Aston Villa aims to ‘kick the door down’ to the Premier League Big Six

by Admin
Aston Villa aims to ‘kick the door down’ to the Premier League Big Six

Aston Villa has set its sights on shaking up the traditional hierarchy at the top of the English Premier League, regularly dominated by the “Big Six” — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

“I came down here to kick the door down of the Big Six and be a part of something that is really special,” said Chris Heck, who runs Villa’s business operations.

Controlled by Egypt’s richest man, Nassef Sawiris, and US billionaire Wes Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, Villa is trying to break the grip that the six clubs have had at the top of the Premier League over the past decade.

The Birmingham-based club is fourth in the Premier League table, putting Villa on course to qualify for the Uefa Champions League ahead of Spurs. Finishing in the top four guarantees a spot in Europe’s elite and most lucrative club competition and would mark a major step forward for the club, which is preparing to mark its 150th season anniversary.

“We’re knocking on the door of the Champions League. That level is where we want to be and that’s where we want to stay,” added Heck, who previously held senior roles at the Philadelphia 76ers basketball franchise and the New York Red Bulls soccer team.

Although the club narrowly avoided relegation in 2020, it has since re-established itself as a force to be reckoned with.

Led by Spanish head coach Unai Emery, who signed a new contract at the club last month, Villa for now, is the last English men’s team standing in any European competition this year. In the Uefa Europa Conference League, the club will on Thursday try to overturn a 2-4 deficit from the first leg of the semi-final against Greek team Olympiacos.

Chris Heck: ‘I have an opportunity to flip the switch: globalisation of the club and the brand’ © Ryan Browne/Shutterstock

Qualification for the Champions League is the big prize for Villa, boosting its revenue growth and pitting the club against European heavyweights such as Real Madrid and AC Milan. Villa won the European Cup, the precursor to the Champions League, in 1982.

Speaking at the club’s new London offices, Heck said it was vital to increase revenues to compete, highlighting opportunities in merchandise, sponsorship and expanding the club’s home stadium from roughly 42,600 seats to about 50,000.

Last month, Villa said that betting brand Betano would replace BK8 as its front-of-shirt sponsor from next season. Heck declined to comment on the value of the sponsorship but the new deal is worth about £20mn a year, according to a person briefed on the matter, up from about £8mn previously.

“If we’re not generating the revenue we’re not able to play in the game,” Heck said. “I have an opportunity to flip the switch: globalisation of the club and the brand.”

Clubs are under pressure to increase their commercial revenues to stay in line with financial regulations that the Premier League is now enforcing vigorously.

Villa has proposed an increase to the losses allowed under the league’s profitability and sustainability rules, from £105mn to £135mn over three years, according to a person with knowledge of the club’s position. Heck declined to comment.

The loss limit, which allows exceptions for investments such as infrastructure and women’s football, had not been updated to take into account inflation since it was introduced in 2013, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Separately, the UK government also plans to introduce an independent football regulator for English football because of the scale of losses and reliance on owner funding throughout the game.

Villa was in a financially precarious situation in 2018, when Edens and Sawiris took control. The following year, Villa earned promotion back to the Premier League having been relegated from the top flight of English football in 2016 for the first time since 1987.

The club, which is owned by V Sports, a joint venture between Sawiris and Edens, swung to a net loss of almost £120mn in the year to May 2023, from a small profit a year earlier. Revenues grew by more than a fifth to £217mn, powered by double-digit percentage increases across ticketing, broadcasting, sponsorship and commercial.

However, the club’s wage bill leapt by more than 40 per cent to £194mn, driving operating expenses to £357mn.

V Sports, which also owns shares in Portuguese side Vitória, in December sold a minority stake to investment company Atairos, which has ties to broadcasters Comcast, NBCUniversal and Sky. The deal valued Villa at more than £500mn.

Along with the likes of Saudi-backed Newcastle United, Villa is now among the wider field of contenders for the top of the Premier League as well as for commercial deals.

“I actually like the term, ‘the Great Eight’, and you can decide who you want to throw in there with us”, Heck said, adding: “I respect all of those clubs but that ‘Big Six’ name may go away sooner than you think.”

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