Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Relegation Spells Huge Problems For Blackburn

There are two types of relegation. The easy kind, in which the club bounces back after a year or two and can even use the chance to clear out some deadwood and reorganise itself a la Newcastle last season. Then there the hard kind, the kind that sets of a slow but terminal decline in the standards of a club such as Coventry or Sheffield United. Sometimes which type of relegation a club is experiencing isn’t immediately apparent but nevertheless the majority of teams that drop down a division fall into one of the two categories.

When talking about Premier League winners, Blackburn are always the forgotten child. Along with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, they form part of an exclusive club of title winners since 1992. Sadly, it’s hard to see Blackburn as anything but the Ringo of the four. While John, Paul and George have all won multiple titles and established themselves among the European elite, Blackburn have become a mid-table side. Since their league title triumph in 1995 Blackburn haven’t finished in the top five. Relegated in the 1998/99 season the club spent two years in the Championship before returning. That was a fairly easy relegation as the club bounced back into the top flight with relatively little worry and resumed their place as a Premier League fixture.

However, throughout the past two decades the club have been able to fall back on the generosity of the Jack Walker fund, the steel magnate who bankrolled the 1995 title. Walker broke the British transfer record multiple times to bring in the likes of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton. The difference this time is that the Walker Trust is no longer around to inject cash into the club. Should Blackburn suffer relegation this season, the outlook is far more grim that in 1999.

In 2008 the Trust discontinued support for the club saying that it saw no need to carry on investing. This assessment was pretty much correct based on the assumption that the club would be fully self-sufficient as long as it remained in the top flight and therefore party to that magical television money. However Venky’s had other ideas. Like Newcastle before them, the new owners decided that Sam Allardyce wasn’t the man they wanted running their club and replaced him with the inexperienced Steve Kean. It would not be unfair to say that the appointment has not been a success in any sense with the team taking a grand total of four points from their last ten games. The team is in freefall and looks the least likely of the relegation candidates to pick up any points aside from possibly Blackpool.

The reason that the Walkers Trust and the television money have been so important for Blackburn is that their match day revenue is appallingly low, the club earning less than £7m a year. Former chairman John Williams admitted that match day revenue was an area “where we find it difficult to compete.” The upshot of this shortfall is that revenue needs to come from elsewhere namely the Walker Trust and television. Without either of these two income streams, Blackburn may find life in the Championship much harder than before.

Unless they want to own a club on the slide Venky’s need to make good on promises of investment. Sadly, so far they have provided no indication that they have any expertise in football whatsoever. Talk of Kaka and Ronaldinho at Ewood Park just serves to make them look foolish. More than most of the clubs in the top flight, Blackburn’s business model requires top flight football. The new owners need to invest players to consolidate Rovers position as a solid mid-table, top flight club above all else. The second priority needs to be finding ways to boost match day income but this is dwarfed by the necessity to retain access to Sky’s television money. So far Venky’s have yet to make one decent, intelligent football-related decision. That needs to change and quickly otherwise Blackburn could be in real danger of dropping out of the top flight for a long time.

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