration for Arsenal fans is the lack of ambition on the pitch, and increasingly perhaps off it. The Coronavirus pandemic has severely dented their cash pile and the recent lack of growth in their commercial income may expose them in the years ahead.
Their board consists of a combination of the Kroenke family in Stan and his son Josh and two external appointments.
As the Head of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, he owns a number of North American sports teams, venues and radio and television networks – including the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League, the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, the Pepsi Center, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Altitude Sports & Entertainment (regional sports network) and the Outdoor Sportsman Group of media companies. His family’s sports holdings also include the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League and the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association.
Josh Kroenke is Vice Chairman of KSE and KSE UK, President of the Colorado Avalanche NHL franchise and the Denver Nuggets in the NBA.
Lord Harris of Peckham is one of Britain’s longest-serving retailers, taking over his family run carpet business aged 15. He went on to found Carpetright in 1988, where he played a central role until announcing his retirement in 2014.
The most recent addition to their board is as non-executive director, corporate lawyer Tim Lewis appointed in June 2020. He has been a partner with Clifford Chance since 2010, specialising in advising companies on mergers and acquisitions, equity issues and general corporate advice.
Whilst Arsenal have benefited hugely from their new stadium, their long-term association with Emirates and previous strong commercial performance, it’s difficult not to consider that they are not as ambitious or effective as once was. Post Wenger there has been instability on and off the pitch which does not reflect well on Kroenke’s leadership nor that of Vinai Venkatesham the club’s Chief Executive Officer.
Chelsea, of course, are dominated by the ownership of Abramovich and this is reflected with close associates in a small board. Bruce Buck a very senior lawyer and partner of US law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, is Club Chairman. On the board are two very close associates, Eugene Tenenbaum and Marina Granovskaia. Both were with Abramovich in the days he owned the Russian oil company Sibneft, and have served on the Chelsea board since 2003. Granovskaia is particularly involved in the club’s transfer business. Finally, Guy Laurence, Chief Executive Officer, sits on the board. Guy has many senior executive appointments on his CV including CEO of Rogers Communications (one of Canada’s largest comms and media companies) and previously CEO of Vodafone UK.
Chelsea’s management structure is interesting in that they have a football board sitting under the main board, comprising of the board members above and David Barnard a senior football administrator with over 30 years experience.
Tottenham Hotspur have in recent years been considered very tough negotiators and have grown both on and off the pitch. Majority owned by Enic, (owned by Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy) the dominant figure on the Tottenham board is Executive Chairman Daniel Levy. His name has become synonymous with Tottenham’s rise through not only their tough, rigid pay policy, but their property development, new stadium build and increasingly higher profile commercial deals. The one significant missing piece in the Tottenham jigsaw is the naming rights deal for their new stadium.
Joining Levy on the board is a fellow Enic director, Matthew Collecott, a Chartered Accountant with extensive sports media and property development experience. In addition there is Donna-Maria Cullen an expert in corporate and financial communications. She has been a board member since 2006.
Interestingly, Tottenham have a Director of Football Administration and Governance, Rebecca Caplehorn a Chartered Accountant with a strong financial background. In addition, there is a technical performance director in Steve Hitchen with responsibility for scouting, performance, recruitment analysis and youth recruitment.
In addition to the executive directors, Tottenham have two non-executives, Ron Robson is a Managing Director in the Tavistock Group and Deputy Chairman of Mitchells & Butlers plc, a FTSE 250 group that is one of the UK’s largest owners of managed pubs and restaurants, plus Jonathan Turner the co-founder and former President of Qatalyst Partners, a technology-focused investment bank. He has over 24 years of investment banking experience, including at Credit Suisse, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette and Citibank.
Finally of the ‘big 6’ we have Liverpool. Owned by the Fenway Sports Group their board is dominated by the principals John Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon. Relative to their success on the pitch, for many years it is Liverpool perhaps who have been most successful in exploiting their brand, particularly internationally. A combination of shrewd thinking and mostly inexplicably favourable press and media relations have allowed the club to build a very successful commercial operation. Completing the FSG representation at board level is Michael Egan, a partner at FSG.
In addition to the FSG representation, Billy Hogan CEO sits on the board. Previously commercial director he took over following Peter Moore’s departure in 2020. Andy Hughes has been finance director and Chief Operating Officer since 2013. Finally Kenny Dalglish, who needs no introduction, is a board member.
Each of the largest 6 clubs in the Premier League have boards characterised by strong ownership representation, considerable commercial experience in different sectors and strong representation from non-executive directors who bring success and differing business practices and experiences from other commercial sectors into their respective clubs.
It can be argued that the success of their clubs is in effect a self-fulfilling prophecy – that success attracts the best talents which furthers future success. But for me that view is too simplistic. For there to be success someone, at sometime had to create it. We can argue the causes for that success of course, be it the extreme wealth and backing of owners, or indeed prolonged success on the pitch, however all of these arguments fail to recognise that in business as in life, challenger organisations challenge the status quo, the established pecking order. Indeed, staying at the top is often viewed as harder than arriving.
Everton, with our famous motto Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, grand history plus the substantial financial backing of Farhad Moshiri should be equals with the above at the top of the game. However, we know that not to be the case. By any relevant and measurable metric, successive boards at Everton have failed to keep up with those other five clubs always present in the Premier League, and of course, Manchester City.
As has been demonstrated by the several years of poor footballing recruitment, poor management selection and wholly inadequate strategic thinking (let alone governance) since Moshiri arrived in 2016. Everton have a long way to go to catch the teams above. I’d argue strongly that can only be achieved by bringing in comparable talent and experience at board level to that of our competitors. To think on the back of past performance we are adequately equipped to compete in the future is delusional.
Moshiri, as he has transformed our finances, must now transform the running of the club and the business. The disruption caused by the pandemic gives us an opportunity to challenge, but to take advantage of that opportunity we need transformation at board and executive level – only Moshiri can provide that.