When Chorley FC take on Wolves in the FA Cup tonight, there will be more at stake for the non-league club from Lancashire than a place in the fifth round.
If Chorley manage another upset against their Premier League opponents, they will earn £175,000 from broadcast payments and the FA’s prize fund alone.
Chorley’s FA Cup fairytale, featuring wins against the Football League sides Wigan, Peterborough and Derby County, has so far earnt the club just under £250,000.
Those funds are vital in a difficult season disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic – albeit that it worked out in their favour in the third round.
Opponents Derby were forced to field an under-23 side against Chorley after a coronavirus outbreak left their first team unavailable for the fixture earlier this month.
Chorley, who play in the sixth tier, won 2-0, earning £61,500 in prize money as well as a £70,000 payment from broadcaster BT Sport.
Those payments go a long way to easing pressure on the club’s finances, which chief executive Terry Robinson described as “a major concern” in October.
Marine cup run raises £200,000
Chorley are not the only non-league side who have benefited financially from an FA Cup run this season and in recent times.
Eighth-tier Marine AFC’s own campaign ended two weeks ago, when they lost 5-0 at home to Tottenham Hotspur in the third round.
That fixture was the largest gap between two teams playing each other in the history of the FA Cup, and surely the competition’s biggest-ever financial mismatch as well.
Marine raised £200,000 from their cup run, thanks to prize money, TV payments, and one-off sponsorship deals. The club budgeted to make just £3,000 from the FA Cup this year.
Several initiatives led by chairman Paul Leary and chief executive James Leary helped Marine to raise funds in a difficult financial environment.
The club sold more than 30,000 virtual tickets for their fixture against Spurs, making up for a lack of matchday revenue due to their ground being subject to Tier 3 restrictions.
The FA Cup run boosted Marine’s profile and the club capitalised by signing several short-term sponsorship deals.
Liverpool defender turned TV pundit Jamie Carragher’s JC23 charitable foundation agreed to sponsor dugouts and pre-match warm-up tops, while Marine also signed a longer-term agreement with sports website The Athletic.
“Historically we have seen big fixtures like this generate one-off sponsorship agreements because of the exposure,” says Rob Wilson, a football finance expert who is head of finance, accounting and business at Sheffield Business School.
“It’s not uncommon for teams to generate a full season’s sponsorship income from the one-off game.”
In the past, non-league clubs have chosen to reinvest FA Cup income to upgrade their facilities.
In 2017, fifth-division side Sutton United earned £710,000 from an FA Cup run where they were eventually knocked out by Arsenal in the fifth round.
That was enough to cover Sutton’s wage bill for a whole season, and the club have since acquired a new scoreboard and LED floodlights while upgrading their turnstile system and building a new club shop.
Covid rules hit non-league clubs
The pandemic poses a significant threat to the financial stability of English non-league football.
Both Chorley and Marine have felt the impact of restrictions during their FA Cup campaigns.
Chorley has been in Tier 3 since October, preventing fans from attending games, while Marine were unable to welcome supporters for the biggest tie in their history against Spurs.
Gate receipts are usually the main way that non-league clubs make money from the FA Cup.
The home and away side each take a 45 per cent cut of matchday revenue, meaning the most lucrative fixtures are away games against England’s best-followed sides.
“The lack of fans is a major blow to these lower league teams and the payday they would have had,” says Wilson.
“Small gates of a few hundred turn into thousands. That matchday revenue is cut off, although broadcast fees and prize money are still available.”
Chorley’s fairytale may yet have another chapter, however. Another odds-defying victory this weekend would set up an even more lucrative tie with either Southampton or holders Arsenal.