Chelsea face financial cost of Champions League exit after PSG loss
Defeat to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday has left Chelsea facing a first season without Champions League football since Roman Abramovich brought his billions to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2003.
The loss will be more than mere prestige. A year-long exile from Europe's elite competition is expected to cost Chelsea up to £45 million when broadcast and matchday income are factored in -- hardly an ideal situation heading into a summer that will bring a new manager and grand plans for significant investment in an underachieving squad.
Yet in this of all years, the financial blow may not be quite so devastating. The Premier League's mammoth new £8bn deal with domestic and overseas broadcasters kicks in for the 2016-17 season and is projected to guarantee an extra £40m-£50m for clubs competing for the top four, as Chelsea will expect to do.
"While I don't think there's ever a good time to be out of the Champions League, the landing is much softer because of the TV deal that kicks in from August," Rob Wilson, sports finance expert from Sheffield Hallam University, tells ESPN FC.
Of course, Chelsea's domestic rivals stand to benefit just as much from the Premier League's latest windfall. All 20 clubs in England's top flight next season will make the top 30 of the Deloitte Money League and the likeliest consequence of this vastly increased financial power will be further inflation of the global transfer market.
"The downside [for Chelsea] is that when they're trying to rebuild their playing squad, the transfer fees are likely to be higher for all English clubs this summer as teams across Europe and the rest of the world try to get in on the TV deal," Wilson adds. "A player that might have cost £25m last summer could now cost somewhere between £30m and £35m, simply because of the price inflation the TV deal will cause.
"Not being in the Champions League also means you have to work much harder to get top-class players, which generally means paying them more in terms of wages. Just look at what Manchester United had to do when they were out of the Champions League with the signings of Angel Di Maria and Falcao [in the summer of 2014]."
Chelsea's last financial results -- in which the club announced a £23m loss -- also revealed the highest wage bill (£216m) in the Premier League. That figure is expected to drop significantly next time due to the hefty bonuses handed out for winning the title in 2015, but the club still has very little room to manoeuvre when it comes to acquiring more high-earning players this summer.
This is another reason why Wilson expects Chelsea to persist with the "sell to buy" strategy that has seen them average a net spend of just £20m in the past two years, offloading unwanted squad members and desirable loanees to help cover the cost of new arrivals.
"I'd imagine they'll bring in somewhere between £50m-£80m from player sales and spend upwards of £200m on signings so that the net spend is quite conservative compared with the other teams in the league," he says.
"Chelsea were ahead of the game in many ways with financial fair play. They've moved away from Abramovich piling in lots of his own personal cash to a more sustainable business model where they're selling players to bring others in, and offsetting some of the additional cost against new TV deals.
"I'd imagine that will continue -- they're just going to have to work a lot harder if they're not in the Champions League."
From a financial perspective it's unsurprising that Antonio Conte is the clear front-runner to become Chelsea's next permanent manager. Unlike Diego Simeone, Massimiliano Allegri or Mauricio Pochettino he will be a free agent when he leaves the Italian national team this summer -- an enticing factor when you consider that a reported £10m has already been committed to paying off the sacked Jose Mourinho.
The absence of Champions League football makes maximising Chelsea's other revenue streams all the more vital for the club's spending power.
Yokohama Rubber's £40m-a-year shirt sponsorship deal that kicked in last summer, coupled with Thai energy drink company Carabao's agreement to pay £30m to sponsor Chelsea's training gear for the next three seasons, will provide further insulation as the club bids to make a swift return to Europe's top table.
Raising ticket prices is another theoretical option, but Chelsea this week announced that the cost of admission to Stamford Bridge will remain frozen at 2011-12 levels next season. Given the potential PR consequences of any raise, Wilson believes that decision is wise.
"Because of the size of Stamford Bridge, you'd have to make a sizeable increase to ticket prices to make up any shortfall [in overall revenue]," he insists. "For the amount of revenue you make over the course of a season, it's simply not worth angering your fans by putting ticket prices up two or three pounds.
"When you look at the breakdown of revenue streams -- particularly those clubs normally in the top six or top eight -- match day revenue makes up around 23-24 percent of overall revenue, so you're playing around on the margins. You'd be much better off going out and signing an official noodle partner for £5m or £6m a year and offsetting it that way."
But what of this season? Lose to Everton in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday and many would argue that Chelsea have nothing left to play for. They can, however, increase their slice of Premier League income by around £1.2m for every place they finish higher in the table, while Europa League qualification could bring in between £10m-£12m of additional revenue.
"The main challenge for Chelsea now is to make sure that they're in the Europa League mix for next year," Wilson concludes. "While that won't generate the types of revenue that the Champions League does, it's still an elite competition in Europe that the Premier League will be keen to advocate because of the coefficient."
Chelsea's worst season of the Abramovich era has set up its most challenging summer, but with a combination of smart recruitment and better management in the coming months, there's no reason why it should be any more than an expensive and humiliating blip.