Wigan Athletic’s wage bill in the 2018-19 season amounted to some £19.4m. The club’s revenue was £11.5m. The figures for the 2019-20 season recently completed are likely to be even more stark, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on football revenues.
Were Ian Lenagan and his associates to take over Wigan Athletic we could expect a wage budget somewhere between 10-15% of what was paid last season. Lenegan would run the club within its means, in a stark contrast to what has happened over the recent years.
The Rugby Union’s Premiership has a salary cap of £7m per club whereas that of rugby league’s Super League is of £2.1m.
Clubs in the EFL are about to vote on salary caps for their three divisions. A cap of £2.5m is proposed for clubs in League 1, with £1.25m for League 2 clubs. The figure being quoted for the Championship is £18m.
The caps for the lower two divisions might well be accepted by the majority of the clubs involved, although a club like Sunderland, desperate to get out of League 1 and with a wage budget over £10m might not be happy about it.
Were Latics to continue with even a handful of players who regularly appeared last season and remain under contract there would be no way of staying within that £2.5m figure. We can therefore expect almost all of the current senior squad players to depart. Many of those players will already be considering their next move. It is typical to have relegation clauses in contracts which lower player salaries in the event. However, on the flip side players can have clauses inserted which give a maximum price for a transfer. Reports suggest that Antonee Robinson can leave for £1.5-£2m due to such a clause, whereas he was due to move to Milan in January for some £6m.
Existing players’ wages would be regarded as the divisional average as far as the salary cap is concerned. The average League 1 salary is around £1,800 per week. Latics could therefore keep some of their higher paid players without breaking the salary cap, although the big fall in revenues involved in dropping down a tier makes it unlikely that such luxuries be afforded. The last time Wigan were in League 1 they spent £11.7m on salaries in a bid to get out of the division. They made a loss of over £9m over that 2017-18 season as a result.
For the moment the administrators must bring in as much cash as possible through player sales. Transfer fees are typically paid in instalments, but Latics currently need cash upfront in order to pay salaries and repay their football debts of £6m. If salaries are not paid the club runs the risk of losing players without receiving transfer fees through not fulfilling contractual obligations. Given the situation we can expect players to be sold for fees well below market value or even released for free.
A period of austerity is coming for all clubs in the lower divisions. For Latics the situation is exacerbated by the extraordinary actions of the previous owners. In the long-term it is going to be of paramount importance that the academy is funded as it has been previously. The salary cap proposals exempt players under the age of 21 from the calculations.
The short-term picture for Wigan Athletic is grim as they struggle against the impact of the actions of the previous owners and the pandemic. The first step will be for new owners to take over and steer the club through a difficult 2020-21 season. Avoiding relegation to League 2 would be an achievement.
However, in the long-run the prospect of a club living within its means, producing home grown talent, is to be welcomed in terms of stability. Given the excellence of the academy it is to be hoped that new owners would not only continue to support it financially, but also employ a manager willing to give young players opportunities to a degree that we have rarely seen in recent years.
Building up a solid base in the lower levels of the EFL over a period of years is essential to the survival of the club. It could well prove a blessing in disguise that the appeal against the 12 point penalty did not succeed. Another season in the financial lunacy of the Championship would not have been easy. But who knows – maybe in time even the Championship clubs will come to the agreement that things cannot continue as they have over these years.