Bold claims from the Bridge
The Premier League table may show Chelsea third and Arsenal first, but in financial terms the message from Stamford Bridge is that it is Manchester United first, Chelsea second and Arsenal trailing further behind.
This was the most fascinating thing about Chelsea's record turnover announced today – Manchester United figured hugely as a point of comparison while Arsenal, who are due to announce their half-time results for this season on Friday morning, hardly got a mention.
Peter Kenyon, Chelsea’s chief executive, who had the same position at Manchester United five years ago and knows all about Old Trafford, consistently compared Chelsea's figures with those of Manchester United in terms of gross turnover, fan base and various other parameters.
When I asked him "are you saying you're the second biggest club in the country, far ahead of Arsenal?" Kenyon's reply was: "The figures stand up for themselves. In terms of revenue against that matrix then clearly we are number two behind Manchester United."
There is one other figure, or lack of it, that Kenyon made much of, which Chelsea would argue puts them ahead not only of Arsenal but also Manchester United, Liverpool and many other rivals. That is debt – or rather the absence of it.
Chelsea have now paid off the Eurobond which Kenyon says puts the club free of its last remaining external debt.
Note the word 'external'.
United's annual interest payment of £62m was higher than its pre-tax profits of £59.6m but Chelsea can now proudly boast that they have no debt to bankers and City financiers in the way United and Arsenal have, and which Liverpool also increasing have.
Of course, the caveat of 'external' does mean the club owes everything to its owner Roman Abramovich, whose money keeps the club afloat and who doesn’t charge interest.
But then, as Kenyon told me, "everything we've been doing at Chelsea over the past four-and-a-half-years is predicated on the owner being supportive to Chelsea. He clearly has been and he continues to be.
"I would suggest there are a lot of football clubs who would like to be in our position in terms of being externally debt-free and that very much gives us a competitive advantage. From a business point of view, a football club point of view and a fan point of view that does give us an advantage in the long run."
And although Kenyon did not quite put it this way, the money that Abramovich has lavished means that – should he decide to walk away – he could easily double his money.
Kenyon’s reply was revealing: "It's difficult to put values on these things, but the value that we've created in Chelsea over the last four-and-a-half years will outweigh the investment we've made."
But what about Chelsea's continuing losses? They stand at £74.8m and may have dropped by 7% but they are considerably more than the profit United made.
However, Kenyon sees the loss going in the right direction and is still confident of breaking even by 2009/2010 or "getting as close as we can".
He also points to the fact that the days of Chelsea as the big transfer spenders have passed. Back in the 2004-2005 season, Jose Mourinho's first as manager and the season after Abramovich took over, Chelsea spent a net £126.7m on players. The following season they spent £85.4m. Last season they spent just £11.7m.
Chelsea have also reduced the percentage of their income spent on wages by 5% to 71%. Nevertheless, the total spent on wages went up from £114m to £133m and this is one cost Kenyon must try to control. It is a long way from United's wages-to-turnover ratio, which at 43.6% is below the magic 50%.
The other big problem for Chelsea, that puts them well behind both Manchester United and Arsenal, is the size of Stamford Bridge.
So to really compete with Manchester United, Chelsea may have to move – something Kenyon does not rule out.
How much of a fan base there is to exploit remains to be seen.
Chelsea say a study for them by TNS has shown that they have a core fanbase worldwide of 90 million, compared to 135m for Manchester United. By 'core' they mean those who, quite unprompted, say they are Chelsea supporters.
This means Chelsea are very big in Russia and Brazil and have huge hopes of making it big in Asia-Pacific countries.
But it's in west London that they need to solve their stadium problems if they are to match the numbers Arsenal, let alone Manchester United, pull in for every match.