Back to League 2: Forest Green counts the change
By Simon Hacker | 17th April 2023
As the world's only UN-certified carbon neutral club, Forest Green Rovers (FGR) is the greenest global brand in football – but that trophy took a dent on Saturday when a brutal 5-1 drubbing from Barnsley sent the club back down to English Football League Two.
Marking the first time FGR has known a step down since 1955, it was certainly a grim moment for fans who, given the tribulations of two manager changes, injuries to crucial players and questionable choices in transfer windows, have been braced against this incoming threat since before Christmas. Indeed, the only spectators with an experience of relegation would now be comfortably in their seventies.
But what does the downward move mean for the club's financial fortunes? When Sheffield Wednesday (ironically beaten by FGR just a few weeks ago) were sent down to League One from the Championship in 2021, estimates on the instant loss were put at £8m.
While such impact is, of course, lessened as you move down the football pyramid, all clubs that descend face a three-pronged financial fork: matchday activity, broadcasting and commercial.
Relegation from League One down to Two is inescapably a fiscal blow, but as other teams in the top 92 have illustrated in such a journey, finance often hamstrings chances of recovery in the rankings - and can help propel a team further down the echelons.
Deloitte estimated in 2018 that the average cost of dropping out of the Premier League came to around £50m. Down in League One, relegation's impact thankfully lessens, but FGR will have a wary eye on the pathway already beaten by local rival Bristol Rovers.
Promotion for the Gas a few years ago saw it increase matchday income by £800,000, but when the team were sent back to League Two in 2021, Kieran Maguire, author of The Price of Football, estimated the annual impact for a club existing in League One versus League Two as a likely £.5m loss.
Mr Maguire said: "In respect of broadcast income, again we are talking hundreds of thousands of pounds. The EFL broadcast deal is split 80% Championship, 12% League One and 8% League Two, so relegation would reduce this source by a third."
Based on this calculation, sliding to League Two could spell a £400,000 loss for FGR in terms of income from match coverage.
And to that, a side order of ticket receipt loss has to be added: for Saturday's home game against Barnsley, FGR declared 3,335 attended, of which 1190 were away fans. League One fixtures have seen The New Lawn in Nailsworth welcome sell-out audiences from relatively huge football clubs. Sadly, that factor will be lessened by a series of fixtures against teams who are, on average, smaller. And as Saturday's attendance showed, with some noticeable empty space in the home stands, a habit of losing games may have already been affecting the club's potential for drawing a crowd.
On the plus side though, the concensus among supporters is that FGR's unique reach as a global ambassador for sustainable sport is unlikely to be affected by next season's fixture list.
A spokesman for FGR said: "I've spoken to our Head of Commercial and the vast majority of our partners are with us on the journey and signed on for next season."
And sports journalist and past FGR commentator Ash Loveridge said chairman Dale Vince will see League Two as a positive challenge.
Mr Loveridge said: "Dale's got deep pockets to offset relegation losses and he will be rubbing his hands about a likely clash against 'Hollywood' club Wrexham.
And among fans, the residing belief is that, given his future commitment, charismatic new manager Duncan Ferguson brings a proven level of intense media interest to his role.
As one forum fan wrote on the team's Barnsley loss: "I just want this season over and done with as soon as possible rather than having to put up with this torture week in and week out. I'm sure the players, Duncan and Dale do, too. Then we can all start again, think positive and have something to look forward to."
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