It was whilst watching Dragon’s Den on BBC TV the other evening that I started to wonder about the physical input (time, management, direction) given to those who successfully pitched their ideas. The financial element is, of course, clearly stated but as most of us know, any venture that is struggling to capitalise on its potential needs more than just hard cash and “association”. This was absolutely the case with the fancy dress business which was eventually taken-on by Duncan Bannatyne.
So what has all this got to do with cars? Well simply, a very real-life version of “the Den” appears to be being playing-out at Loftus Road, home of Queens Park Rangers, with Tony Fernandes right in the heart of the action.
Anyone who has followed the fortunes of this proud club will be aware that they’ve had their fair share of turmoil in recent years, both in terms of ownership and team management. When Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone took control in 2007, joined soon after by Lakshmi Mittal, Hoops fans could have been forgiven for thinking that they’d soon be challenging neighbours Chelsea for both domestic and European honours.
However, despite gaining promotion to the Premier League for this season, little has been done to strengthen the squad or improve the grounds. As the situation currently stands, QPR are up for sale and Tony Fernandes is the man on the spot who has made it quite clear that he is their “deliverer”.
I like Fernandes; and apart from the fact that he professes to be a life-long West Ham fan, I can’t really fault him! Well actually I can because I don’t believe that he’s taking the most professional and responsible approach to the feud with Dany Bahar and Group Lotus. That aside, what concerns me is that taking on a Premier League football club is going to be a whole different ball game to the type of operation that both he and his Tune Group are used to. Ironically, only a few months ago in an attack on rivals Singapore Airlines, he famously quipped that “businesses should stick to what they know best…”
Of course, I’m sure that he has already lined-up a capable team of co-investors but the combined demands of long-term funding and board room activity are sure to take their toll. Moreover, his core business, Air Asia, is continuing to grow rapidly and indeed, he’s also in the midst of taking a significant stake in MAS (Malaysian Airlines); oh, and he’s soon to take the lead role in the Asian version of The Apprentice!
My point is therefore simple. Can Tony Fernandes add QPR to his portfolio without compromising the effort required to generate the improvements needed at Team Lotus? I don’t think that Caterham need worry quite so much as their demands are based more around funding and introductions to new markets. Both of these are relatively easy for Tune to provide, especially in collaboration with other partners.
Team Lotus, however, are far more vulnerable. They’ve already had to concede that for this year at least, they won’t meet their stated aim of challenging Toro Rosso, Force India, Sauber and Williams for midfield honours. Now they have to contend with fellow tail-enders Marussia, set to make strong improvements following their tie-in with McLaren and Williams, who will apply a raft of measures to halt their own decline.
To date, Mike Gascoyne has done a credible job in the effort to re-establish Team Lotus and Tune have fared even better with visibly sharp and incisive marketing. So whilst results on track have been frustrating, off-track efforts have been superb, culminating in global giant GE (formerly General Electric) coming on-board as a premium partner. The GE deal will undoubtedly create a platform for Fernandes to expand his operations into the highly lucrative North American market and the value to his “group” cannot be understated.
So why risk any of this for a serious venture into football club ownership? Especially when there is an immediate conflict as Tune are already contracted sponsors of match officials for both the Premier League and Football League.
Perhaps only time will tell but QPR are a club with issues and this adds to my concern: For a start, they are seriously under-resourced as far as the depth of their squad is concerned. This is going to take hard cash for transfer fees and hard cash for the wage bill. Next, the ground capacity has to be addressed. Loftus Road is the smallest stadium in the Premier League, holding less than 20,000 people, and with little scope for improvement, it would appear that the only realistic option is to find a new home. Again, the potential cost here, both in terms of management time and funding is significant.
So again, I have to ask “why”? Admittedly, Premier League status has a lot to be said for it! QPR’s promotion will guarantee £40m, even if they finish bottom and an extra £750k for each place above this. They’ll also sell a lot more merchandise and corporate hospitality sales will rocket – but to really benefit, they need to stay in the top-flight and this is going to be the struggle.
Maybe I just don’t “get it” but as far as I can see, it’s like a young family having a new baby. It’s easy to unintentionally overlook the older siblings as all the attention (time and money) goes onto the infant and their needs.
Be careful Tony.