Norway is a country that prides itself on financial transparency. In fact you can go online and look at the earnings that people post on their tax returns, the Prime Minister included.
But obtaining hard facts on player earnings at English football clubs is quite the opposite. Individual player salaries tend to be closely guarded by clubs who want to keep such things under their hats, for their own sakes as well as those of the players. Since salaries are so rarely divulged we usually to have to make guestimates for the figures involved.
According to the Daily Mail the average basic yearly salary for a Championship player in 2014-15 was £324,250. It was £69,500 in League 1.
Using those basic figures and assuming a first team squad of 25 players it would have cost an average Championship club around £8.1m that season for its basic wage bill for its senior players, let alone for bonuses and appearance money. Together with salaries of other players and staff and the general running costs of the club, the figures would most likely top £10m. A comparable figure for the average League 1 club would have been around £2.5m.
Chris McCann and Leon Barnett were signed by Owen Coyle in the season of 2013-14 when Wigan Athletic’s annual running costs were around £30m. Simple calculations suggest that most of the senior players in that squad would have been earning salaries around £1m.
According to an article in the Star a couple of weeks ago it was Sheffield United, not Wigan Athletic, who had the highest player salary costs in League 1 this past season. They estimated it to be around £6m.
If the Star’s estimate is correct it means that Latics operated on a salary bill no more than £6m last season, remarkable given that the combined salaries of Barnett and McCann would most likely have been between £1.5m and £2.0m. It suggests the remaining players were earning a fraction of the wages of the two Coyle recruits.
Last summer Wigan Athletic did a remarkable job in preparing themselves for the financial realities of League 1, following a 12 year period in the Championship and the Premier League. Players on Championship salaries were jettisoned for knockdown prices, whilst others were sent out on loan. Whether Barnett and McCann remained due to their value to the squad or that no acceptable offers came to them is open to conjecture. In the event Barnett had an indifferent season and will be going elsewhere. McCann on the other hand became a key player in the promotion season, given his flexibility in adjusting to playing in different positions.
The club has announced that it is offering McCann a new contract. The snag is that the salary on offer would mean a substantial pay cut for the Irishman. Given that he is a proven performer with a wealth of experience in the Championship he is likely to attract interest from other clubs in the division. The arrival of Owen Coyle at Blackburn could be a factor. McCann played under the Scot at Burnley before joining Coyle’s Latics. Moreover judging by their profit and loss accounts over the past seasons the East Lancashire club are not averse to offering attractive salaries.
Should McCann leave Wigan there will be fans who will question his loyalty. But the likelihood is that he will leave. There are at least three other players who still belong to Wigan who will still be on their previous Championship-level salaries. They are the loan players – Emyr Huws, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor. But the kinds of salaries that Latics will want to offer this coming season might not be in line with what those players were used to earn before going on loan.
Having had wage bills of £30m in the Championship in 2013-14, then £20m in 2014-15, what kind of figure will Latics be aiming towards for the season ahead?
Wigan will be buffered by their final parachute payment in excess of £12m. However, the club does not have a great record in raising commercial revenues and gate receipts are likely to be well below the average for clubs in division. Offering low cost season tickets is a great way to foster goodwill among supporters and it could be argued that the lower prices will bring more people in, compensating for a reduction in price. However, there are questions about whether such a stance can be maintained without the cushion of parachute money. Even in their heyday in the Premier League the club struggled to reach an annual £3m in gate money.
Latics might stretch to a wage bill of around £15m for the coming season, but they must tread with caution with regards to salaries offered and lengths of contracts. The prospect looms of making significant losses two to three years from now.
Given these factors offering McCann a one year deal on a salary compatible to that of which he has become accustomed would be possible. But a contract of two to three years on such terms would be risky.
Last summer the staffing policy was clear – get rid of the highest earners and bring in players of sufficient quality to get the club out of League 1, but halving the wage bill. This summer it is not so clear. Does the club take the gamble of going for outright promotion or does it keep an eye on what are the longer term implications for its financial future?
Whether or not Chris McCann signs a new contract will provide us with a major indicator as to where the club intends to be heading over the coming years.