Owning a football club is often a dream many people have especially a famous one, but the reality of ownership is often far from the initial vision. Football clubs are businesses, they employ staff, and are often at the heart of a community that has an immense emotional attachment to the club and that can often be very abusive toward the clubs owners if they think that the owner is ignoring their views. It is often said that the owner of a football club is just the temporary custodian.
So when I am approached to advise and help potential investors buy into a club I always start by pointing out the negatives of an investment to be sure that this person or business really does appreciate what they are getting into. I then raise the question of why they want to own a club, because this will determine which club or clubs might be a suitable match to the investor.
Of course Chinese investors are usually looking for a club for quite different reasons than those of Europeans. The Chinese investor always wants a ‘famous’ club but wants to spend as little money as possible. In the modern world of football ticking both these boxes is almost impossible. The big European clubs are very valuable, so the investment is huge. Many clubs are burdened with large amounts of debt that a new owner must take on, so they stop being attractive and tend to make the choice of potentials smaller and far less famous clubs.
Having said this, the TV money in the EPL is now so large that most of these clubs are now or will be profitable very soon, but this also makes them valuable. So then clubs in countries such as Spain, Italy and France become more attractive because in general, they are worth far less than EPL clubs, but their debt is often significant and earning potential in the coming years limited. The choices get smaller for any investor.
But there is another option, the one I call ‘a project’. This is a difficult concept to sell to a Chinese investor because they all want instant gratification and a project as the name implies isn’t a short-term win. However, if I just look at English clubs for the moment, there are many that have good potential to get promoted to the holy grail of the EPL, the key is to find the ones that are well run but lack the cash to buy in players to move them up the leagues. These clubs also need a strong fan base and consistent regular attendance, because the fans are the foundation of any club; they buy tickets and shirts, drink beer and eat food at the club.
We have seen clubs like Leicester and Bournemouth rise from the lower leagues to join the EPL because they had good management at owners willing to find their development, and we have seen teams like Blackburn and Bolton which were once top EPL clubs slide down the leagues for the opposite reason; poor management and owners who do not and did not understand how to run the club. Money does not solve everything but it helps, what is very important is good management, supported by the owner so that consistency can be delivered week after week, year after year.
The focus on football in China has lead in recent years to Chinese individuals and companies buying into and sometimes buying outright European football teams, some like Athletico Madrid have flourished as the investor leaves the club operation to those who know best, while other clubs have gone nowhere because their owners who maybe very successful businessmen in their industry try to apply their business strategies to a football club which doesn’t work the same way; needless to say the results are predictable.
The recent purchase of Aston Villa was no surprise to many because the previous owner was absent, detached from the club operations and didn’t invest enough in players. He cut his losses and sold it cheaply. Whether the new owner really understands what it will cost to take this once great club back up to the EPL remains to be seen; it's a big project and one that requires passion.
The challenge for any Chinese wishing to invest in a football club is a requirement to have the cash, have the passion and to know when to admit that you know less about running a club than others do.
作者简介：Ken Grant 鸿俊，体育业内人士、投资人和观察家；国际主席俱乐部(IPC)及亚英体育俱乐部(AASC)董事；The English Football League中国区官方商务开发代表。在足球、高尔夫、马球等体育领域拥有广泛的国际关系。