Small Town In Europe Not For Sale To Big Boys

COULD Boro be lined up as a target for a big money foreign takeover? Liverpool have joined the fast swelling ranks of clubs who have made a Faustian pact and sold their soul to remote corporate capital in order to live the dream. Is a bid for Boro a possibility?
Don’t be daft. Boro don’t tick all the boxes. Yes, the club is an established member of a club soon to be engorged by an influx of television cash and is riding high after a profile boosting fairytale run to the UEFA Cup final but in so many other ways it doesn’t measure up – and I for one am glad.


First let’s get one thing straight: foreign investment is not an altrustic act based on the passion we feel as fans. A swath of gridiron and ice-hockey magnates have not swooned over the asthetic properties of the beautiful game. Cash rich Russian oiligarchs have not been captivated by the emotional impact of the Shed End and Fratton Park. The arrival of global big-hitters is a series of calculated business moves by shrewd investors who see a quick return in maximising profits in a sector of the leisure/entertainment industry that has historically been badly run in business terms.
The new football magnates aim to change that. They want to increase profitability and maximise revenue streams – that is, one way or another get more money out of fans and out of the anciliary operations and the assets attached to their new purchase. Not neccessarily through gate money as even the most rapacious owner must know that ticket prices have reached a ceiling and any attempts to push them higher would be counter-productive, nor even through the increased television income from the new deal bonanza which sadly will just about cover the wage bill for most clubs. But there are other lucrative areas that make clubs attractive – and thankfully Boro are pug ugly where it counts.
Many of the clubs who have been snapped up are sited slap bang on prime real estate. The Chelsea Village complex that Roman Abramovich bought for £17m is worth ten times more and can only appreciate as capital land values soar. West Ham’s Upton Park is two miles from a the 2012 Olympic Village and the area is about to be transformed with new leisure and residential developments plus transport infrastructure that will send land values rocketing – and they have already opened talks on a move to the centre-piece new stadium that will allow the sale of their old ground for a hefty profit. And even Liverpool could be quids in as they move to a new site in Stanley park just as the area around Anfield gets a massive cash injection through the government ‘Pathfinder’ scheme, similar to the Gresham rebranding, which will boost the value of the land they are vacating.
Boro have little to offer in that respect. Even if the Middlehaven project realises the dream of a new leisure quarter, digital village and plush residential areas and forms the beating heart of a new City of Teesside Boro do not own the land on which the stadium sits. It is leased at a peppercorn rent from the quango which controls the residue of the TDC. The jewel in Steve Gibson’s crown could turn out to be Hurworth, which has planning permission for a top notch golf course and hotel which has incredible potentail but that nestles within the broader Bulkhaul empire rather than the football club portfolio.
The clubs that have been taken over – and Manchester City and Newcastle which are both targets – also have a far greater potential in future broadcast terms. The influx of businessmen schooled in the US market and the need to make a quick return on ‘leveraged’ buyouts based on loans secured against the new purchase will swing the momentum within the Premiership towards the notion of clubs selling their own individual TV deals. It has long been resisted here so far because of a lingering belief in the concept of ‘a league’ and the idea of collective strength but foreign businessmen with no feeling for tradition or history and a compelling need to maximise revenue streams may see things differently.
Manchester United put bums on seats across the planet. They are a global brand with their own
TV operation that sells via pay-to-view satellite channels to acolytes from Brisbane to Bombay and Bangkok to Belfast so they already have the market in place. Chelsea are not far behind. Liverpool and Arsenal will follow while other big brands like Spurs, Newcastle and Villa will give chase, albeit from a far lower base and in a global market already carved up.
Boro can’t hope to do that. In terms of international profile we are well down the rankings. The failure of Boro TV – the first club specific channel generating editorial content and at times a half-decent product, albeit one without broadcast rights for games – shows the limitations of the market. Even in the club’s heartland, with a head start and no opposition it wasn’t viable so battling with the big boys for subscriptions out in Asia is a non-starter, even with the Lion King.
And lastly there is the question of merchandising. Man United have shops and RedCafes all across the world exploiting the need for glory-hunting fat lads everywhere to slip into a Ronaldo replica top while no news footage from a war-torn dysfunctional nation or scene of natural disaster is complete without some cheeky urchin in the background wearing their shirt.
The big two – that’s Nike and Adidas not United and Chelsea – have a global presence shifting shedloads of shirts from the G-14 superbrands like United, Chelsea, both Milans, Juve, Real, and Barca. Look a bit further along the rack in the tourist shops and you might find Bayern, Roma, Ajax, even Newcastle. But there will be no demand for Boro shirts. And no mechanism to deliver them. The exclusive deal with Errea recognises that and it would take a seismic shift in status to change that reality.
The only other concievable target for asset-strippers raiding a club is to quickly cash in on the players but given the age of the experienced core at Boro and the time it will take to see the highly-rated kids to profitable maturity the only real prizes are Stewy Downing and Yakubu. No-one is going to come in and buy the club for £100m just to sell that pair.
One other factor is the corporate structure. Those clubs that followed the floatation route in the nineties are the most vulnerable. Having sold shares and voting rights to faceless speculators they are open to aggressive takeovers and subject to the normal money-making machionery of the Stock Exchange. Most have ended up with substantial segments of the sharebase held by investors rather than fans and they are more likely to succumb to the lure of the quick profit than a dyed in the wool supporter. At Boro have one of those in charge – and he owns all the shares. There are no divisions to exploit, no minority holdings to buy, no two for one rights issues to open doors to new money. It is all down to Gibbo and he shows no sign of cutting and running. Besides, the club is an integral part of the far bigger Bulkhaul corporate structure of Gibson O’Neill and has distinct tax and financial advantages within that set-up that will take some unravelling and outweigh the prospect of a quick buck from a sale.
A small town in Europe structure is a strong brand identity for us as a passionate fan-base who know that really we are not a big club. They same factors will scare off the venture vultures circling the game. No one will want us, we don’t care. Boro are not for sale.

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20 thoughts on “Small Town In Europe Not For Sale To Big Boys

  1. The reality of what Anthony Vickers says is in some ways, hard to swallow – but nevertheless, true – thank God!
    The Boro may not be a’big Club’ from the mega-rich speculators point of view – but who wants some profit hungry rich vulture owing the club – ready to asset strip as soon as the time is right?
    No thank you, I for one am more than happy for Steve “The Boro runs through me like Blackpool rock” Gibson to own the club – he is doing very well, thank you, Boro have come a long way since the dark days of 1986!
    In the end, fan/supporters power will win the day – if it gets too expensive, too distant from the football we all love, then I am sure the ‘little’ clubs – like the Boro, if you like – will go their own way and take with them that which really counts – entertainment and fans who can afford to watch the game.

  2. Good article and I agree with Clive, who the hell wants some mega rich foreigner with no feeling for the club or area at the helm?
    However after all the success Steve Gibson has brought to the club, I think the people of Teesside should sell out the Riverside for every game.
    Get behind the team and bring back that togetherness we all felt when we were robbed of the 3 points. The team are doing they best to make the Riverside a fortress again, and the fans can do the same by providing an electric atmosphere.
    Entertainment on the pitch and 100% support from the stands, Boro are on the up and I for one want to be part of it.
    Come on Boro!

  3. I would love a big rich billionaire to come and buy boro and push us onto the next level. Would the fans care if it meant we would win the fa cup? how is a rich billionaire buying the club any different than gibson bying the club.
    The big clubs are going to get richer and beyond boro pretty soon. the next tv rights to premier league in a few years time will be through the internet with clubs making millions per game as they start to do pay per view on the internet.
    how many of these super rich billionaires have cut down on spending money on players…etc I have yet to see one that has spent less than before he bought the club. they are in for the long term atleast until the tv money has peaked but thats about 10 years away

  4. We are certainly different to the big boys. They have a wider presence world wide than we have.
    The obvious areas to exploit are the far east and the US market. The latter is interesting. I was sat talking with some fans about the Beckham deal and the view amongst them was ‘soccer’ will never take off in the US.
    There are some lessons to be taken from gridiron. 40 years ago it wasnt in the top ten sports in the US. It is interesting to note that the match up between the Colts and Bears was Superbowl 41 and NFL is huge in the US.
    Previous attempts in the USA didnt make football a major TV spectacle but from what I have heard it is the number one sport amongst US teenagers. Smug commentators ignore the NFL lessons at their peril, soccer is growing at the grass roots.
    The new owners of Liverpool even called it a franchise. As more and more big clubs fall under foreign ownership they will look to links abroad (and those that arent under foreign ownership wont hang around and let the rest of the giants move on).
    It doesnt take a huge leap to see a european super league saleable across the world where only the major franchises take part. The same in America (not just USA). we could have American and European conferences. There would be play offs and the world club championsip would be played just like the superbowl.
    The rest of us would just get on with our own domestic matters. I may be totally off the mark but ir is possible.
    PS my scouse mate wasnt impressed when I have him some help in naming the new stadium, my suggestions were GW Bush Gardens and Hicksville.

  5. The new owners of Liverpool and the Glaziers at Man Utd. are business men there to make a profit pure and simple.
    The silver lining for those clubs is the more succesful the team the bigger the profit so in an ideal world owners and fans both get what they want.
    However for a small club like Boro having a fan as the owner is the perfect scenario. Steve Gibson has always said that he runs the club as a ‘not for profit’ organisation with the cash coming in being invested in the club. As fans we can’t ask for more than that.
    If he can gain business advantage, tax breaks whatever from the club being part of his business empire then good for him.
    It’s important that Boro remain privately owned, it is part of the clubs identity and culture and we the fans feel ‘ownership’ through being able to relate to the clubs owner, who has the same accent, lives in the same area and feels the same passion. It gives us a little bit of something that the big boys will never have.
    It concerns me a little that there is a good chance that one day TV rights may well be negotiated on a club by club basis, but hopefully that is some way off as at the moment that wouldn’t suit Sky the FA or currently the Premier League.
    If it did happen I’m not sure what the impact would be on clubs like Boro, but thats too far in the future for me to worry about.

  6. Surely the men selling up to the highest bidders are in it for the money too. I bet the Moores family have made lot of money out of liverpool.
    the money will come flooding in once games are show live on the internet.
    how do we know thatwhen gibson sells eventually he wont make tens of millions out of boro?
    **AV writes: I believe the Moors family holding, bought for £8m, was worth £89m in the takeover.

  7. AV,
    So what the moores did is no different to what the new owners might do if they sell in 10 years time for a massive profit. All that seems to be happening is multi-millionaires are now selling up to international billionaires. I dont see any difference.
    Eglish clubs are now an international brand compares to jsut a national brand 10-20 years ago. how is it different if to if gibson eventually sells for 50 times his initial purchase price?
    **AV writes: I think the main difference is that international billionaires will be geared to the international market and will be looking to run their franchise to that end.
    They will not be as concerned with any structural damage their business plan may cause to the game as a whole. At least with the previous generation of chairmen they paid lip service to the game and had to look to their political powerbase on the FA committees and so had some organic link with the wider organisation.
    I don’t think foreign investors who see just a commercial proposition will be tied by such quaint notions.

  8. Alf, Steve Gibson has the best interests of the club at heart,short and long term. Can you say that about the Glaziers?
    He’s not in it for profit or personal glory or he could have taken is money to “big Fred” up the road.
    However I would love the club to release even 1% of the club as a share issue to the supporters so I could say I have a (token) stake in the club. Has this ever been discussed Vic?.
    **AV writes: Not as far as I know but it is a bloody good idea as a symbolic gesture.

  9. IG I think the flaw in the concept of a European superleague or clubs in Europe competing with clubs in America is demonstrated by the fact that American football is just that. It isn’t played anywhere else, nobody else is interested.
    Even within America (USA) it is divided into two ‘regional’ leagues. This creates local rivalries which is what sport thrives on. The strength of football is the age old rivalries between clubs. I don’t believe football could be succesful without that.
    If the bread and butter games became Man Utd vs Chicago and Liverpool vs Seoul who would give a damn? Not me.
    The likes of the Champions league only work because it is the icing on the cake and not the cake itself.
    Football needs the pyramid structure because fans need to believe/dream that one day their club could be playing Lazio, Roma etc….
    Whats more the pyramid works, ‘small’ clubs in Spain, France and Italy have all competed well in the Champions league in recent years.
    My belief is that football doesn’t need to become global in the sense that Man Utd play Chicago on a Saturday. Globalisation comes from selling the TV rights to global markets as is happening and will continue to expand into new markets, China etc.
    Clearly football fans all over the world whether that be Scandanavia, Middle East, Asia want to watch Man Utd vs Liverpool and Premiership football in general. There is no driver to create a global or even European league.
    What the American business men buying prem. clubs can see is a potential worldwide market wanting to watch English football. Unlike American football which no one outside of the USA watches.
    The structure of the game isn’t going to change but the audiences watching on TV/Internet are going to grow exponentially that is where the new owners will make their money.

  10. madmic:
    Whats Gibson has done at Boro is brilliant but he also got in at the right time with all this tv money. Maybe he saw the opportunity all those years ago?
    Back in the mid 90’s the fans could have bought a small share in the club for £300,000. Wonder how much it would cost now?
    Gibson is a Boro fan but he is also a businessman, and a very astute one at that. I am not saying his main motivation is to make money out of it but making Boro bigger and bigger is in his best interests as he owns the club. One day he will sell and make a profit.
    Imagine once tv rights hit pay-as-you-go internet. You could have millions of people all over the world paying £3 to watch one game.
    Middlesbrough FC is now flush with money and the £3 million payment to Yakubu’s agent proves this.
    If part of Gibson is not motivated to make Boro profitable and a big club worth over £100m then explain why the Boro are one of the few clubs to change strips every season and look to cash in on anything when the opportunity arises.

  11. If the club is looking to cash in at any opportunity,why did Downing not go to Spurs?.Are you saying back in 94 Gibbo seen the future of the game in 2007?
    Money talks in football so the club needs to be profitable to suceed in the transfer market. You give the impression that Steve Gibson has a ulterior motive for taking over the club. I think he has done it for altruistic reasons and nothing I have seen so far gives me any reason to think otherwise. What salary does he take from the club?
    Sir John Hall invested in Newcastle because he would get his money back plus(which I believe he did) That is the difference between the two.

  12. Nigel
    I am not saying it is going to happen, it was merely a thread that I developed. There are many other routes that could be taken.
    The Premiership was a result of a powerful group forming its own league under the FA’s auspices. The Champions league grew out the European Cup when the G14 clubs started flexing their muscle and UEFA changed the format.
    Certain clubs are almost permanent fixtures in that competition now and will fight Platini’s attempt to limit some to countries to three entries. No one from Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U will vote for that.
    My ideas didnt involve cross continental matches at an early stage but a European and American conference. The group stages could lead to either the winners (like the present world club championship) or a small number of clubs from each conference competing in the tournament.
    Clubs from other conferences could take part (Asia, Middle East, Africa). There are enough local rivalries at a European level to ensure some tasty clashes.
    A lot of the basic structures are already there in one form or another. All I did was take it further. If Manu and Lpool started getting great exposure then Real, Arsenal, AC Milan and Barca would want a slice of the action.
    It may never happen, but there again it might. None of the individual elements are too far fetched in their own rights and actually exist in some cases. The frightening part is what would be left behind.
    **AV writes: I think it is important to note that the biggest recent developments of the Premier League and the G-14 Champions League were both the creation of the biggest clubs and forced through for quite explicit commercial reasons that ran counter to the interest of the organisations that they had grown out of.
    What worries me is that having learnt that lesson – that the game’s ruling bodies will cave in politically when threaetned that the big boys will leave – the biggest clubs COULD decide they want to reshape the market to suit themselves again. What is to stop them moving for an 18 or 16 team PL to create space for more European games?
    The domestic market may not want that but with global subscription TV and PC income outweighing ticket money the dynamic within the clubs may change towards a situation where they want to be playing Juventus, Barca and Ajax rather than Wigan, Boro and Fulham.
    We don’t know what the billionaire businessmen want but whatever it is, the evidence is that the FA will be powerless to prevent them doing it.

  13. With all the talk about franchises, which team will be the first to ‘do a Wimbledon’ and relocate to an area in which they can attract a bigger fan base?
    Or will the fat cats be happy for their teams to play in half empty stadiums as long as TV / Internet cash is rolling in?
    After all the winners of the Superbowl Indianapolis were once the Baltimore Colts.

  14. Vic and MickeyMac
    Your idea on share ownership for fans, through a properly organised and constituted Supporters Trust – which the Govt now even gives grants and advice to help set up, is a drum I’ve been banging for ages.
    At that level whilst not shifting Gibbo’s ownership of the vast bulk of the shares it would give the club additional investment and the fans a seat on the Board, if Gibbo agreed.
    **AV writes: Given the paper value of the club a fans’ Red Share could only ever be a symbolic one – but what a symbol! And what a PR and marketing device.
    Tied into a new European style membership scheme and a non-executive place on the board for an elected fan it would be a fantastic opportunity to renogotiate the relationship between club and fans.

  15. I dont think people are suggesting Gibson’s motive is to make money – but he will be maximising his investment and look after the club.
    I agree he is not taking a salary but that doesnt mean that at a later date he will make a nice £100 million if he sold it. I dont think he will sell in the short term but when he does he will be quids in. Only a fool would be daft to sell now before the internet tv deals start – unless ofcourse someone offers you £500 million.
    He is a fan and a businessman.

  16. Imagine the revenue if Man Utd brokered their own tv/internet deal and each game they sold for £2. Think of the tens of millions who will pay that £2. Each game could bring in over £10 million. add that to 19 home games,away games,european games…50 games a season that could bring in £500+ million…now i see why investors are buying up the big clubs.

  17. Av
    Similar thought patterns.
    I wouldnt be surprised if the big clubs were happy with a 20 team premiership even if a superleague were formed.
    Their second teams can compete in the current set up as it is. Liverpool want the investment so they can beef the squad up to compete with other big clubs. It would provide revenue generation, bringing on the youngsters, rotation of squads, utilisation of assets. They may even make it more affordable.
    What is worrying is the fact it may become a closed shop, the situation where one of the big teams slips up and is pipped to a Champions League slot may end because that competition is for members of the G14 or whoever is in the club. You may even have a real fluke and Villa win the title but can only enter the UEFA cup or its equivalent (I was going to say Toon but didnt want to stretch credulity)
    This may all seem pie in the sky but Kerry Packer changed the face of cricket. Now they all jump to the power of the sub continent, India and its allies decide what will happen.

  18. Dave
    We could still have the premiership, some of this HG Wells stuff is merely an extension of the current situation. The ‘Superleague’ taking over from the premiiership as the prime competition.
    Liverpool, Manu, Arsenal, Chelsea fans get to see games against Barca, Real etc. Nothing would change for them other than those matches are more important than playing Boro. The big clubs will want it both ways and do not forget they also stood up against individual negotiating rights. If they had sided with the EU that would have been curtains for us. Make no mistake the EU wanted individual rights for each cluband that would have spelt disaster.
    It isnt all HG Wells,
    **AV writes: I think it should be remembered that the Premier League was only narrowly given the right to sell TV rights collectively as a special exemption from EU fair competition laws aimed at breaking cartels.
    While the political support from the big clubs is there such an exemption may be extended but we must not forget that is is a legal and business anomoly that many people would like to see ended. It will only take ONE big club to challenge the arrangement in court and it would surely collapse.

  19. AV wrote…No one will want us, we don’t care. Boro are not for sale.
    But the truth is mate, you DO care and YOU ARE jealous and that small town mentality is starting to rear its ugly head and show its little green envious eyes again.
    Dont worry, you will soon be back competing with the likes of Bury and Stockport again. Oooopps, I almost forgot, you cant compete with Bury in the FA Cup can you seeing as they have won it twice compared to your mighty never.

  20. After reading the comments above it occur to me that there are some questions that would need to be addressed.
    If, as has been suggested, the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U went off to play in a European Super league, what would be left behind? And what would be its affect on the english game, good and bad?
    What would its affects be on the Boro? Would Gibbo seek to try to compete and try to break into the super league? Would it mean that in the best interests of the club would he forced to sell to the highest bidder?

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