Rochdale chairman Simon Gauge says he is in discussions with investors interested in making his side part of a multi-club ownership group.
Such groups – where individuals or consortiums own stakes of different sizes in clubs from different leagues around the world – are increasingly common, with Todd Boehly having stated his interest in building a stable of clubs around Chelsea.
The City Football Group, spearheaded by Manchester City, is one of the most successful and high-profile examples of such a group, but lower down the pyramid nine current EFL clubs are also owned by individuals or groups with interests in other teams overseas.
Chairman Simon Gauge has penned a Christmas Message on behalf of the Board of Directors 📝🎄#RAFC
— Rochdale AFC (@officiallydale) December 23, 2022
Rochdale issued 450,000 new shares in the club last November in a bid to secure the investment needed to make them sustainable, and Gauge says the multi-club model could be a good fit for his club.
“A lot of the enquiries we have had are from people that perhaps aren’t operating a multi-club model yet, but are running a (single) club at the moment and see the advantages of it,” he told the PA news agency.
“A lot of the clubs in this country are at the top of (multi-club) pyramids, like Manchester City.
“What’s quite interesting with us is there are bigger clubs abroad that look at us at the other end of the pyramid. For success on the pitch you really need a quite a big recruitment team now.
“It’s a science in itself to recruit footballers. We’ve still got the old model here where the manager comes in and gets all the players, but undoubtedly we need to move away from that. But (appointing) a director of football and scouts puts another £250,000 a year on your costs, which we can’t do.
“If you get into one of these multi-club models, you can pool those resources. That can give us a competitive advantage without the cost of it coming into the club. So they’re interesting models and we’re listening to people looking at those models.”
Gauge, who became chairman in June 2021, says he is spending around 20 hours a week talking to potential new investors. As a former airline pilot Gauge is no stranger to turbulence, and sees himself and the other existing directors of the clubs as “custodians” trying to get Dale back on track after warding off the threat of a hostile takeover two years ago.
The club have lost money every year since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and he says currently the approach is one of “cash preservation”, which is inhibiting the club’s ability to grow and ultimately become more sustainable.
As an example, Gauge said the club cannot currently afford a new £30,000 kitchen in The Ratcliffe, the venue attached to their Crown Oil Arena home, even though spending that money could in the longer run help them generate an extra £70,000 a year.
On a bigger scale, a site has been identified locally to build a training ground. Currently the club do not have one, and Gauge said the club spend around £500,000 a year hiring facilities. Having their own, he estimates, could in time create a £1million swing in the club’s finances, in terms of the money saved on hiring facilities and having the ability to rent out their own.
Rochdale’s search for investment to survive in the medium term comes as the Government prepares to publish a White Paper on football governance, with most attention set to be placed on the powers it proposes to grant a new independent regulator for the game.
Gauge hopes the regulator can help protect clubs from “rogues and wrong ‘uns” through new, rigorous ownership tests but also wants it to be given backstop powers to impose a financial distribution settlement for the English pyramid, if the game’s authorities are unable to strike a deal.
“The reason the Premier League is the best league in the world is because it’s got the most money and gets the best players, but it’s so far ahead of the next best league in the world (that) it can take a bit of social responsibility in this country and redistribute some of it. It’s just keeping all the wealth for itself.
“We see every transfer window records being broken on spending. Clubs like ourselves, who struggle to survive and put millions of pounds a year into social impact, into the local community – there’s no recognition of that from the Premier League in my view.”
Gauge accepts there is no point in simply giving EFL clubs more cash and further driving wage inflation. As members of the Fair Game group of clubs, Rochdale and Gauge advocate rewarding clubs who are run sustainability based on a series of criteria.
“If I was sat in the Premier League (I would think), ‘what’s the point of giving money if it’s just going to go to players lower down the pyramid?’
“It’s got to go to make sure these clubs are sustainable instead and can increase the value they bring to the communities around them.”