I just hope Randy sees it that way too.
The Browning Version!
I’ve been comparing Villa with the Cleveland Browns this week and it left my head completely in a whirl. Its just impossible to get your head round the way American sport is run, and it seems certain that Americans must have the same problem, when they look across the pond.
The whole idea that teams don’t get relegated and that leagues add extra teams at their own discretion, to meet demand, is impossible to get your head round. The whole thing seems to run counter to the ideals of competition and enterprise, which I had always assumed to be the heart and soul of North American capitalism, and eliminating competition seems very odd indeed.
In fact the only competition which seems to take place, is between the businessmen who bid for the new franchises, in the first place. Al Lerner bid $530m for the Browns franchise and paid $50m more than his nearest rival. So his margin for error was the price of a decent Championship club.
So first question: who got the $530m and what did they do with it?
Then there is the whole question of relocation. How can the fans live with the knowledge that their team can pack up lock stock and barrel and move to another city, change their name and then win the Super Bowl? Which is what the Browns did (2001) when they moved and changed their name to the Baltimore Ravens, three hundred miles away. This would be like a Premiership club moving to another city, change their name and winning the Champions League. And how did the fans feel when the same guy who had facilitated the relocation of their famous old club (Al Lerner), then, brought football back to their town?
Would it ever be the same?
All this is beyond comprehension for an English football fan – MK Dons winning the Champions League is too remote for the question to be even worth contemplating.
Its only when you look at the finances and the balance of power, that it starts to look like a good idea. Once that franchise is handed to the winning bidder, it begins to look like a licence to print money and with no risk of relegation, the whole thing provides a financially stable environment for the teams and leaves the owners with a huge market to themselves and an nicely appreciating asset – The Browns are now worth a $1bn after 13 years of moderate achievement. In fact the first thing you notice about NFL teams is that apart from The Dallas Cowboys (£1.8bn) the value of majority of the franchises fall into a narrow range ($900m to $1.3bn), and although there is a distinct top-three (Washington Redskins & New England Patriots being the other two), they don’t suffer the massive differences you find in the Premiership, between Blackpool and Man United say ($1.8bn).
The other huge advantage is that with elite NFL football being at a premium, the teams become a prestige cultural item for different cities to compete for. Just as New York built Shea Stadium ($200m equiv) to attract NFL and Major League Baseball to the City, so Cleveland built a $300m stadium to attract football back to the town, and prove that its fortunes, after a devastating decline, were on the rise.
This reveals that the Americans have a rather different attitude to sport than the English. While the American cities compete for the prestige and pulling-power of elite sport, the English prefer to direct their subsidies into The Royal Opera House (£80m from the Lottery – something Opera-goers avoid like the plague), but apart from rare examples of clubs enjoying the national largesse, which West Ham are hoping for, football is left to its own devices.
The lack of proper regulation is frightening.
In the Premiership Arsenal have had to set aside ambition on the field as they have serviced their £200m debt, their new stadium left them with, and Liverpool struggle to compete because their stadium is too small. Anyone who knows their recent Villa history will know that every time a new stand has been built from the 1980s onwards, Villa’s ambitions have been shelved. The building of the North Stand left financial wounds which took decades to heal. Upgrading the ground to comply with the Taylor recommendations clipped Villa’s wings further.
Its impossible to imagine Birmingham council matching Cleveland by building a $300m stadium and then letting Villa rent it in a ‘sweetheart’ deal. And yet the population of both the metropolitan areas are about the same (2.5m)
Its the finances which are the most revealing when it comes to comparing the Browns and the Villa. The Browns are worth a billion dollars and Villa maybe a tenth of that in a favourable market. The shock comes when you start comparing ‘player costs’. The Browns are paying out $125m to their players. Villa are/were paying out $147m. The Browns are making a profit of $36m. Villa posted a loss of $62m. Amazingly, despite having a ground which can hold 73 000 well-fed Americans, the Browns only earn slightly more than Villa, when it comes to gate receipts – $47m and $39m respectively.
The sheer value of the Browns makes Villa look like Randolph’s hobby; albeit an expensive one. I am not saying that The Browns don’t have their problems but the sheer stability of the set-up, and the guarantee of substantial income-streams, make it seem a bit boring compared with Villa. If you were looking for an arena (no pun intended) where a young buck might test his business skills, Villa looks like the better challenge.
I just hope Randy sees it that way too.
Interesting news for Villa fans, is that according to Forbes (where all the Browns’ numbers come from) they put our benefactor’s personal wealth at $1bn, which is some $300m lower than was reported in 2008. But at least no one can point the finger at Randy or Villa, because his mother’s and his sister’s fortune have dropped by the exact same amount, so it must be entirely due to the movement in market.
His Villa venture seems to have almost no effect on his personal wealth (2010), and we have to assume that Forbes consider the money invested in Villa, is so trivial that they don’t even take it into account when they calculate his wealth.
So it looks like we can all calm down, trust Villa management that they know what they are doing, and just view the present adjustment of the books, as the end of one five year cycle and the start of another.
Keep the faith!