'There's no pile of money': Chris Pearlman addresses Swansea finances

By Dafydd Pritchard and Chris WathanBBC Sport Wales
Chris Pearlman
Chris Pearlman was appointed Swansea City's chief operating officer in October 2016

Swansea City are still feeling the financial impact of their Premier League relegation but their cost-cutting has put them in a stronger position, according to the club's chief operating officer Chris Pearlman.

Swansea have sold several first-team players since dropping down to the Championship, with the severity of the cost-cutting prompting criticism.

Pearlman admits there is no "pile of money" to spend in the January transfer window after seeing the club's revenue halved.

He says the Swans are still "literally paying" for the mistakes they made while trying to stay in the Premier League and he also warns there could be a need for further savings.

But Pearlman insists the club's aim remains to return to the top flight but not in a way which would "riddle the club with debt".

In an interview with BBC Sport Wales, Pearlman also says:

  • Swansea will not "roll the dice" by spending beyond their means like some of their Championship rivals.
  • The club's owners, Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien, are considering a "cash injection in the form of equity" and the possibility of buying or diluting more shares.
  • Swansea are still paying off transfers from previous seasons.
  • Previous player sales have only made up for a fraction of the club's revenue deficit.
  • The Swans do not need to make panic sales and there is "unquestionable optimism about the future of the club".

'No pile of money'

Swansea's majority owners, American businessmen Kaplan and Levien, spoke earlier in the season of the "harsh reality" of relegation following the sale of several senior players during the summer transfer window.

With signs of progress on the pitch under manager Graham Potter, supporters - who have been often critical of the recent running of the club - had hoped for transfers in January to bolster hopes of a play-off push in the second half of the Championship season.

However, Potter warned last week that "external strengthening" would be "difficult" and, while Pearlman did not rule out signings, he did concede financial constraints remain.

"I would say the honest answer is there could be resources, but is there a pile of money out there to spend? There's not. If we spend money now, it's money we'd have to figure out a way to save later," Pearlman said.

"If there are ways we can improve within the parameters we have, we'll certainly look to do that, but at the same time I'd be lying to supporters if I said there's a big chunk of money out there to buy a lot of players, there's not."

Steve Kaplan (left) and Jason Levien (right)
Steve Kaplan (left) and Jason Levien (right) bought a controlling stake in Swansea City in July 2016

Where's the money gone?

The austerity has angered some fans given the club spent seven years in the Premier League - the richest league in the world - and has generated money from summer transfers.

Furthermore, the example of some of Swansea's recently relegated rivals spending big has left some asking the question: 'Where has the money gone?'.

"I mean when you say where's the money gone, I'd say the question is what money are you talking about?," Pearlman said, arguing summer player sales brought in "maybe half" of the revenue deficit following relegation.

"I've read some people ask 'what's happened to the parachute payments?'. The parachute payments are what allows us to make £60m this year instead of £120m - it's not as if we get that in and it's money that can go to buying players.

"It goes to fulfil the obligations we have for players currently under contract, or at least some of the obligations for players we have under contract. If our wage bill last year was more than £70m or whatever it was, we're making less money than that this year.

"When you go from last year's turnover - which is around £120m - to this year's turnover - which is around £60m - that's a pretty big drop.

"There's a lot that needs to happen to have your expenses be in line with turnover, which isn't easy to do.

"But having said that, if you ask if we're in a better position now than we were in August, absolutely.

"Do we still have changes we need to make, are there still savings we need to find? Yes, there are. But it was always going to be the most difficult period through this whole transition process, the initial window, which was very difficult for everybody."

'We cannot roll the dice - we're losing money'

Pearlman says the club has the EFL's rules on Profit and Sustainability - which limit club's losses - "on their radar" but says the Swans are in line to meet their obligations, though he claims several Championship clubs have fallen foul of them or are in danger of doing so.

And he says the club's owners have made a steadfast decision to avoid debt and any repeat of the club's past dalliances with financial issues, despite the temptation to follow the lead of divisional rivals in their transfer and salary spending.

"There's a handful of different ways clubs choose to approach it. Some are willing to put a lot of money into the club, flirt with the possibility of falling foul of the profit and sustainability regulations that exist in the EFL and roll the dice," Pearlman said.

"If they don't get promoted, they'll be in a really tough position and have the possibility of having a transfer embargo.

"That's not a great way to run a business, and it puts the club in a more difficult position moving forward.

"I'd be lying if I told you we are going to make a lot of money this year - we're not going to make any money this year, we're going to lose money.

"But at the same time, we're doing what we can and the important thing is to run the club in a financially sustainable way where we are not putting the club in debt, we are not spending money that we don't have.

"There's a history at this club, there's a history at a lot of clubs in the UK where clubs have either gone into administration or teetered on it and been close to it. Looking right now at the Championship, there are rumours swirling about a few clubs' financial health and difficulty.

"We don't want to get to that point - we won't let the club get to that point. We have to act in a smart way which at times has been difficult.

"Steve Kaplan used the quote earlier this season about taking hard medicine and we took some over the summer.

"We'll probably have to take a little bit more over the next... whether it's this window or the summer, but I don't think we're nearly at the same point that we were in the past."

Graham Potter
Graham Potter managed Ostersunds in Sweden before joining Swansea City in June 2018

'We don't want mercenaries'

Pearlman paid tribute to the work of Potter - and the patience and support of fans - and added that the manager was happy and optimistic about the players already at his disposal

He added that the club "didn't want to hire a bunch of mercenaries" to mount a promotion bid and said now was not the time to take risks in overspending.

"To a certain extent that is exactly what we did for the last few years in the Premier League when you spend a little bit more," Pearlman added.

"We brought in players last January we're literally still paying for right now in the way some of those deals were structured. You need to be careful. It's a pretty big risk to do it.

"What's the plan? It's to put together this foundation and infrastructure to enable the club to hopefully be in a position where we can compete for promotion, if not this season - and we'll see how the second half of the season goes, certainly there's some great performances in the first half of the season which shows potentially we can compete for promotion - then next season or the following season.

"Absolutely the goal is to get back to the Premier League but, again, to do it in a way which is smart and not going to riddle the club with debt."

Owners consider cash injection or dilution of shares

Some supporters have called for the club's owners to put more money into the club, suggesting the Swans need a cash injection in order to compete on the pitch as well as adjust to the financial realities of relegation.

Pearlman said Kaplan and Levien - who head up a consortium which has a controlling stake in the club - would not "gift" the club money but would consider putting equity into the club.

He said that would be likely to mean a dilution of shares, which is potentially problematic as the club's supporters trust own a 21.1% shareholding.

"They [Levien and Kaplan] could help out in one of three ways. One is a gift of money to the club that they would write off, but I don't think they've ever promised that they would do that and they've never said they would and they're not going to," said Pearlman.

"Number two is an investment into the club that would be a debt repayable now or if and when the club is sold, but they don't want to put the club into a position where they have to repay that because, if they can't, the club has serious financial problems.

"We do not want to put the club into debt, we will not put the club into debt, we don't think that's the right way to run it.

"[Number three] there are broader issues out there, with dilution of current shareholders that needs to be considered and discussed and that's something that, depending on what happens over the next month to six months, might be a real possibility if we need to do it. So they're not against something like that conceptually.

"They are not against doing that but there are challenges that exist based upon how that impacts current shareholders.

"Yes, Jason and Steve, the majority owners, are successful business people who have had successful careers. How have they done it? They've done it by running smart businesses. They've done it by not over-leveraging companies and putting them into a position where the company will go out of business, that's not how they run them.

"On the flip side, hopefully people will look at that and they'd say, here are people who know how to run a business, they know it's not good business to pile debt into a company that puts the company at risk."

'We're in a much stronger position'

Despite the difficulties, Pearlman is adamant Swansea are in better shape than they were six months ago.

"We look back at the first half of the season, both on and off the pitch, we're in a much stronger position than we were certainly over the summer," he said.

"The goal heading into the season was: let's try to hit the reset button and get the club back to where supporters expected to be, and where it was a handful of years ago, playing better football, giving some of our youngsters a chance to play, more sustainable, a closer tie to the community, getting younger fans to the Liberty.

"The one thing I hope people take from this is it's not doom and gloom right now.

"There is optimism, for sure, about the future of the club, unquestionable optimism about the future of the club. We did some things we needed to do in August. We'll still do some things, whether in January or over the summer, but we're not in panic mode.

"But at the same time, yes we'll have to continue to look for ways if needed to become more efficient and make sure at the same time we're giving Graham enough resources to do what he needs to do and put us in a position where we can thrive as a club."

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