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Kassam Stadium rent deal 'stifles' United
Mr Thomas spoke to the Oxford Mail about the finances of the Blue Square Premier League club, and about his determination to break even after years of accumulating debt.
In 1999 former chairman Firoz Kassam bought the club, inheriting £18m of debt and a half-built stadium.
But while he built the Ozone leisure complex at the ground, his business principles did not translate to success on the pitch.
When new owners Woodstock Partners took over, under the guidance of former United youth team player Nick Merry, there was a new ray of hope for the team but Mr Kassam’s £13m price tag on the stadium proved too high for a purchase to be agreed.
In October last year, Mr Merry stepped aside as chairman, although he remains co-owner with Ian Lenagan, and director Mr Thomas moved into the hotseat.
Mr Thomas has found himself with a quarterly £120,000 bill for the rent of the stadium, and until recently Mr Kassam collected all the income from advertising and conferences, which left just gate receipts and sponsorship money for the club.
Mr Thomas said: “The licence agreement certainly stifles our ability to generate income.
“We have improved things off the pitch and we’re getting more success on the pitch.
“One of our goals is to generate income and not just have it based around winning, although clearly it’s easier right now.”
The club also has a debt of £4m according to its last accounts, some of which is historical, although the money is owed to Woodstock Partners, rather than any outside institution.
Additional income has come from the sale of former player Dean Whitehead, who moved from Sunderland to Stoke.
United benefited from a sell-on clause which meant they collected 25 per cent of the fee for Whitehead’s £3m move to the Britannia Stadium, minus the £325,000 they sold him for to Sunderland five years ago – a total of about £670,000.
Partly as a result of that revenue, Mr Thomas is confident the club will break even this year, breaking the trend of a £1m annual loss over the past four years.
He also cut expenditure wherever possible and is determined to build up new income streams after setting out a pre-season series of success factors, including bigger crowds and cup runs, to get the club back into the black.
New incentives include a membership club, launched last week, where people can receive discounts with local and national companies such as Pontins, Butlins and the RAC, in exchange for a £30 annual fee.
It is hoped the scheme will raise about £100,000 a year.
The 12th Man initiative, where fans raise cash to boost the playing budget, has also been successful, raising enough money (an estimated £20,000 by January) to finance new permanent squad members Jamie Cook, from Crawley, and loan signing Onome Sodje, from Barnsley.
Promotion to League Two next season would guarantee up to £1m in extra income.
Mr Thomas is also keen to develop links with the business community and fill executive boxes on matchdays.
He added: “We want to make sure everyone in Oxfordshire is talking positively about us.
“We don’t want sponsors, we look for partners.”
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