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The Billionaires Club: The Unstoppable Rise of Football’s Super-Rich Owners By James Montague

Release date: 24th August, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sport

List Price: £16.99
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There was a time when football clubs were owned by a local businessman, usually one who had made his money by building and developing a nearby enterprise which generally employed large numbers of local people.

Ironically, while many such businessmen had become comparatively rich in their chosen field, very few were able to apply their entrepreneurial abilities to football. As a consequence, most clubs were poorly-run, inadequately-funded operations. Indeed, as recently as 1987-88, when profits were measured as a percentage of turnover, St Mirren were the UK’s most profitable club.

James Montague rightly identifies FA Rule 34, known as the ‘dividend rule’ as one of the main business-related reasons for the lack of business flair. In order to prevent profiteering, owners could not take more than 5% in dividend payments from their football clubs – which is why so many supporters often queried the ‘official’ attendance figures announced at matches in the 1960s and 70s. Cash handed over at turnstiles was frequently under-reported.

However, once the dividend rule was scrapped in 1998, the door was thrown wide open to a new breed of football club owner who could benefit directly from Sky’s burgeoning largesse.

According to the author, American football club owners, who have watched as their sporting behemoths have become vast money-making machines, invest in football clubs, or “entertainment products” to maximise their returns.

Newer football club owners, particularly those from Russia, invest as a form of insurance. It’s difficult for the Kremlin, says Montague, to take action against a high-profile Premier League club owner guilty of displeasing them as they’re “much harder to destroy”.

Middle eastern owners also invest for the long-term and are happy to spend billions on building their brands, or investing in high-profile players as PSG have just done with Neymar.

This raises another point: billionaire owners are not limited to England’s top flight. Wherever and whenever an investor senses an opportunity, be it to protect himself, curry favour back home (as Chinese owners are wont to do), brand build or simply take the money, football offers a veneer of respectability. Despite questions regarding the sources of some of their funding, this is what the majority of football’s new owners crave. Plus ca change….


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