Given the context concerning TV rights, is FC Lorient currently in financial difficulty?
Since 2009, FC Lorient has always been one of the good students in terms of management and balance within French football. Over the past eleven seasons, the club has hardly ever lost money. The last five years are balanced and we also had a balanced budget for the current season, even after the transfer window. Today the very worrying situation also threatens FC Lorient, with a forecast loss of 25 M €. Since October 2020, FC Lorient has suffered a drop of 57% of its revenues (excluding the sale of players) expected for the current season. This in relation to a budget market plan which was nevertheless conservative. Like all Ligue 1 clubs, we have been struck in six months by two factors that are completely out of our control and which put the club’s solvency at risk, with a cash flow impasse in the second quarter.
What was the financial situation of FCL at the end of the 2019/2020 season, declared to the DNCG?
Despite the early end of the championship, we managed to end the 2019/2020 financial year in balance on an accounting level. For three reasons: because the LFP (Professional Football League) got into debt to pay the missing TV rights to the clubs after the end of the Championship, because we had made sales ahead of the season in July-August 2019 and finally thanks to the generosity of a large part of our subscribers and partners who donated their assets to the club. On the other hand, the cash flow situation has become tense since March, and the club, which had no debt at the start of 2020, had to take out loans to cope.
FC Lorient had never spent so much money (more than 20 M €) in its summer recruitment. What impact does he have on the club’s finances today?
After the rise, the club gave last summer to the sports director and the coach the means to build a competitive squad, to give FC Lorient every chance to stay in Ligue 1. We knew that the season would be difficult as that promoted. However, at the end of the summer, as every year, we had a balanced roadmap that was based on cautious assumptions. That is to say on the basis of contractual TV rights in 17th place and the assumption of a gauge of 5,000 people lasting the whole season (which seemed conservative last September). Finally, remember that in accounting terms, investments related to the transfer window are spread over four to five years. It was not the transfer window that put the club in difficulty, but the 57% drop in income, namely the impacts of the health crisis on TV rights and ticketing and hospitality.
Is the club obliged to sell players before the end of the winter transfer window, in particular Adrian Grbic, the biggest investment in the history of FCL and who has not brought real satisfaction since his arrival?
Yes, it is possible that the club is – like many others – obliged to anticipate certain sales of players if we have the opportunity. That said, I want to reassure our supporters we will have a competitive and determined team, which under the aegis of Christophe Pelissier will give everything to achieve our objectives, to stay in Ligue 1. I want to be transparent: we are in a situation which is of great concern. The sale of players before the end of the season is one of the few levers that we can use, provided the market is there. And since the crisis is affecting all clubs in France and Europe, I don’t expect the transfer market to be a silver bullet. That said, you know that I am attached above all to the sustainability of the FC Lorient institution, a nearly century-old club. I have already shown in the past that I was capable of making difficult choices when the sustainability of the club is at stake. As for Adrian Grbic, my conviction today is that he can show his full potential, make a superb second part of the season at FC Lorient and contribute to our maintenance.
Do the club intend to recruit this winter and, if so, do they have the money to do so?
I confirm that we are looking for a solution for a reinforcement in defense. Succeeding in bringing in a player to strengthen our defensive sector particularly affected by injuries would give Christophe Pelissier one more solution. It’s very complicated but I have high hopes.
Is there or is there not a danger for players’ salaries in the short or medium term?
As you have heard from the statements of some, the players are aware of the crisis affecting their employers. Player salaries are what they are today because TV rights and club income paid for them. Due to the health crisis, now that these revenues have fallen by almost 60%, it would be logical for players’ salaries to change, because they represent the largest part of the expenses of a club like FC Lorient. This development is at least essential in the coming months, until the end of the season, so that the clubs can survive the cash flow impasses which are emerging in the very short term. Professional clubs at risk are putting the whole ecosystem in danger. FC Lorient employs 154 people, and many companies are also quite dependent on the club. If the clubs can no longer pay, the whole pyramid collapses. The players come to the front line of this pyramid.
Concerning the LFP, is there a will to initiate negotiations on the salaries of the players?
A delegation of presidents of which I was part shared the catastrophic financial situation in which all Ligue 1 clubs find themselves with the UNFP. Representatives of the players’ union understood the state of emergency and gave support in principle to encourage the effort on wage cuts, inviting players to discuss with their club.
Have you entered into negotiations with your players or a player representative regarding a possible reduction in salaries?
There is an emergency, but in Lorient, for our part, the recent health situation at the club with many players affected by the virus did not allow us to move forward as we wished. We will initiate the discussion with our union representative with a view to continuing it with the players and staff in the coming days, as in the majority of Ligue 1 clubs.
Is maintenance essential for the financial sustainability of the club?
We are halfway through the season and everything is possible on the pitch. Once again, I have confidence in our players and the staff to achieve the club’s goals, and stay in Ligue 1. That said, FC Lorient has already shown its ability to adapt to sporting hazards. The current challenges go well beyond maintenance, but the economic equation will obviously be less difficult to resolve in Ligue 1 and we must fight to stay there.
Work has started in Kerlir for the grandstand near pitch N.5. A financial burden that the club can currently support?
This field is part of the infrastructure that the club needs to continue its development. As you know, once approved by the FFF, it will be used in particular to host the official matches of our reserve team, which today does not have an appointed venue and has been shared in recent seasons between the Moustoir and Quimperlé. After obtaining the building permit, we started the earthwork phase in mid-January, which had been planned for a long time and the funds were already committed. This is the first phase of the project, with a limited financial commitment. The project will be carried out in stages and will be spread over a period that remains to be defined. We will only initiate the next stages of the work when we have regained sufficient financial visibility. However, we hope that we will manage to deliver the pitch as soon as possible, during the next season, because it is a necessary infrastructure for the good functioning of the club.
What do you think is the impact of the current crisis on professional football in the medium term?
The crisis will certainly lead to disinflation: that of the membership of professional clubs which will be reduced and that of salaries, the average of which will drop. There will also be fewer player transfers, and players will likely stay longer at their club.