League One finances and why cutting Sunderland's wage bill will be a top priority for Stewart Donald

There were a couple of elements that brought Ellis Short's sale of Sunderland to a rapid and surprising resolution.

Monday, 14th May 2018, 10:27 am
Updated Monday, 14th May 2018, 10:31 am

Firstly, Short believed (and only time will tell if he is right) that he had found a group capable of avoiding his mistakes and getting things right on the football side.

Secondly, his decision to wipe the debt meant he gave the incoming regime a fighting chance of turning the club around from the third tier.

Sunderland's fans can be a huge asset in League One, both in vocal support and financially. Picture by Frank Reid

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The financial situation remains a burden, however, and it is no exaggeration to say that, as well as recruiting a manager, getting to grips with the current wage bill will be one of the new regime’s absolute top priorities.

Financially, Donald will be driving the club forward, but, while his wealth is significant, there is a determination to make Sunderland a more sustainable outfit.

A wage bill currently hovering around the £35million mark is clearly anything but, and even a cursory glance at League One finances prove that.

The latest set of accounts released by third-tier clubs covers the 2016/17 season, when Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United stormed the leeague and were joined in promotion by Bolton Wanderers and Millwall.

The Blades had a wage bill of around £10million, with Bolton just above £12million and Millwall just over £9million.

Fleetwood and Scunthorpe, who made the play-offs, remarkably did so with wage bills of just £5million and £2.7million respectively.

Sunderland are unlikely to want their total to be significantly above the levels being spent by Sheffield United and Bolton, though it is perhaps inevitable.

It is thought that champions Wigan Athletic and runners-up Blackburn Rovers spent less than the aforementioned pair to dominate the division this year.

Of course, the size of the club means that Sunderland will carry additional expenses and, financially, they have two advantages.

One is their £33million parachute payment, which will partially help to pay off legacy transfer fees owed, but should still offer some assistance in what will be a busy summer of transition.

Secondly, the new regime will know that should they be able to build momentum on the pitch, the size and passion of the home support will completely outstrip any rival.

That could prove to be particularly important given how dramatically the club’s TV revenue has fallen in a short space of time.

For reference, accounts for the 2016/17 season showed that £95million of Sunderland’s £126million turnover came from television and media.

Sunderland will have the biggest wage bill in the league next season and probably by a distance.

Getting value for money, however, and being able to bring in the profile of player they desire, will mean that moving players on is a primary concern.

They will be helped by the likely departure of four out-of-contract players, as well as seven loanees who will return to their parent clubs.

Left behind, though, will be a group from the Premier League era whose contracts will not reduce further and who could potentially eat up large swathes of the budget.

Some should be moved on easily enough.

Wahbi Khazri, for example, could earn the kind of fee that could make a big difference in terms of signing the level of player who can make a difference in League One.

Some will pose a much bigger challenge.

Jack Rodwell sees his wage reduced this summer but will still earn around £2million for the year should he stay.

That is a fifth of Wilder’s entire wage budget when he won the league with Sheffield United last season.

Donald’s group will likely be eager to try to reach a settlement with Rodwell and he may not be the only one.

Loan deals are not popular in these parts, and rightly so, but it is worth noting how important they were to Wolves, the last team to suffer back-to-back relegations to League One.

It is, despite Short’s intervention, an enormous task and one that that new regime will be desperate to make a start on.

Sunderland will be a big club in League One and their balance sheet will reflect that.

Significant change is in the offing, nevertheless.