I’ve held off on doing this article, because I don’t fully understand numbers.
I get basic accounting, I did part of my AAT before going off the rails in my youth, and I can read the stuff the club release with the extensive accounts. What I can’t do is offer any valuable insight based on my own thoughts, because I do words, which are better than numbers (yes, they are Chris Wray). However, I’ve happily sat back and waited for Kieran Maguire, the expert, to put his thoughts out there, and I’ll report on those.
The headlines can be sensationalised – Lincoln City lose £50k per week. That’s a big headline which paints a negative picture of the current situation, and I can understand how clickbait sites will gobble that up. Under the hood, things are a bit different, and simply correlating the numbers to what happened on the pitch is not easy. The lazy commentary is ‘we did rubbish last season, so we spent too much’ or ‘xxx is paid too much because he didn’t do his job’. Numbers, like stats, can be made to say anything, and the only story I was really interested in was that of Kieran Maguire.
So, how does the main man in football economics see our accounts?
Well, firstly there’s loads of positive stuff in there. These accounts are comparable with the Covid season, so obviously, ticket sales and revenue overall are up, but when compared to seasons before that, the numbers are striking. Commercial revenue is at its highest point in our history, and whilst broadcast revenue is down on last season, in real terms, it is up on other years as iFollow subscriptions were required in 2020/21, meaning the numbers were skewed.
Commercial income up as club can host events and entertain sponsors etc pic.twitter.com/0k6BPNceUs
— Kieran Maguire (@KieranMaguire) January 18, 2023
One figure I always like to see is the percentage of income spent on wages. I find this really important for longer-term sustainability – if you’re bringing in more than you spend on wages, you’re legitimate in my eyes. Maybe that’s a football fan thinking at a basic level, but for 2021/22, our wages accounted for 90% of our revenue – that’s down from 92% in 2020/21, and 93% the year before that.
There’s also player trading – we do spend on players as well as sell, and when you hear ‘where has the Tayo Edun money gone’, for example, the answer is here for you to see. It was reported we got around £550,000 for Tayo, of which we kept around £350,000 (the rest was sell on clauses for Fulham). However, as this graphic shows, we spent £297,000 on players. That will include fees for the likes of Charley Kendall and Ben House, for whom we may yet get better fees. Also, that £297,000 will include players we bought the previous summer, such as Jamie Robson, proving he didn’t cost us as much as first reported.
Lincoln do buy players as well as sell but keep to a budget pic.twitter.com/fllROev47X
— Kieran Maguire (@KieranMaguire) January 18, 2023
What’s really important is that the £2m losses, the headline figure, is real. Our accounts are widely being reported positively, we’re a club that tries to do things the right way, and yet we’re losing £47k per week. That’s the real impact of League One football and where the game as a whole is – other clubs do not publish such in-depth accounts because they wouldn’t hold up to the scrutiny Kieran Maguire likes to subject them to.
On the back of our accounts, Liam Scully has been quoted by the BBC supporting salary caps once again, which would help us and other clubs our size in terms of outlay. It can’t be denied we’re now paying more for less – people go on about the 2020/21 season, how we signed good players and how recruitment hasn’t been as strong since, but the playing field was completely different. The salary cap wasn’t simply an unfair restriction on clubs that could afford better; it was a way of ensuring a degree of competitiveness not purely based on means. It also helped keep salary expectations manageable for clubs, and whilst that doesn’t benefit the big clubs at the top end of the table, it did leave us in a more robust position in terms of outgoings and with more quality overall in the squad.
The accounts are a cause for concern, but not around the club as a single entity. In terms of our leadership, we’re in as good a position as you could expect for a club of our size, and whilst it is easy to say we’re not getting the bang for our buck from wages, that’s not something you or I really know about. It’s okay to suppose what a player is on and guess we’re spending more or less, but that’s all a lot of the commenting is – guesswork, supposition and opinion formed on belief, not fact. I wouldn’t insult your intelligence by trying to paint a positive or negative picture around the things I do not know – for instance, what key backroom figures earn. I’d also urge you to consider this – Clive Nates is a businessman of some repute, a man widely accepted as clever, meticulous, efficient and effective. He wouldn’t allow anyone in this club to bleed it dry, to steal a living or whatever else some people get accused of. It simply wouldn’t happen.
Whatever the numbers say, whatever you make them say, I have absolutely trust in Clive, and subsequently, the board, to keep us on the right track and not jeopardise the club’s future, so I’ll get back to writing about past teams, current transfers and the like, and leave the numbers to the boffins with calculators who know what they’re talking about.