Secrets of specialisation: Football clubs
Secrets of Specialisation is a new content series focusing on specific industries. Each week, we’ll interview an accountant working with clients across a specific sector to understand the challenges, opportunities and trends affecting those businesses.
Ben Rendle has been busy. Alongside his full-time role as Plymouth Argyle’s financial controller, he has set up BR Accounting, a virtual FD firm. “I’ve been at the club for coming up to ten years, but I’ve always wanted to be my own boss.”
Rendle's path in accountancy is a winding one. Having dropped out of A-levels aged 17, he completed his apprenticeship with the help of the AAT and quickly rose to a senior accounting role at an auto dealership later owned by the retailer Pendragon.
But then came the financial crisis and nine months of unemployment. While looking for a job, Rendle came across a two-week temp role at Plymouth Argyle. Nearly a decade later, he remains at the club.
Now he’s plotting his next step, growing BR Accounting with Plymouth Argyle’s blessing and hopes to move to BR full time at some point in the future. For now, though, it is a side hustle and Rendle remains immersed in the fascinating world of football finance.
So for this edition of ‘Secrets of specialisation’, AccountingWEB asked Rendle about the ins-and-outs of building a financially sustainable club and the challenges they face.
What’s the state of football finance as you see it?
I’ve seen the dark side of football finance. [Plymouth Argyle] went into administration in 2011 and the club has worked since exiting to make itself more sustainable. As an industry, football has seen a lot of insolvencies. While we’re trying to address sustainability through financial fair play regulations, we’ve got a long way to go.
What are some of the familiar challenges facing football clubs?
The main issue of any football club is cash flow. You’ve got a high fixed-cost base and you’ve got to be able to use your stadium asset for more than 23 days a year. It’s always a challenge balancing everything in that regard. Many clubs are investing in their stadium to generate non-matchday revenues.
What KPIs and metrics do you monitor?
I’m looking at it almost removed from football. The whole point of us operating sustainably is operating it as a business without the emotional connection being a supporter of the club will bring. We’re looking revenues, gross profits and levels of expense.
In terms of KPIs, our average attendance is up there with our wages-to-turnover ratio. Essentially, we’ve got 23 to 27 games a season and that’s where the majority of our revenue comes from. If we’ve budgeted for 15,000 average attendance but you’re only achieving 12,000, you’re going to be way off your profitability.
How do you get your hands on this data?
We operate with a variety of systems. We’ve got retail PoS systems, we’ve got ticketing systems and we’re currently going through the whole Making Tax Digital (MTD) thing to link it to our accounting software.
At the moment, I’m trying to get it fed into an analysis software individually so we can pull the whole picture into the software. We’ve shifted from desktop to cloud to make this easier as well.
What about bridging software for MTD?
I’m hoping to avoid using bridging software, to be honest. The more steps you’ve got, the more opportunities for things to go wrong. If it all goes wrong, you’ve got potentially your accounting software provider, bridging software supplier and your EPoS provider trying to shift blame elsewhere. You’ll be going round in circles trying to resolve it. Whereas if you cut it out, you’ve only got two parties and they’ll be on development terms with each other to sort it out.
More generally, how has the finance function helped Plymouth Argyle move towards sustainability?
It’s been baby steps rather than any one thing. It’s been a system of continual improvements across the business. People know what their targets are and actually achieve them.
There’s a lot of raw emotion around football. At the club we’ve seen the good side of that: the fans really pulled together when we were in trouble and helped us. The emotion has its place but it’s a business and needs to pay its way, too.
Part of a finance team that deserves recognition? Or have you undergone a digital transformation akin to Plymouth Argyle? The Accounting Excellence Awards are now open for entries, with categories including Finance Team of the Year and Digital Transformation Project of the Year. To enter or for more information click here.