I thought it would be interesting to look at the International Skating Union (ISU)’s 2016 financial report, in the wake of last week’s European Commission ruling on the federation’s eligibility rules.
As you will probably recall, an ISU rule imposing severe penalties on athletes participating in unauthorised speed skating competitions has been ruled as a breach of European Union competition law. This is considered by some the most significant legal case in European sport since the 1995 Bosman ruling.
European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager argued that the penalties imposed on skaters by the ISU “also serve to protect its own commercial interests”. The ISU has said it “disagrees” with the decision.
This litigation is specifically referred to in the “exceptional events” segment of the annual report; this is dated 28 April 2017 and attributed to the ISU Council.
Alluding to two “ongoing, complicated and costly litigations” – this and the Pechstein case – the report says the final outcome of both will “have an impact not only on the ISU but on the whole Olympic Movement”.
It goes on: “While for the financial risk there is a substantial insurance coverage through the ISU’s liability insurance, negative outcomes in both cases would negatively impact the governance of International Sport Federations with detrimental financial consequences…
“In addition, both cases result in a substantial workload for the concerned ISU Office Holders and wipe out precious energy for positive projects.”
I should say at this point that I emailed the ISU asking them to quantify these “detrimental financial consequences”, but have yet to receive a reply.
The income statement shows that the federation made a profit of CHF3.34 million (£2.53 million/$3.37 million/€2.87 million) in 2016, thanks partly to “investment interest incomes” of CHF6.6 million (£5 million/$6.7 million/€5.67 million).
The policy with regard to Winter Olympic-revenue is to allocate it in four equal tranches – of, in this case, CHF9.04 million (£6.84 million/$9.11 million/€7.77 million) – over the Olympic cycle.
Total operating income came to more than CHF34 million (£25.7 million/$34.3 million/€29.2 million), with other leading contributors being net TV income from ISU events of CHF15.3 million (£11.6 million/$15.4 million/€13.1 million) and net advertising income from those events of CHF6.6 million (£5 million/$6.7 million/€5.67 million).
On the expenses side of the ledger, there were CHF19.6 million (£14.8 million/$19.8 million/€16.8 million) of contributions, including prize money, to ISU events.
Funding for the body’s development programme was raised in 2016 by 29 per cent to CHF8 million (actually, as it turned out, CHF7.7million (£5.8 million/$7.8 million/€6.6 million)).
Not surprisingly, legal and insurance costs were also up, from CHF677,600 (£512,900/$683,000/€582,100) to CHF981,600 (£743,100/$989,500/€843,200).
Doping control costs, excluding events, were up around 10 per cent at CHF353,000 (£267,000/$356,000/€303,000).
Salaries and benefits amounted to CHF2.3 million (£1.74 million/$2.3 million/€2 million). Given that the ISU secretariat employed a full-time equivalent of 14.7 employees in 2016, I make this on average CHF156,000 (£118,000/$157,000/€134,000) each.
The report also explains that there is a new ISU office property in the Olympic capital Lausanne whose book value is more than CHF5 million (£3.8 million/$5 million/€4.3 million). The former ISU offices in Davos are in the balance-sheet at just CHF1.
There is a CHF7 million (£5.3 million/$7 million/€6 million) provision for expenses related to legal cases.
Tax authorities have “granted the Union a tax exemption regarding its income and capital taxes on a cantonal, communal and federal level”. Indeed, “the only taxes applicable to the ISU relate to its real estate properties in Davos”.
Of all the figures in the report, however, the ones that most caught my eye were in the balance-sheet: the ISU has total assets of not far off CHF300 million (£227 million/$302 million/€258 million); it had financial assets at 31 December 2016 of CHF261.8 million (£198.2 million/$263.9 million/€224.9 million) – CHF261,760,935.73 to be absolutely precise.
To try to put this in context, total assets of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) – a body whose annual revenue currently tends to hover either side of CHF50 million (£38 million/$50 million/€43 million) – stood at CHF64 million (£48 million/$64 million/€55 million) at end-2016, less than a quarter as much.
World Rowing (FISA) had total assets on the same date of a bit over CHF20 million (£15 million/$20 million/€17 million), a fraction of the ISU figure.
Clearly some cushion is prudent and I know little about the specificities of skating, so one hesitates to be too judgemental, but a quarter of a billion Swiss francs in financial assets? Is that really necessary – especially with development funding pitched at just CHF8 million (£6 million/$8 million/€6.9 million)?
Once again, I asked the ISU about the strategy behind this, but had yet to get a reply at time of writing.
To be fair, testing and uncertain times may well lie ahead for the venerable federation, which is older than the IOC itself.
By its own assessment, in TV rights, “in Europe it becomes increasingly difficult to secure the previous TV rights incomes (especially in France and Russia)” although “developments in Asia (especially in Japan and China) are positive”.
In sponsorship, the conclusion of agreements “is becoming increasingly difficult with an economic slowdown in many areas of the world as well as an increasingly competitive marketplace being the main reasons”.
The ISU was for the time being “unable to replace the previous longstanding Speed Skating Title Sponsor with a similarly lucrative agreement”.
The report’s risk evaluation summarises the situation facing the body as follows: “potentially contracting sponsorship income and locally certain reduced TV rights incomes, constitute a risk for decreasing ISU incomes in the coming years”.
After many cycles of continuous increase, meanwhile, there is also some uncertainty over the amount of income for the sport that will be generated in future by the Olympic Games.
Between Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, the report notes, “there has been for the first time a reduction of over CHF6 million (£4.5 million/$6 million/€5.2 million) of the ISU’s share in such revenues. Any continued reduction of such income compared to the Sochi Games would have a negative impact on the ISU Budget”.
The report also makes reference to the sport sector’s governance issues, stating that “a variety of negative news related to renowned international sport organisations has shed a negative light on the international sports organisations in general.
“Without implementing reforms in favour of good governance principles, sustainability and transparency, the ISU’s reputation is at risk which ultimately would have detrimental consequences on the ISU’s ability to secure commercial agreements and maintain its current activity.”
The federation has appointed a working group and promises to “take the necessary measures if and when appropriate”.
Over the next three-to-five years, the ISU says, income is expected to remain stable, “with the Olympic revenue constituting an important question mark”.
Long term, there are said to be too many “unknown factors” to permit a “reasonable forecast” to be made.