There’s no doubt that last season was Aston Villa’s Annus Horribilis. The worst season since they suffered relegation from Division One back in the 1986/87 season. While the majority of Villa fans were genuinely shocked by the appointment of Alex McLeish, their reservations were fully realised, when what can only be politely described as the board’s gamble, ultimately backfired in dramatic circumstances. In fact, the only thing that could have been worse was relegation.
Of course, the buck does not simply rest at McLeish’s door. A high wage bill meant he was restricted in his movements in the transfer market, with an overhaul of the team out of the question. Still, he had a first team that’s average wage (as we’ll see below) suggested they could – on paper at least – still be very competitive.
If the board couldn’t fully grasp the footballing reasons not to appoint McLeish in the first place, the ramifications for McLeish’s failed season on the pitch, soon translated into terms the club’s board could understand…financial figures.
Villa’ s merit payment for a league position of 16th of £3,775,310 would leave little change after McLeish’s severance payment (one that was worth every penny for a change) has been made.
Compare that amount with neighbours West Brom’s £8,305,682, and the Baggies in very general terms could now bring in a bonus decent player with the extra £5 million. While a team like Everton who have been close rivals in recent years in terms of similar league placings have an extra £7 million to play with.
Villa’s overall payments of Premiership prize money and TV income saw them suffer the greatest decrease in payments in the league from last season, dropping £7m from £49m to £42m.
Compare that to the most improved team, Newcastle United, who leap frogging Villa in the earner’s table, went from £47.2m to £54.2m.
Shockingly, only the bottom three teams earned less than Villa from such payments last season. Even QPR, who finished below Villa in the league, made more money due to having four more of their matches televised live (14 compared to Villa’s 10).
Add the drastic drop in attendance revenue from falling Villa Park crowds (the average dropping from last season’s 37,193 to 33,873) and you can hear the alarm bells ringing in the Villa boardroom, especially with the wage bill still high. Villa’s first team is the sixth most expensive in the Premiership with a player earning an average of £2,464,831 a year (£47,401 a week).
Since Lerner’s initial aim of Champion’s League qualification ultimately failed under Martin O’Neil’s management, Villa have seen both Manchester City and Spurs fly past them, making penetrating the top four an even more difficult task. The mission hasn’t got any easier now with the rise of Newcastle United.
With a bigger stadium than Villa, the Geordie’s recent rise to prominence doesn’t offer hopeful reading for Villa. As well as earning over 12 million in prize and TV money more than Villa last season, Newcastle’s average attendance of 49,935, means on average they enjoyed a whopping 16,000 larger attendance per match, than what was seen at Villa Park. Earning them another 12 million (approx) more than Villa for the season.
So as well as accruing several ‘worse’ ever records in Villa’s history – including worst home record and worst Premiership points total (38) – McLeish, as well as failing on the pitch and on the terraces, wasn’t exactly flavour of the month with the board, in terms of the maths, when the season ended.
The ‘vibrancy’ that the board now seek would hopefully next season bring an increase in revenue from attendances, while a more attractive style would potentially increase the number of live Villa games. Then it’s about the results. Villa I’m sure, in simplistic terms, will be looking at a minimum of 10th place next season and a decent cup run to start getting back on track.
The next managerial appointment has a lot riding on it and won’t be one that is made lightly. The stakes are high.
The Prize Money and TV rights Payment Table
Place = finishing position in the table. Live = live games on Sky/ESPN combined.
BBC = games on Match of the Day. N.Live = games shown ‘near live’.
Note: Facility fees increase with more live TV games; merit payments grow in increments of £755,062 per place from 20th to 1st.
(figures in £)