As the curtain dropped on another Premier League season, top-flight English soccer side Everton found themselves in familiar territory. In eighth place on 54 points, the Toffees were once again left peering in on the top six, 12 points behind even a crisis-hit Manchester United.
The Merseyside club have long been considered the most likely to breach the Premier League’s so-called ‘big six’, who have spent the past decade widening a considerable gap in quality and finances between themselves and the division’s other 14 teams. Everton have taken their place at the Premier League’s top table in just two of the past ten seasons, and last finished fourth, in one of England’s Uefa Champions League qualifying places, back in the 2004/2005 campaign.
From the outside looking in, Everton have seemed primed to join the Premier League’s heavy-hitters for some time. The Toffees are one of only six clubs to have played every season in the money-printing division since its formation in 1992, while they also boast one of the league’s most storied stadiums and one of its largest fanbases.
We love our spiritual home of Goodison Park, but we have been there for more than 125 years now and it is clearly the one factor that we need to do something about if we are to bridge the gap to the top six.
Why Everton have not yet smashed through that ceiling, then, remains anyone’s guess, but with the big six strengthening all the time, the club made an announcement in December to suggest that they are not willing to remain on the peripheries for much longer.
It was then that Everton revealed further details about their proposed new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock, which will have a capacity of 52,000 with the potential to expand to 62,000 in the future. The figure equates to over 10,000 more seats than the club’s current Goodison Park home, which while being etched in the team’s history and tradition is dated in comparison to some of the bigger, smarter soccer venues that have emerged across Europe in recent years.
Bramley Moore Dock, the proposed site for Everton’s new stadium
“The stadium is paramount for our long-term success as a football club,” asserts Sasha Ryazantsev, Everton’s chief finance and commercial officer, tells SportsPro. “We love our spiritual home of Goodison Park, but we have been there for more than 125 years now and it is clearly the one factor that we need to do something about if we are to bridge the gap to the top six.
“The new stadium will give us more general admission seats and more hospitality, and it will also attract better partnership deals and enhance commercial revenues. But most importantly, the new stadium will give our supporters a better experience and make them feel proud and excited in an iconic setting on the Liverpool waterfront.”
Part of that enhanced venue experience will include a new ‘world-class’ store at the stadium, after Everton expanded their partnership with retail giant Fanatics in February to carry out extensive work on planning for the club’s move to Bramley-Moore Dock. The deal will also see Everton adopt Fanatics’ v-commerce model – first pioneered in English soccer last year by Championship side Aston Villa – to ensure that they will be able to quickly respond to any spikes in demand for club merchandise.
“It’s evolution rather than revolution,” says Ryazantsev. “It enables us to serve our fans globally in the best possible way via our long-term partner’s platform. Fanatics are changing the global retail landscape, so working with them means that we are at the forefront of this forward-thinking approach and can provide the best experience for our fans.”
Ryazantsev (right) at the launch of Everton’s expanded partnership with Fanatics
Financially speaking, Everton have never been in a better position to throw their weight behind a new stadium project. The club also announced in December that they had achieved record revenues for the second consecutive year, with income for 2018 climbing ten per cent from the previous season to reach an impressive UK£189 million (US$242 million).
Much of that figure, which according to the Deloitte Football Money League is the 17th highest in world soccer, owed to Everton’s share of the Premier League’s lucrative broadcast rights revenues. Beyond that, though, Ryazantsev points to the added income generated from breaking back into the Uefa Europa League, European soccer’s second-tier competition, as the catalyst for that growth.
We have been very clear in the past that one of our key objectives is regular European football, and that season demonstrated why it is so important for us financially.
“The 2017/18 season was the second year of the current broadcasting cycle and the main difference for our revenues that season was participation in the Europa League, as well as further commercial revenue growth,” says Ryazantsev, who recently spoke on stage at SportsPro Live in London.
“We have been very clear in the past that one of our key objectives is regular European football, and that season demonstrated why it is so important for us financially. The other key element is further growth in what we call ‘controllable revenue’, which is everything apart from broadcasting revenues from the Premier League and other competitions.
“That is our focus, as commercial and matchday revenues are clear differentiating factors that could take us to a new level.”
Indeed, Everton’s commercial coffers have benefitted during the past two seasons from the arrival of two major partners. The first of those is SportPesa, the Kenyan betting platform, which in May 2017 agreed a record five-year deal to become the club’s shirt sponsor.
Then, in a slightly more eye-catching, unconventional move, Everton unveiled their first ever sleeve sponsorship deal with Angry Birds, the Rovio Entertainment game that allows users to hurl birds into objects. The partnership initially irked some fans, and even made Everton a figure of fun in some quarters, but the pair have since teamed up on some unique activations, including incorporating three players – Theo Walcott, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Cenk Tosun – into the game itself.
“Beyond the financial benefits of those partnerships, they help us expand and enhance our brand but also to expand our international fanbase,” Ryazantsev explains . “Our partnership with SportPesa has given us an opportunity to grow the Everton following in the East African market. We had a successful tour in Tanzania in 2017 and will be going to Kenya for the first time in July. Our aim is to leverage this opportunity and grow a new, dynamic and international fanbase and find those Evertonians who don’t know that they are Evertonians yet.
“Angry Birds is a global brand. It is a huge vote of confidence that despite the fact they are one of the most recognisable brands in the world with four billion global downloads, they find that a partnership with Everton is brand enhancing for them.”
Given the changes about to sweep through the Premier League, it is perhaps not surprising that Everton are looking to find creative ways to generate new revenue streams. Starting from next season, any future increase on international rights income will be allocated to clubs based on their final league position, rather than distributed equally, further broadening the gulf between the top sides and those on the division’s lower rungs.
Our aim is to leverage this opportunity and grow a new, dynamic and international fanbase and find those Evertonians who don’t know that they are Evertonians yet.
With that in mind, income from elsewhere will become even more important for clubs outside of the top six, making the arrival of Everton’s new stadium all the more timely in relation to the team’s hopes of remaining competitive.
If demand is anything to go by – 31,282 seats sold by Everton during the 2017/18 season went to season ticket buyers – then there clearly remains a belief among the supporters that the top six is within the team’s grasp. It is a goal the club has been desperate to achieve, and those pulling the strings are ramping up their efforts to create a financial platform that can deliver regular European soccer.
“We are competing against 19 other teams, and growing revenue means we have more money to invest on the pitch,” says Ryazantsev. “It is a virtual circle of pitch performance driving better opportunities for partnerships which in turn drives better opportunities for commercial growth. Increased cash flow can then be reinvested into the squad.
Everton hope that a new stadium can help to deliver regular European soccer
“It’s also why the move to a new stadium is so vital for us. Goodison is a fantastic stadium and there’s no other place like it, but the reality is it holds us back from both providing the best experience Evertonians expect and generating the level of revenue that would enable us to compete with the very best.
“A new stadium will give us the opportunity to attract the best players, create a great atmosphere for more of our fans and visiting supporters, expand our concourse space for better food and beverage offerings and eliminate restricted view seats. It will also provide us with a step change in generating revenue from hospitality and other commercial streams such as sponsorship, catering and events.
“All these things together will help improve performance and bridge the gap to the top six.”