No questions likely as John Delaney hosts the AGM of the FAI in Athlone
This gathering will be the Waterford man’s 10th as chief executive of the association – and he recently signed a new five-year deal
FAI CEO John Delaney with, from left, Donal Conway, FAI and chairman of the judging panel for the Aviva FAI Club of the Year, David Cummins, PRO Manor Rangers, Co Leitrim, and Mark Russell, Aviva. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
The Irish branch of the “football family” will gather in Athlone this afternoon for the FAI’s AGM which will be John Delaney’s 10th as chief executive. Perhaps it was to mark the occasion that the organisation’s board “came to” him, as he put it last week, and asked him to stay on for another five years.
Delegates will no doubt see it as a positive development that its members feel confident enough about the future to commit €1.8 million of the association’s money to keeping him around.
Delaney gave an exclusive interview to The Sun to answer questions about the new deal.
Along with the usual stuff about turning down offers of higher-paid alternatives, the 46-year-old suggested, as he often does, that he is worth every penny. “It is a 24/7 job, weekends as well,” he said.
He doesn’t exactly have a reputation for heading home early but even if he was doing 70 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, his salary of around €360,000 works out at about one per cent of his employer’s turnover, or roughly €100 per hour.
A businessIn his defence, Delaney cited the development of the association’s finances over the years.
“Go back to 1996,” he said, “the turnover of the FAI was about €7 million, last year it was €36 million, next year it will be close to €40 million. We have really driven the association forward as a business.”
Except, of course, you don’t have to go back to 1996. Delaney has been involved in the FAI for a long time and he had previously served as its treasurer. But it was late 2004 when he took over as its chief executive and that, his predecessors in his current role might contend, should be the more relevant starting point.
In his first full year in charge the association had a turnover of €23.7 million and this grew steadily, then rapidly, until it peaked at just over €50 million in 2009. The nature of the organisation’s funding means that making reliable year-on-year comparisons is difficult. There have been other good numbers but they require context. The 2012 figure, for example, would have been just over half the 2009 total if exceptional payments from Uefa were excluded.
The most recent figure, for 2013, is €36.6 million, which is slightly below the corresponding number for 2008.
Slightly higherDelaney’s prediction for next year, by which time Uefa’s new centralised broadcast rights deal will have come into effect, is only slightly higher. And this with the benefit of a new stadium – once hailed as a cash cow for the association – now firmly up and running.
As it happens, the brightest news in this year’s accounts is the €11.7 million writedown on the organisation’s stadium-related debt. Delaney has described it as “a very good outcome for the association”.
But unless the FAI’s new bankers were simply feeling charitable, it’s a pretty damning verdict on earlier claims that the original repayment schedule was manageable.
“I think we’ve always made it clear that we have our finances in place and I don’t know anybody who has got into a stadium who didn’t have their finances in place,” said Delaney in March 2009 when announcing what was effectively a hefty discounting of the ill-fated Vantage Club 10-year ticket scheme that was originally supposed to provide the bulk of the required funding.
“I hope at long last,” he added, “it kills this myth about whether we’ll have the funding or whether we’ll have enough. It’s clear to me that by our sales today and the progress we’re making and other initiatives to follow, that we’re going to do very well.”
Better indeed than the Danish bank that made the original loan in any case, but presumably not quite as well as he envisaged back then.
Even after the writedown, though, the FAI has net debt totalling €50.3 million. It is due to repay €20 million in borrowings over the next two to five years and another €26.5 million in the years beyond that.
Delaney has finally started to float the possibility that the organisation will not meet its own 2020 deadline for being debt-free, although he says that is a matter of wanting to spend more on the development of the game now rather than later.
The game could do with the boost. In 2005 the association handed out €2.2 million in “development and operating grants” to affiliates. Last year, the corresponding figure was €1.1 million. The association spent almost precisely the same amount last year on its latest “payroll restructuring” – a grim enough euphemism if there ever was one.
Around 60 people worked for the association in 2004 and that number doubled within two years and it continued to rise until it peaked at around 200 in 2009. Now a quarter have gone; more evidence it seems that the association’s fortunes were tied to Ireland’s boom. Drastic cost-cutting by an over-extended association reflected what was happening in the wider economy.
Ticket revenuesCertainly the FAI, hit by a collapse in ticket revenues from its senior international matches, has not kept up with the still soaring commercial and broadcast revenues of the game’s top level internationally, with the Champions and Premier Leagues, for instance, still experiencing huge levels of income growth. Part of the problem, of course, is that the senior team is at a historically low 70 on Fifa’s international rankings.
So, it would seem reasonable to question just how it is that Delaney justifies his famously outsized salary. The FAI’s board, which he constantly reminds us he is employed to serve, would seem the appropriate forum, but its members have not been terribly forthcoming on the matter. When they do speak, they are supportive and the new contract offer certainly suggests ongoing satisfaction.
It’s good that they get on. A recent EGM of the association passed a motion raising the age at which the board’s members could be re-elected from 70 to 75 and a couple of its members are set to benefit today. Only three of its 10 members, one of whom is Delaney, are under 60 and only two have been members for less than eight years.
Most have been there almost the entirety of the chief executive’s decade in power with those who clashed with him early on generally having quickly departed.
As for today, the FAI made it clear in its notice regarding the meeting to the media this week that Delaney will not be taking questions from journalists. Recent history strongly suggests there will be none from the floor. Presumably the delegates can never think of anything worth asking.