With Randy Lerner finalising his sale of the NFL franchise the Cleveland Browns, Aston Villa fans are asking whether things are about to change at Villa Park. Matt Turvey sets out the reasons why it may well be more of the same, and not an about turn from the quiet American billionaire’s plan for the club.
As has been reported earlier this week, Randy Lerner has completed his sale of the Cleveland Browns netting approximately £630m as a result. With many Aston Villa fans filling the air with discussions on what this means for the club from B6, I wanted to cover some of the realities.
Whilst Lerner’s windfall may well provide extra liquid cash to the club’s often-quite American owner, there are limitations that restrict the option of “splashing the cash” as some fans seem to desire.
Firstly, the logic of Financial Fair Play causes restrictions that are designed to stop wild spending. Whilst some fans may point to the fact that clubs have managed to circumnavigate the rules - Manchester City for example - there is a deeper logic to not throwing a ton of money at the club.
Why I hear you ask? Well lets take the time to look at the context in which Villa sit. Lerner’s £630m may well appear to be a massive sum to you or I in monetary context, but in terms of footballing spending, it isn’t anywhere near as massive.
Also, spending all that money would have a dramatic impact on Lerner’s personal wealth. The American, recently valued as a dollar billionaire alone, is in nowhere near the same league as some of his fellow Premier League chairmen. If it were to come down for a straight up fight of who could spend cash, Lerner would be trailing behind the obvious pair of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, but also behind the likes of Peter Coates at Stoke City or Tony Fernandes at Queen Park Rangers.
Which, in part, then goes to show part of the reason why wildly spending money may only achieve eighth in a league of rich owners going wild. This isn’t, of course, the only reason why Lerner doesn’t splash the cash.
The second, and more primary logic in the eyes of Randy, is that the club needs to be self-sustaining. With Villa experiencing issues over the past few seasons based on spending more than the club can handle, it is totally illogical for fans to almost ask for the same thing again.
Part of this comes down to the fact that, at a very basic level, many fans have zero interest in the financial landscape of the club, nor do they care about anything other than winning. Whilst winning is clearly a main part of the game in itself, topics considered more boring by the same fans - liquidity and longevity - play as much a part in a club’s lifecycle, whether their owner is an Arab billionaire, or a local businessman.
The simplistic answer on how any club grows, not just Villa, starts by selling the stadium out. As a person who attend the game, the gaps in the seating are plain to see for everyone.
Some “fans” will argue, perhaps sensibly, that they don’t want to attend games unless we have a fair chance of winning, and that only a headless moron would buy a ticket no matter what.
Of course, the last sentence actually illustrates that those people are not “fans”. They may well be supporters of the club but fans, short for fanatics, do not sit down with a view of “I’ll support you when you play better.”. In fact, in some quarters, such a view might actually be seen as “glory hunting”, and that would be quite an ironic tag given that the same people barrack some supporters of the likes of the two Manchester clubs for exactly this kind of behaviour.
So if people want Villa to grow, it is a very simple proposition. Firstly, the stadium needs to sell out, and the ground needs to be in a position where expansion is sensible or logical. When the prospect of some supporters saying we need to expand the stadium, the question is why?
Sure, we’d like to attract more supporters so the club has more revenue but, as any regular visitor to the club knows, we aren’t selling out the stadium every week. The club isn’t going to invest more money in the stadium when we can’t sell it out already, are they?
Which brings me on to sustainability. Lerner has stated on multiple occasions that, like any sensible businessman, he wants the club to run as an unsupported entity, not in the vein of an organisation that can’t stand for itself - one that expects handouts without any effort on their part. I’ll be sure to stop there before I get into a larger community discussion about a wider societal issue.
So, getting back to the cash issue, and why Lerner won’t want to pour it down the drain, I’ll take you back to a point I made in an article a few weeks back - Lerner has taken a route more aligned with austerity than spending to get out of trouble. Whilst fans may want Lerner to spend cash heavily to bolster the club’s chances and will, in all probability, be angry if he doesn’t, his behaviour explains his future choices - Lerner won’t change dramatically just because he has some spare cash.
After all, if he did, how long could that £600m or so keep Villa going on that trajectory, especially considering the club has debts to Lerner of between £130m and £265m based on his ownership and past spending. Is Lerner likely to want to end up with more cash tied up in a club that has only really lost him money over his time owning it?
Ladies and gentlemen, I think you know the answer and that, my friends, is why Lerner’s windfall seems highly unlikely to prompt a total change around at Villa Park, as much as it may sadden some of the fans looking forward to getting hold of a windfall.
You can follow Matt Turvey’s regular opinions at his own site, Aston Villa Life at www.astonvillalife.com, via the site’s Twitter account @astonvillalife, or via his own Twitter account @MatthewSTurvey.