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[Blog] Who Pays If It All Goes Wrong? Town Fans or Marcus Evans?
Written by SanityBlue on Monday, 16th Nov 2009 10:47

When it was announced Marcus Evans had purchased the club I was one of the few dissenting voices.

It concerned me that a club owned by its fans was suddenly the possession of one man. Marcus Evans had no previous connection to Ipswich Town and was out to profit from the takeover. I was also concerned he was putting very little equity into the club. Fans reacted as though we had won the lottery but the financial details painted a very different picture. The crippling £32 million debt to Norwich Union and Barclays Bank had not been extinguished – it had simply been transferred to Marcus Evans.

Much was made of a so-called £12 million war chest. However, £8.1 million of this was preference shares to Marcus Evans with dividend rights of 7%. In effect, Ipswich Town had borrowed £8.1 million from him and agreed to pay interest at the market rate.

In a desperate bid to win promotion, first under Jim Magilton and now under Roy Keane, Ipswich has spent big money by Championship standards. The 'war chest' has now gone with precious little to show for it. But the big spending has continued. In the two years since Marcus Evans took control, the club has posted losses of £5.8 million and £12.2 million. How have these shortfalls been covered? The answer is Marcus Evans has pumped more money into the club – as loans. The information that came out with the release of the latest financial results is that Ipswich Town is indebted to him for £40.2 million or £48.3 million if you include the preference shares.

The strategy is clear: spend big in order to reach the promised land of the Premiership. Spend big on players, spend big on a high profile manager, spend big on a star chief executive with no football background. If the gamble pays off and Ipswich reach the Premiership, Marcus Evans will milk it for all it’s worth. Then he’ll look to flog the club to some other businessman for a nice profit. It’s called pass the parcel.

But what happens if we don’t reach the Premiership in the next few seasons? How much will the debt be by then? Sixty million? Eighty million? One hundred million? By then Marcus Evans might have had enough. Will he just shrug his shoulders and walk away? No, he’ll want a return on his 'investment'. He will want interest on every little bit he has lent to the club.

We should remember the club went into administration in 2003 because it couldn’t field a competitive football team, pay its day to day trade creditors and service interest bearing debts of £31 million all at the same time. Well, the debt to Marcus Evans currently stands at £48.3 million pounds and is rising fast. If Ipswich was forced to pay a commercial rate of interest on this debt the consequences would be unthinkable.

I can’t understand the desire of football fans in the United Kingdom for their clubs to be taken over by so-called rich businessmen. They usually turn out to be opportunists at best or conmen at worst. Can anyone say with any certainty that Marcus Evans is a successful and wealthy businessman with the long-term interests of Ipswich Town at heart? His companies are registered in tax havens and there are no audited financial statements available on his group that shed any light on his true financial position.

There are a number of questions one could put to Marcus Evans but, of course, he wishes to preserve his anonymity. It’s fair enough that he wishes privacy but could it also be that he doesn’t want to answer the tough questions that would be asked?

When Ipswich Town came out of administration it had realistic prospects of promotion to the Premiership. It finished fifth in 2003/04 and third in 2004/05. It fell away subsequently but it still showed more potential than the current team. Yes, Ipswich was struggling with high borrowings but it was well-known that Norwich Union which was owed £27 million was prepared to settle for something less than 50%.

The board could have struck a deal eventually with Norwich Union leaving the club with a manageable debt level. A return to the Premiership in the not too distant future would not have been unrealistic under those circumstances. Instead, the board was so impatient for promotion, it fell for the cult of the rich businessman whose millions would ensure the club’s future.

Well, it hasn’t happened. Ipswich Town has turned out to be a speculative machine for Marcus Evans. Get into the Premiership, milk it and flip the club over. Fail to get into the Premiership and still earn a tidy sum by extracting interest payments on the “investment” made. If it all goes wrong it will be the fans that pick up the tab.

It could be argued the fans are paying for it already. Ticket prices have gone up substantially since the takeover. Portman Road is one of the most expensive grounds, if not the most expensive, for watching Championship football.

After the financial crisis, the banks were criticised for structuring employment packages that created incentives for executives to speculate. Invest in risky derivatives and if it looks like it was a good deal, walk away with millions. If it doesn’t turn out to be a good deal, there is still the consolation of a generous base salary. They call it heads I win, tails I break even. This reminds me of the sort of deal our club has given Marcus Evans.

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BOjK added 11:13 - Nov 16
The problem with your analysis is that if Evans decides he's ploughed enough money into the club and wants it back, the most he can get back is by selling the club and writing off the debt (or selling it on cheaply). Running us into the ground by making us pay interest won't get him any money back.

Having our debt and our shares owned by the same person really changes everything.

Interesting article, although I disagree with most of it. I may write a response.

walters_wonderland added 11:19 - Nov 16
interesting article, albeit rather deceiving. Marcus Evans actually bought the debt owed to Norwich Union for only 12 million - a significantly reduced amount on what you mentioned.

blueoveru added 11:30 - Nov 16
Thankfully Ipswich Borough Council own the Portman Rd stadium ,so m.e. only 'owns' the right to trade & run the club,if he wants to pump millions into it ,then who are we as supporters to stop him !.
If the team get the club in to the premier league then it will all be forgotten,providing of course we can stay there long enough to operate at a profit,but the wage wage bill to do that will make our current outgoings look peanuts in comparrison ,time will tell.


devontractorboy added 11:31 - Nov 16
I must admit to not being a financial expert but it's nice to see an articulate well balanced argument on this website, which is thought provoking at the very least. Sanity Blue is right about Evans though, he's unapproachable to the fans, perhaps put off by the abuse/threats to Mike Ashley at Newcastle.

Whatever the financial state of the club, it is clear we are a million miles away from being where we want to be, a journey which has been hastened under Clegg & Keane. We need in footballing terms to get back to basics, face it we're not improving enough and mostly playing hoofball!!!

Tractorog added 11:32 - Nov 16
BOjK is right.
I lend my businesses money to fund losses sometimes, because it is more tax efficient if you think you will turn it round quickly and it does not dilute the minority shareholders so it does not need their approval - which can be expensive and time consuming to get.
IMHO you're reading too much into the fact these are loans and you are biting the hand...

Campag_Velocet added 11:43 - Nov 16
walters_wonderland - You're correct in that Evans bought the debt. But he did not write it off. All that has changed is the owner of the debt, we still have to pay it, just to our owner, rather than Norwich Union. And I bet the interest is at the same high rate it was, when Norwich Union owed it.

Which is fine as long as Evans owns the club (after all, administration will hurt him more than anyone else, so he'll make sure that is not an option). But the debt he bought has to be sold with the club. That's a concern, because Evans could sell it to anyone.

Another concern is what about the money that Evans has put into the club over and above his initial investment. How does he expect that to be repaid? What interest is he charging?

Tractorog - You lend your businesses money essentially because you can't give the company money. But this isn't Evans' business. He owns 87.5%, compared to his other companies, which he owns in full. He hasn't bought into ITFC for laughs, he wants to make a profit.

Lightningboy added 11:50 - Nov 16
Doesn't really matter where the money's come from at the end of the day...we've still gone out and spent the best part of £20M since ME to over and look at where we are...would've been better off doing things on a nice steady shoe-string budget with a manager who knows what he's doing, especially with regards to bringing through our own players , i.e a Burley or a Royle.

I for one seriously hope Keane is given no more money to waste.

Tractorog added 12:09 - Nov 16
Keeping it as a loan is just more flexible and tax efficient aspecially when you have minority shareholders - I don't see why you should criticise ME for running the business in a way that requires it to use capital efficently. It is not a hobby it is a business and ultimately, thats the only way to run a football club if you want it to survive longer than the life/interest of the current owner.

tractorboybig added 12:11 - Nov 16
we were a better team on the pitch with a shoestring budget?
ME has bought this club to further his empire and when it becomes a libility he will off load it.
Some of you say he will only get X for it,yes, but he can sell off all the good players (and the young ones at that) I fear this club will be far worse off when he goes than when he came.
He is a shrood business man not the saviour.

naa added 12:18 - Nov 16
Walters_wonderland. I think you'll find that that is exactly how Marcus Evans is going to make a profit. He paid £12M for the debt, but the club owes him the full value of the original debt £32M.

The Guardian had a very good piece about his takeover at the time and the columnist didn't suggest it was all roses either - and I've seen other articles by him (David Conn) and he appears to be very good and objective.

BOjK: although you may be right, there may come a time when Marcus Evans decides he wants his interest payments. He's only going to run a loss for so long, and if the promotion doesn't happen (and it doesn't look likely the way we're currently moving does it) he may decide to cover his business losses at least in small part.


naa added 12:21 - Nov 16
tractorboybig: yes we were better. We haven't been in the relegation zone a this level for 10 years and that was only for a couple of weeks and was soon turned around.

I much preferred the way the club was run when Sheepy first took over. Manager given time, brought through young players and loan signings that wanted football, not money. As soon as money came into it (promotion) things all went to pot. And they're not overly rosey now, are they?

Campag_Velocet added 12:40 - Nov 16
Tractorog - "Keeping it as a loan is just more flexible and tax efficient aspecially when you have minority shareholders - I don't see why you should criticise ME for running the business in a way that requires it to use capital efficently. It is not a hobby it is a business and ultimately, thats the only way to run a football club if you want it to survive longer than the life/interest of the current owner."

Naive, wishful thinking. ME is in ITFC for profit. As a businessman, he has no reason to run the club in a way for it to survive past his interest in the club. His only priority is to get a return on his investment.

Lightningboy added 12:41 - Nov 16
That's what i'm saying tractorboybig...up until ME came in & Magilton was given millions to spend things were going quite nicely for him & on the playing isn't always the answer.

This is one of the reasons why I think Keane is so wrong for a club like ours - his answer (as at Sunderland) is to buy and buy when things aren't going well...we need someone with a bit of nouse & experience to do things the Ipswich way , sod Marcus Evans,Clegg & Keane - it's become too much about them this season...if we're not careful this could end in complete disaster.

asajennings added 12:41 - Nov 16
Who here can honestly say they'd have preferred the club to have continued running along as it was prior to Marcus Evans if we were now a Premiership club with the millions invested in the playing staff having paid off?

I don't remember too many being opposed to it at the time. There was concern over the illusive ME, his intentions and so on but in principal no one seemed to object to the coffers being boosted so it's all well and good saying it now we've spent the pot and got little to show for it but I for one, was satisfied at the time ME came along, that he did have the interests of the club at heart as much as he could, although let's be honest what investors these days don't hope to make a profit.

With the exception of the likes of Blackburn, Gretna, maybe Wolves to an extent, there are few people prepared to put their hand in their pockets to see a club develop unless there's a few quid in it for them too somewhere.

The ME deal suits both parties if it pays off. We get Premiership football, he gets a return on his investment. If it doesn't pay off then yes we could be in a tricky position still but that's a risk we were largely in agreement on taking I am sure, before many of the other Championship clubs saw big investors come along, which I predict will happen over the next 10 years.

FormerlyCGS added 12:48 - Nov 16

old_and_blue added 12:59 - Nov 16
Good to see that the fans are thinking about the situation AND we have such a brilliant forum to discuss it.. I too have very great concerns about our future,, But at present my view is:
A) scuzzi 'millionaires' are two a penny (they don't have money of their own.. they borrow it) but I 'm glad D Sulllivan didn't get his grubby mitts on us.. ME seems to be geniune, I can only hope he is
b) RK, I had mixed feelings about him coming here and mixed feelings about his performance since his tenure began,. but I think he is at least sincere and the team doesn't throw in the towel like it often did under JM
C) D Clegg,, don't like 'general purpose' managers. I don't think that because he was successful in the Brit Olympic set up he will necessarily be sucessful at a Football Club, like ours.. but I have no real reason to doubt his comittment to the club..
In conclusion, it's a hang on and hope situation..
Good to see articles like this being written.. such concerns should be raised at Club/Supporters meetings I guess.. how often do they run them..


TractorRoyNo1 added 13:18 - Nov 16
An interesting article, but my main beef is with the statement "I can’t understand the desire of football fans in the United Kingdom for their clubs to be taken over by so-called rich businessmen."
Perhaps you could tell us a model that we could use, the Club was 'available' for months and no one serious (I really don't count the Essex pornographer) came forward other than Evans.
Surely you are not one of these idiological types who think we could be run as a coop rather like Ebsfleet and pay the wages from flag days, raffles and barn dances?
The Cobbolds certainly had the club at heart, but it was just as much a play thing for them as it is Evans. The difference is that in those days the local brewer / butcher / garage owner could own a team and still can in junior football, but not at this level.
If / when Evans leaves we will go the same way as Southampton and possibly Luton; so instead of looking for some kind of utopia, SUPPORT what we have.

naa added 13:46 - Nov 16
Tractorroyno1: I think you're missing the point. If no clubs were run by rich businessmen then there wouldn't be the kind of crazy money in the sport that there is. Therefore clubs could be run as sensible going concerns that pay for themselves.

The blog didn't just refer to us, he referred to all clubs, so your comment is irrelevant.

All the money in football has completely ruined it in my opinion. It's non-competitive in that the same 4 teams dominate and anyone managing to get promoted is almost certain to come back down or, at best, struggle all season with nothing to play for but non-relegation.

And it's made footballers themselves massively overpaid, which is a mistake for such young people.

I also have a problem with your attitude that "this is what we've got so just accept it and get on with it". Because obviously thre world would be a great place if no-one ever questioned anything wouldn't it?

VemundBrekkeSkard added 14:05 - Nov 16
The main problem is that we still owe him the total £32M debt, even though he settled it for £12M. Furthermore, with the global financial situation, if we had waited just a short while before settling the debt, they would have accepted a deal for A LOT LESS than that (well, hindsight is a wonderful thing). As a result we are in a very precarious position of owing a mystery man a hell of a lot more money than we should and he stands comparatively little to lose (really, agreeing to pay him the whole amount was just phenominally stupid).

But the fact is that no matter what Sheepshanks would have had us believe, there WERE other options available, the problem was that many potential investors would have nothing to do with the club for as long as Sheepshanks was still involved, so he kept all those offers all hush hush and went for Evans, who had absolutely no previous football experience and so would be most likely to keep him involved with the club and had us all hail him as a hero.

But look on the bright side, so far Evans has not really shown any desire to 'gut the club' and do a runner (which he still could do, without taking too large a loss), and does appear to be here for the long term and continue pumping money in for very little return (or at least until we get promoted). For which I suppose we should all be very thankful.


VILJOEN67 added 14:56 - Nov 16
We had no choice we were losing in excess of 2 million a year on top of a crippling debt that was only going to get worse. It was inevitable that the culture of the club would change along with the rest of football. The situation is ok as long as he continues to cover the debt, i think he is in effect paying himself interest for tax efficiency, remember he owns it all so all the problems are his problems, i just hope he continues with his liberal philanthropic streak, or that increased exposure benefits the other parts of his business because if neither of these are true (because promotion to the premier league looks unlikely any time soon ) he will have given himself a timeframe, beyond which the selling of our club may cause real and lasting problems.

hype313 added 15:59 - Nov 16
Another thought provoking reply from callum...

I have to admit, I really dont know where i stand on the whole ME situation. I am not naive enough to think that he is in it for the passion, far from it, but like in any business model you enter in to make money. I feel that in the short term he will continue to fund the club and manager (whoever that may be) but 2-3 years down the line if we are not where he wants us it will be a swift goodbye.

My main bug bearer is we have been our most succesful when we have backs against the wall, no money and quality youth team players coming through with hunger and desire. From what I have seen so far players look at us and think " yeah, earn a few quid here and hopefully go somewhere, and thats the main problem this season. The performances have been average at best but there is no passion there this season, from anyone, no one has taken the game from the scruff of the neck for me. Unfortunatley the players, bar Richard Wright, dont know what it means playing for Ipswich, and thats not Keane's fault as other managers would have done the same but we are a community club with youth coming through, Money, in my opinion has ruined that.

KIWI78 added 16:39 - Nov 16
Evans dosnt have the club at heart, a different buyer may have done but here was none about.

If evans really cared for the club then he would have removed all advertising of his brand from the Newcastle game. Instead it felt like the ME tribute game to Bobby Robson, as it was clearly going out to a large audience.

Instead of wasting money on keeping irish teams out of admin, or fattening up the glazier family with the odd million and a half, how about using it to reduce ticket prices?

KIWI78 added 16:42 - Nov 16
And i totally agree with Hype313 - though change is inevitable, this is not the club i fell in love with anymore.

Guthrum added 17:40 - Nov 16
It is in ME's interest to keep the club not just running, but even prosperous right up to the point he sells it.

If he drains all the money out, he won't recoup his investment and he won't be able to find a buyer. Any new owner would have to do 'due diligence' (examining the accounts) and would realise they were being sold a turkey. So not much point in doing that, then.

Has anyone considered that he may be using a loss-maker like ITFC to write off taxable profits from elsewhere, while gaining 'free' publicity for his brand?

Or even that ME may be a genuine football fan who enjoys his hobby in the same way as Branson has his record breaking attempts or others have their yachts and car collections? He's obviously a sporting bloke, judging by his buying racehorses - a well-known way of losing money.

chislehurstblue added 17:44 - Nov 16
Why would Evans sell the club? He would make a loss.

If and when Evans does sell ITFC he has to find someone to buy the debt off him as well. Its only then that Evans could make a profit, but he has already invested in the playing side so its very unlikely that he could sell it for a profit. Why would anyone buy our club for anything more than Evans paid for it. Evans sells it for £12m, he had invested £20m in the playing squad, so he make a loss. He would need to sell for about £32m to get his money. No one in their right mind is going to buy ITFC for £32m, given that it was widely reported he brought it for £12m.

However, if we get promoted and he pockets the £50m (reported figure that promotion is worth) then he could sell the club with his debt from buying the club and player transfer paid off. However, I can only really see any real benefit of selling the club after a few seasons of PL football and then it might be worth keeping hold of the club.

Why is everyone so negative about ME. I don't understand it. Its possible that we could have rentered admin again if he had not brought the club. Then you would all be moaning about that!!
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