How much Sunderland are losing with no fans, the big advantage over League One clubs and where Kyril Louis-Dreyfus can invest his money
The financial impacts of a global pandemic continue to pose financial challenges for EFL clubs – yet the arrival of new owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and elimination of the League One salary cap will give Sunderland a significant advantage over their third-tier rivals.
Of course the Black Cats will be hoping to win promotion back to the Championship this campaign, where they would have to abide by Financial Fair Play regulations.
But with second-tier clubs able to record losses of £39million over a three-year period, that should still allow Louis-Dreyfus, who reportedly has a trust fund in excess of $2billion, to invest in the Black Cats’ playing squad.
Sunderland’s most recent accounts from the 2018/19 season show the club made a turnover of £58,7million, even if they lost around £11.2million due to expenditures - which included a significant wage bill at League One level.
The Covid-19 pandemic will cause further reductions to clubs’ revenue streams, with matchday income causing the biggest reduction.
"The main impact from the pandemic on football clubs has been matchday attendance,” says sport finance expert Dan Plumley from Sheffield Hallam University.
"If you look at Sunderland’s gate receipts from the 2019 figures which are the most recent accounts, gate receipts were around £8million, £6.5million the year before that.
"Not all of that would be lost because there have still been some season ticket sales to keep the money in the club.
"The impact of that is felt more broadly as you go down through the football system because the clubs lower down are more reliant on matchday trade.”
"I know Sunderland have had parachute payments so that will have helped."
Those parachute payments which Plumley is referring to last three years following Premier League relegation and expired for the Black Cats last summer.
That has helped soften the blow of back-to-back relegations, but the full impacts of it’s expiry won’t be fully known until the 2020/21 accounts are released next year.
"They will only have finished last summer,” adds Plumley. “They reduce in value so the three-year cycle of parachute payments is around £92million over three seasons.
"You get around £42million of that in year one, around £34million in year two and around £16million in year three.”
And while playing games behind closed doors has caused the biggest loss of income during the pandemic, there are other areas which will impact the Black Cats’ finances.
"It’s mainly the attendance figures,” adds Plumley when asked about football clubs’ other revenue streams.
“You look at the other ways a football club makes its money, you’ve got the television and broadcasting money which won’t be as big in League One. Sunderland have had a bit of a cushion there because of the parachute payments.
“The other way a club gets its money is through commercial operations, through sponsorship and associated partners.
“It’s hard to judge the impact of that yet because we don’t know the ins and outs of deals and how they’ve been affected by the pandemic but you would imagine some of the sponsorship deals have been affected.
"We would expect to see a bit of a drop off in commercial revenue but the biggest factor is still matchday income.”
If Sunderland do remain in League One next season, they will at least be able to operate without the restrictions of a salary cap, which was voted for by clubs in August.
The new regulations, which were subsequently scrapped in February, would have restricted third-tier clubs to a wage limit of £2.5million, with a transition period for clubs to reduce their costs.
"It wasn’t surprising to see Sunderland on the list of clubs who were against the salary cap,” adds Plumley.
"That plays out in the figures and looking at the accounts from 2019 the wage bill was 26.6million.
"I know Sunderland have reduced that considerably since the Premier League and Championship seasons but if you look at that against what a salary cap would do to a club like Sunderland, it would have been really restrictive in League One.
"If you look at League One clubs as a whole, the average revenue of League One clubs over the last two to three years has been hovering around the £6million mark.
“If you remove a club like Sunderland from that and some of the bigger clubs from that mix, some of these clubs are turning over £3-4million, and Sunderland have been around the £50million mark for the last couple of years.
"You will have clubs in that league with wage bills no higher than £1million to £2million. Of course it’s a big advantage and that’s due to the size of the club and where they’ve come from."
Louis-Dreyfus’ arrival should give the Black Cats more spending power, whatever division they find themselves in next season.
But with the transfer window not set to reopen until June – where else can the new owner invest his money?
"Infrastructure and recruitment seems to be the two areas that are being most talked about at the minute,” says Plumley.
"That also has implications for the playing squad. If you look at investing in the development and academy as he said, I think it was £500,000 he said he was making available for that in the short term.
“That is all driven from the recruitment side of things with the new Sporting Director (Kristjaan Speakman) and the data analysis and scientific analysis of recruiting players which we have seen clubs go down in the past. Brentford is always the model that people talk about.
“I imagine those are the key areas to invest in alongside some infrastructure, and that has a wider aspect of getting better on the pitch.
"If you can recruit better players in a more smart way you can perhaps save some money in the transfer market in the long run.”