A month ago I heard a rumour that there was a 'big one' - a game-changing club annoucement - on that cards and then two days later a random guy on twitter tweeted something along the lines of “my mate has heard that Ian Lenegan has put the club up for sale”. Unfortunately I didn’t capture or favourite it and the tweet didn’t get much in the way of retweets. Most Oxford supporters were bemoaning the lack of signings and any wildly speculative tweet about a club sale wasn’t going to grab attention.
But that tweeter was telling the truth. Lenagan has quietly put the club up for sale.
The news should not come as a surprise to any United follower. Lenagan has taken a lot of flack from supporters for not showing enough ambition or putting enough money into the club. His £4m club debt has grown to a whopping £6m. I’d be pissed at the fans criticisms – and reluctant to invest any more of my money – if I was Lenagan. And this reluctance to sink any more money into an unsustainable club has manifested this summer in at least four potential signings going elsewhere at the last minute for more wages, Constable being offered a hefty pay-cut and the ‘big clear-out’ not happening as Gary Waddock realised he had no money with which to replace them. And if the club is unsustainable in the short to mid-term – because of having to paid a crazy annual rent to the stadium owner - and I was unhappy, I’d be actively looking for an out too.
So the fact that Lenagan is looking for a buyer presents some uncomfortable scenarios for supporters of the club:
Scenario 1: Do nothing
We have no money and no further significant investment from an unhappy owner. Fans do not renew season tickets or attend matches. No break-through signings are made. We have no realistic chance of promotion. Dwindling player resources, and an atmosphere of negativity from the fan base, makes a demotion to the Conference an ever more plausible reality. We lose the manager, what players we do have and the financial situation at the club deteriorates further with no solution to the crux of the problem – the rent time-bomb. We leave the Kassam and end up ground-sharing at Oxford City or Thame United.
Scenario 2: Sell the club back to Kassam
It really could happen and, if it wasn’t for the history and supporter riots that would kick-off, it would probably be in the best interests of the club in the short term. The rent issue disappears, other income from the stadium on match-day streams to the club and everything is back under one roof. But Kassam has no reason to want to buy the club and the status quo is great for him.
Scenario 3: Sell the club to a someone who isn’t Kassam
No one is going to want to buy an unsustainable football club that doesn’t own its stadium unless the price is right or there is another way to clear the debts and start again. £4m to £6m for the club and another £11m to £13m for the stadium, if Kassam is willing to sell (rumours suggest that he is), means an investment of £15m to £19m to bundle things back together. That is serious money. I don’t know what the corporate income streams are on the stadium facilities, but the ROI would need to be significant to cover such an outlay. Alternatively, once purchased, you could knock the Kassam Stadium down and sell the site for development, building a new ground elsewhere in the county.
And that scenario – putting both club and stadium together in a single package and then selling the site for development – is the ‘big one’.