Queens Park Rangers’ Fernandes Backs Soccer-Finance Shakeup

Tony Fernandes, owner of English soccer team Queens Park Rangers, is backing rules aimed at making clubs live within their means as scrutiny on the sport’s finances intensifies.

European ruling body UEFA’s “financial fair play” regulations are aimed at protecting clubs’ stability by stopping them overspending after Europe-wide losses rose to more than $2 billion. From this season teams that break the rules could be excluded from elite European competitions such as the Champions League.

Rich owners have poured hundreds of millions of pounds into English Premier League clubs. It’s paid off, with Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea winning three league titles, four F.A. Cups and the Champions League. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has seen his Manchester City team win the F.A. Cup and league.

Success has come at a cost. Last month, Chelsea posted a loss of 49.4 million pounds ($81 million) for 2012-13, following its first profit under Abramovich the previous season, and said it was confident of meeting the FFP criteria. Fernandes, chief executive officer of AirAsia Bhd. and with a net worth of $625 million according to Forbes magazine last year, says FFP can boost clubs’ financial security. Fans shouldn’t rely on wealthy owners covering losses, he said.

City in Spotlight

“It’s important for the fans to realize that they shouldn’t be relying on shareholders as benefactors,” the 49-year-old said in an interview. “It’s important that there is Financial Fair Play. Look, let’s be real: football is not communist, egalitarian. Big clubs are going to be big and smaller clubs are going to be smaller but I think with Financial Fair Play at least everyone has a chance to make some money.”

Manchester City this week said it cut its annual loss in about half for a second straight year. The loss declined to 51.6 million pounds ($85 million) after an English record of 197.5 million in 2010-11.

QPR, second in the Championship after four straight league wins, is striving to rejoin Chelsea and City in the top flight. Its prospects took a knock yesterday when the club said top scorer Charlie Austin is likely to be out for a “prolonged period” with a shoulder injury.

The team’s latest stay in the top division ended in relegation last season after two years. That came even after doubled spending on wages, for players such as forward Shaun Wright-Phillips and midfielder Joey Barton, led to a loss of

22.6 million pounds in 2011-12.

‘Greater Resources’

FFP places ceilings on clubs’ permitted losses with the aim of bringing them toward break-even over several years.

Critics say it may freeze the status quo and choke off competition from clubs with rich new owners. Fernandes said he’s a “big advocate” of FFP as a way of stopping clubs spending excessively and says FFP will make a “big difference.”

“QPR can’t be a club that relies on the shareholder’s money,” the Malaysian said. “That’s not a good thing for the club, if anything happens to the shareholder.”

Fernandes says the club’s youth system is vital and he’ll try to keep young players such as Raheem Sterling, who left for Liverpool. And a planned 40,000-seat stadium in Old Oak, within two miles of the current ground at Loftus Road in West London, is critical for the club’s future, he said. The stadium could cost about 150 million pounds.

“There’s going to be a good transport link there,” he said. “London is a big catchment area and we’ll pull in fans from other parts as well. We’ll have to work on the young kids. I come from an airline where we fill it by pricing it lower. I hope that we can drive prices down by having a bigger stadium and filling it. I’m a little bit old fashioned in that if you build it we’ll fill it.”

Revenue Gap

This week Ivan Gazidis, chief executive officer of Arsenal, said the club is looking forward to FFP, although he said the team remains “healthy skeptics about that.” It is needed to take the edge off a “relentless spiral of spending,” he said.

Fernandes declined to say how much he’s invested in QPR since taking a majority shareholding in 2011, with the Mittal family retaining a third. He said his club spent too much after it was promoted that year.

“We survived the first season on a fairly reasonable wage and then we thought we’re never going to get relegated and we bought a lot of players who didn’t gel and maybe didn’t have their heart in it,” he said.

‘Would Be Great’

He’s learned from his mistakes and is ready for the challenge if the team is promoted this season.

“It’s not the end of the world if we don’t go up but, boy, it would be great to,” he said. “I’ve learned so much. I never have any regrets in life but I’m a lot smarter. We’re just smarter and we’ll do it better.”

His aim is wants to see QPR established in the top division.

“If we could put QPR on the map and be like an Everton, a Premier League club that’s been there for 20 seasons, and make the fans feel it’s something to be proud of, then I would have achieved something and that’s a great feeling.”

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