Saturday, February 19, 2011

Behind the scenes at the Rovers

When any organisation is in a period of change, everyone involved and everyone close to it craves a "return to normality". In the case of Blackburn Rovers, I don't think we are anywhere near that new stability.

The new owners set up a special purpose vehicle to buy the club's shares. This week I found that Venky's London have a mortgage registered against them, secured against property assets of the business. In December Barclays Bank agreed a funding line with Rovers, but this was secured against all income from Sky TV and Premier League commercial revenues. You have to make assumptions here, which tend to vary depending on whether your prejudices are for or against the Rao family.

I'm somewhere in the middle. Any business needs a bank. Cash flow is lumpy in football. The wages have to be paid every month, but the income isn't as stable, quarterly TV money and annual season ticket revenue. A bank would need a certain amount of security if they were to grant an overdraft. There have also been relatively short term demands such as payoffs for Sam Allardyce and Alan McDonald. A payoff too, I imagine, for John Williams. The new signings will all have cost money in signing on fees and there is no doubt the wage bill is now much higher, even if Jones and Santa Cruz are loans.

Talk of a marquee signing (and I really cringe at that dreadful phrase) seems to suggest there is more to come. But is there? And where does this money come from?

Venky's have never said where they got the cash to acquire Rovers. The PR version of the offer document was pretty woolly on their commitments and the undertakings given to the Walkers. They have also said the deal will give them exposure for their international business interests. Indeed, there is a Venky's advertising board at Ewood now. But for a business that turns over £100m and makes profits of £12m they are good for something, but they are not in the same financial power league as the owners of Manchester City and Chelsea. So, how much have they borrowed to do the deal?

They have also said the aim is to get an experienced chairman. I would guess they don't want anything of the sort. They probably want an experienced new chief executive, which is what John Williams originally joined Rovers as, and are in the process of a clean sweep through the senior management to accommodate one. I think in Tom Finn they have a good guy who slotted in well behind Williams, who seemed more comfortable in a front of house role. Finn is an experienced and well respected football administrator who is known well in the game. I would argue that it is vital he is retained. But equally, it was pretty clear from the business done in the transfer window that the chairman was peripheral. Business was conducted by Steve Kean, the owners and Jerome Anderson.

In these circumstances I would suggest the chairman's role is nothing more than a figurehead. Possibly even a bridge to the supporters and the local community, providing his or her business experience to ensure good corporate governance and, under normal circumstances, to bring an extra dimension to increase revenues and performance. I would also have thought it a good idea to get some more experienced Rovers fans onto the board. Here are a few: Roger Devlin, for example, the former chief executive of Ladbroke Hilton, or Ian Currie, a Rovers season ticket holder, a former director of Bolton Wanderers and a shrewd businessman. Then there's Wayne Wild of WEC Group and John Green of local accountants Pierce. I don't actually expect them to get the call. Maybe it won't matter anyway, but I still believe fervently that the leadership of Blackburn Rovers has to maintain at least a foot in the traditions of the community that surrounds it.

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