News & Views

Bristol Sport Limited


In terms of professional sport in the UK, PKF Francis Clark client Bristol Sport Limited has a unique business model. 

Established in 2012, it has been trading since 2014 overseeing the financial and business management of Bristol City Football Club and Bristol Rugby including property, commercial activities and all shared services while the sporting side of the operations can focus on pitch related activities such as recruitment and performance.

There is, however, a vision for sporting success in Bristol that goes beyond promoting the city’s two highest profile clubs.  Bristol Sport’s multi-sport model also encompasses basketball (Bristol Flyers) and badminton (Bristol Jets), has partnerships in place with Bristol City Women’s Football Club and Bristol Ladies Rugby and supports Bristol Sport Racing and several city based motor racing drivers.

This vision of maximising Bristol’s sporting potential from the elite to grass roots using Bristol Sport Limited as a city-wide pooled resource, was given massive momentum with the rebuilding of Ashton Gate Stadium into a 27,000, all-seater, multi-sport and events venue at a cost of £45m.

The original idea came from Stephen Lansdown, co-founder of financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown, who became the majority shareholder of Bristol City FC over a decade ago and more recently helped Bristol Rugby through some difficult times also becoming the ultimate shareholder.  He had recalled being impressed by the multi-sport environment in Barcelona on a trip to the Camp Nou with his son Jon (now a director of Bristol Sport) some 25 years ago and thought it could be applied to his own city.

Bristol Sport CEO Andrew Billingham said: “We have a unique business model that sees the city supporting sport and sport supporting the city. If we can get both of those working in tandem then we’ll achieve the ultimate objective of getting our league teams to the top of their field on the one hand while the Bristol community at large benefits from sports participation in terms of social inclusion, health and education.

“Our vision is to approach sport in a very different way – getting the whole of the community to feel part of our journey.  It’s summed up in our hashtag – #MakingBristolProud.  We’re working with the business community, with schools, clubs, wealthy areas and deprived areas bringing the whole city together to deliver sporting success.

“We are just at the start of our journey where we’ve put down the foundations but it’s a long term project that over the next decade will see us establish a real, solid legacy and a sustainable business model.  But we have come a long way in a short period of time.

“Bristol Sport was at the heart of the project to rebuild Ashton Gate stadium both in terms of operation and design. The architecture of the stadium was not built around the pitch, it was built around 365 days of the year reflecting the commercial imperatives of sustaining sport through the conference and events market.

“We have also completely centralised all property, business and finance operations and started to get people to understand what the Bristol Sport vision is and that we can really change the playing field of sport in the city.  People are now really beginning to associate the Bristol Sport brand with what it’s intended to achieve.”

There are also some more immediate goals.  The business need to fill their new 27,000 capacity stadium, and establish a growing and sustainable supporter base. The new sporting franchises and partnerships with women’s sport are creating new contacts and marketing opportunities while community outreach programmes are delivering socially beneficial outcomes while encouraging new sources of support.  The dedicated conference and events team at Ashton Gate are also busy converting some of the £10m worth of enquiries they received during the build phase of the stadium which will help cope with today’s high cost of sporting success.

“Recruitment,” said Andrew Billingham, “is important for long-term success but it’s not just about going to the market and buying the best available talent.  It is about developing talent from within our own operation and the city, both in sporting and business terms. 

“Bristol Sport is built on 5 pillars that are embedded in our strategy for growth and these are sustainability, recruitment, facilities, community and collaboration.  It’s absolutely vital that everyone buys into these five pillars.

“The company’s vision is to change the way sports organisations operate by thinking differently. All our products and services should challenge the norm and be pioneering, value-added and easy to understand.  Bristol Sport’s ultimate goal is to be recognised as a brand leader that is inspiring sport in Bristol from elite to participation.”

PKF Francis Clark partner Nick Farrant leads the team that advises Bristol Sport.  He said: “We were appointed as auditors for the group for the May 2015 financial year end. In addition to our statutory audit, accounts and tax compliance work we have performed significant advisory work in respect of VAT, PAYE/NIC, and supporting with their financial modelling.

“Tamsin Tully, PKF Francis Clark director of sports services also provides specialist accountancy and taxation advice to players at Bristol City Football Club.

“In addition, we have also advised on the operating structure of the companies and their interrelationships which have changed considerably over the last year or so. Pula Sport Limited  is owned by Stephen Lansdown and that is the Holding Company and major shareholder of the various entities that operate from Ashton Gate – Bristol Sport Limited, Ashton Gate Limited (which runs the conference, events and catering) Bristol City Football Club and Bristol Rugby and they are the core businesses.    The newer sports – basketball and badminton are owned by Bristol Sport while the football and rugby clubs have their own shareholder structure.

“Between them, they are sizeable employers in the city.  Bristol Sport has around 120 (non-sporting) staff which can rise to around 1,000 on match days when you factor in stewards and catering.  The clubs themselves employ considerable numbers from the elite teams down to the academies and with coaches and other backroom staff this probably numbers up to 250.

“My team has now completed the May 2016 audit and earlier in the year provided Football League Financial Fair Play compliance services as well as financial reporting advice in respect of the transition to FRS 102.

“Bristol Sport is an amazing concept and, over and above being their auditors, we were delighted to join the Lansdown Club, Bristol Sport’s business membership which offers a package of privileges and business networking opportunities. “

Andrew Billingham added: “PKF Francis Clark have joined us on our exciting journey.  Because we are challenging the way sports organisations operate and adapting a brand new business model, this clearly creates challenges. PKF Francis Clark have been instrumental in creating our new structures, our financial reporting and how we conduct our statutory reporting as separate legal entities but focused on the overall group vision.

“Nick and his team understand what we are trying to achieve. They understand that we’re trying to raise the bar for sport in Bristol and trying to create a cross-platform model that engages, excites and entertains as well as ensuring that there is a long term legacy. 

“We see PKF Francis Clark very much as a partner in this. They provide us with stability and reliability and this is crucial for achieving our long term goals. They really are part of our collaborative approach to Making Bristol Proud.”

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