The second part of an analysis of Wigan Athletic and in particular their financial situation and their strive for sustainability.
While the first part of this two part piece was focused on the role of Roberto Martinez and how Wigan have survived in the Premier League, this section will focus on the off-field problems facing Wigan and whether they will ever truly be profitable or whether they are destined to rely on philanthropist chairman and owner Dave Whelan for the considerable future.
First things first, whilst Wigan have consistently avoided the trap door into the Championship they have regularly finish bottom of the revenue table. Wigan's revenue is the lowest in the top tier, in 2011 their turnover was £43m and they are more reliant on television money than any other top flight club and also have one of the lowest wage bills. Yet in spite of all this they have remained a top flight team for eight successive seasons. How they have managed this feat is a combination of astute management from a succession of good managers, a relatively prudent fiscal policy (in comparison to the mad world of premier league finances) and the generosity of Dave Whelan.
One of the frequent accusations leveled at Wigan being undeserving of their premier league status is that they have consistently low crowds at the DW and recently only took 200 odd fans down to the Emirates for their victory over Arsenal. There are a few myths that need to be dispelled in this area, the first one being that Wigan is a "rugby league town" and that this is a major factor in Wigan's low attendances.
For many years I too accepted this argument, not being too acquainted with Wigan or rugby league. However on closer inspection there is little substantive evidence to support such a statement. It may surprise you to learn that since Wigan Athletic first entered the premier league in 2005 the average attendances have been larger than those achieved by Wigan Warriors who have regularly been one of the top teams in the Sky funded Super League. In the 2005/2006 season Athletic's average attendance was 20,610 whilst Warriors' was 14,464. In 2009/2010 Athletic's average attendance was 18,006 whilst those turning out for Super League matches was just 15,181.
These statistics seem to find serious fault in the argument that Wigan is only able to support one top flight sports team. Whilst Wigan Athletic rarely achieve their capacity in the DW stadium, only the visits of top teams such as Manchester United and Liverpool see the stadium full, it seems more prudent to attribute the clubs low attendances to Wigan's low population (about 800,000) and the fact that Wigan is an area of the North West that has fallen on relatively tough economic times and therefore top flight sport is considered a luxury that many choose not to have. Not to mention the fact that the North West of England is the most condensed areas for Premier League football, Wigan compete against both Manchester and Merseyside clubs as well as Blackburn, Bolton and Blackpool in recent seasons.
With all this in mind it seems the fact that Wigan have maintained their attendances at such a level is a testament to both the fans and the club itself who have consistently maintained a very reasonable ticket pricing policy. Indeed a recent study by Four Four Two magazine found that only 5 of the 92 football league clubs have cheaper tickets than Wigan. This is done in spite of the club consistently struggling financially and is covered almost exclusively out of Whelan's own pocket in the form of several interest free loans to the club through a variety of vehicle companies. This is hugely generous from Whelan even in the face of notable financial loss.
When you compare Wigan's ticketing policy to some clubs in the championship it makes for interesting reading. Whilst Wigan offer some of the lowest priced tickets in league football, a team such as Leeds United have the fifth highest entry level season ticket prices in the country behind only Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham.
What is undeniable about Wigan is that they are hugely dependent on Whelan's millions and his unwavering loyalty and generosity. The clubs net debt stood at £73m in 2011 which was the ninth highest in the league, although £52m of this is what has been termed "soft" debt in that most of it is owed to Whelan himself and he has set very reasonable deadlines for repayment mostly at 0% interest.
Another financial statistic that demonstrates how Wigan punch well above their weight is when you look at the revenue of some of Wigan's rival clubs and how Wigan have consistently finished above them. Wolves (£61m), Aston Villa (£91m), Sunderland (£62m), Birmingham (£56m) and Blackburn (£55m) all enjoyed significantly higher revenues yet Wigan have finished above all of them in the past two seasons (with the exception of Sunderland who finished two points ahead of Wigan despite having almost double their earnings). In an era when wage bills are king and what you spend almost always equates to where you finish, Wigan's achievements are not far short of a modern miracle.
In summation Wigan's financial future is far from rosy as there is no denying that without Dave Whelan's financial clout the club would be in serious financial difficulties. The club simply doesn't generate the revenue required to bring about self-sufficiency although if the club was to maintain its Premier League status, continue to cut its wage bill and improve their commercial revenue they are not as far from independence from Whelan as many would think. However they cannot rely upon their income from match days as attendances have dipped slightly in recent years and even a full capacity DW every other week would not actually add significantly to the clubs revenue.