Are things about to change at Villa Park?

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.

Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner praised by Paul Lambert
Villa owner Randy Lerner is coming under increasing pressure to end his silence

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.

Comments for: "Are things about to change at Villa Park?"

Astonmilan

Well written piece Matt. Totally agree. As for getting more bums on seats, the club could promote themselves through the region by offering school kids and a parent a match day out at Villa Park. Once I was taken there with my best mate by his dad at the age of 9, I was hooked by the place. Maybe on match day after kick off under 16's and a guardian could get in for a tenner if there are spare seats ??? just a thought. UTV

David Pugh

any one with half a brain, can not argue with your statement. Raise the exciement at Villa Park may get more fans through the gate but people these days wan it now, so they put there support with clubs that win things and are in the spot light every day. Football will change, but only when we get the murrons out of FIFA and the FA, so the game is played on an even playing field and the game can then expand other wise it will srink and die

WorldClassAV

I agree with you and I agree with Lerner... owning a football club is not just about now, it's about the future generations... Every football club goes through lean periods, every clubs has exciting time... Liverpool looked unstoppable in the 80's... United in the 90's... Leads, Villa, Everton have all have periods of dominance at the top for English football.

Being a "fan" is not about the winning and losing... it's about the club, it's about support and it's about being (as out ground puts it) the 12th man.

The current social and economic climate can't help the "every day" fan with the ever spiralling costs and with the nature of Villa fans lately also bringing the atmosphere is the stadium down so filling the stadium won't be done over night.

But this lack of spending should not disguise the fact Lerner does has ambitions for Villa in the long term. No Fernandes spend, spend, spend quick fix... only to find he's got to spend, spend, spend to maintain the team in a year or two. He's done that with MoN and it's not the way to build a club... we've come out the other side of that now but I don't think Lerner will ever give ultimate trust to a manager again on spending.

Lambert has come in with a clear long term objective with young players being invested in... out of Lerners pocket I might add. And we need to support these boy, giving the confidence that only comes when your fans are behind you...

Villans just need to stop beleiving we're still coming off the back of league titles and accept we're now playing catch up... but we're playing it the right way building on solid foundations in with self sufficiency...

Our time will come again... it's just when... Faith and Support though should be constant...

Woolie

Every team in the country loses support if their play is poor and results bad. If results improve the attendance would also improve. This is the case even in prosperous times but especially so in times of ecnomic difficulties. If there is s choice between watching a football team or having a roof over your head or eating. NO CHOICE TO MAKE!

All this talk abour Mr Lerner having his fingers burnt by Martin O'Neil is silly. Mr Lerner is a grown up businessman who bought Villa with his eyes open and funded his managers dealing knowing their cost. If he didnt he must be an extremely stupid man. In my opinion he has had cold feet because of the current economic climate has wiped millions from his finances and given his choices Villa came second.

So be it, but please dont blame the fans or are they supporters, who are in a far more dire financial situation than Mr Lerner and give a far higher percentage of their money than does Mr Lerner bearing in mind the Villa receive money from Premier League + money for league position, money from all sorts of non football activities from this country and abroad. The gross income of the club is I would think from Non-Mr Lerner sources and indeed we are told that these are loans to be repaid.

Bradley Bill

The most common sense post of the lot!

Steve

Excellent replies, and yes, you have to remember what would happen if sky suddenly pulled the plug. or went bust where would that leave football, as not everyone has a billionaire owner so eventually the money will run out and football will head for bankruptcy

Matt Turvey

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Astonmilan,

I would go along with selling tickets cheap last minute if seats are free - like you say, better to have someone in than noone, right?

Adrian

I remember a passage from Deadlies biography, where he talks about walking into Villa Park in the late 60's, when we were in the old 3rd Division and there was not one unbroken window - or light bulb working - this had a profound effect on him and hence he became extremely focused on ensuring this did not happen again..... Sustainability has to come first, but then its difficult to ignore "Woolie's" post about the economic situation the country is in......

I guess, if we are self sustaining it bodes well for the long term future - however, if we are not successful, the club will slowly slide down the tables.....

Its not an easy balancing act, and I am glad I do not have to do it.....

I am not sure either that the management team we have (Commercial rather than Football) is right for the job - after all, two disastrous managerial appointments that have cost the club millions does not reflect well on them......

One last thought - ticket price analysis has shown that Arsenal (perhaps one of the more sensibly run clubs in the PL) costs a hell of a lot more than Villa on match day - and they have won nothing in the past few years......perhaps a thought to ponder....

Brendan

Again, excellent piece Matt. You only have to look at Man City today then ask how long will they survive IF the Sheiki guy sold up ?

They have a huge hole in their bucket on a weekly basis called players salary.

Villa have a very much smaller hole...

Which one will run out of water first ?

I think Lerner is a shrewd businessman and is right to preach sustainability.

If Lerner then sold up but made us sustainable, at least we're in the knowledge that we can move on.

Man City will be praying for a buyer with money like a Sheik (Not many of them I'm afraid!)

For those Villa fans screaming for money... make sure you're going to the games first before you moan, only then do you have the right to voice about money and where it goes.