FCW Owners Talk About the Future: «Don't Want to Be The Ones Who ‹Keep the Club Small›»

General News
16. May 2024

FC Winterthur lacks several million francs a year to maintain a Super League-compliant budget. Without the money, a partial sale of FCW is no longer out of the question.

Interview with Mike & Tobias Keller
Der Landbote, 8 May 2024, Winterthur | Author: Gregory von Ballmoos

They don't really like to talk. FCW should take centre stage. And perhaps their company, KELLER Pressure. But not them. Not Mike Keller and not Tobias Keller. But now the two of them are meeting at their company's headquarters in Winterthur. There is a need for dialogue because the figures at FCW are not right. And figures have to be right. Always. What's more, their club has recently been criticised. The fans say that the women receive too little support. The stadium is not good enough, says the league.

But first there is a guided tour of the headquarters of the company that has been supporting FCW for over 20 years. Construction sites can be seen on both sides of the building. On one side, the first beginnings of the Grüze crossing can be seen. On the other, KELLER Pressure is building a new 90 million euro production facility. 30 metres wide, 90 metres long, as high as the tallest building on the horizon. The first basement floor has already been poured.

From the Kellers' point of view, their new factory has a small «flaw» that leads directly into the topic. For the first time in the company's history, KELLER Pressure has to resort to borrowing money. They are reluctant to do so. «It's the father spirit,» explains Tobias Keller, CEO, member of the Board of Directors and Co-Owner of KELLER Pressure together with his brother Mike, who is Chairman of the Board of Directors. He repeats the word and continues: «It's about independence.» They want to maintain this.

«A coherent amount»
This «father spirit» also hovers over FC Winterthur. Here, too, it's about money and outside involvement, but more on that later. The club is owned by the Kellers family, KELLER Pressure is the main sponsor and its seagull is prominently displayed on the jersey and next to the scoreboard. Controlling and finances are also handled by KELLER Pressure, and it is precisely these finances that require clarification. The two owners pay a maximum of one million non-refundable Swiss Francs into FCW annually. Most recently, it is said to have been slightly less because less was needed. FCW has not built up any reserves. In addition, there is a considerable sponsorship amount for the jerseys and perimeter advertising. The total is around 1.3 million. They stand by this, calling it «a harmonious amount».

However, in 2023, the brothers invested almost two million francs into the club. That's according to the league's financial report. «If we hadn't been able to sell Ballet, the amount would have been much higher,» says Mike Keller.  That's too much. «It's okay if the club is in deficit, but we have our pain threshold and are not prepared to operate outside of it for any length of time,» says Tobias Keller. «From a purely financial perspective, we would rather have a healthy Challenge League Club than a highly loss-making Super League Club,» he says. This is why they have introduced monthly cost controlling at FCW.

St. Gallen as a role model
Compared to other teams in the league, FCW's deficit may be a «small» amount. In Geneva, the «Servette Foundation» contributes around 14 million a year. Joe Mansueto subsidised Lugano with just under CHF 20 million in the last financial year and GC posted a deficit of CHF 14 million, which the Chinese club probably had to cover before selling to the Americans. Of the eleven clubs that had to disclose their finances because they may be playing in Europe next year, two teams are not in deficit. YB, which made almost 30 million each from ticket sales and TV money, and FC St. Gallen. These figures are taken from the league's publication. «St. Gallen is the big role model for me,» says Mike Keller. «They have a great culture, are anchored in the region and make a profit.»

«We are also happy when people in the crowd cheer, when our players can go to the fans to celebrate after a win. But this cheering has to be financed.»

Tobias Keller
About the financing of FCW

In St. Gallen, FCSG Event AG organises and runs all football matches and events. Sponsorship, marketing, ticketing, merchandising and finances are also handled by FCSG Event AG. It remunerates FC St. Gallen AG with a sum in the millions. FCSG AG belongs to the fans and organises professional sport, including women and juniors. Over 19,000 people have a share.

The sale of part of FCW would be a first. A change of ownership was seriously considered in 2019. Mike Keller held around 30 talks with potential investors on behalf of his father Hannes W. Keller. However, two crucial things were missing in each case. A bank guarantee of almost CHF 5 million to cover the losses for at least three years, and the heart. «This has to be right,» says Tobias Keller. He then puts his hand in front of his chest to emphasise the statement. «If this is right, then the connection to the club is greater than the connection to the wallet.» In other words: in an emergency, some money is added.

A sale was recently off the table. FCW President Mike Keller ruled out external or foreign investors last summer. «But we don't want to be the ones who ‹keep the club small› because we're ‹only› giving a million,» says his brother Tobias.

«A rethink is needed»
Since the Kellers took FCW over from their father, the club has become more professional. Something has grown within the club that has led to the surprising ascent. Previously, FC Winterthur spent 37 years in the Challenge League. One and a half generations of Winterthur players know nothing else. «There needs to be a rethink now, for everyone,» says Mike Keller. He means the club, sponsors, fans, but also politicians. It is imperative that the lever in our heads moves more in the direction of commerce. «If we want to survive, we have to take the important cultural values with us. But we may also have to say goodbye to certain cherished characteristics,» says Mike Keller. After all, the aim is for FCW to establish itself in the Super League.

To achieve this, the overall budget must be sustainably and further increased. Currently, a large part of the 14 million budget is eaten up by wages. FCW has CHF 8 million in personnel expenses, which are fixed costs that cannot be reduced so quickly. On the one hand, the squad is larger than last season, and on the other hand, success costs money. More points means more bonuses for the team.

The problem in Winterthur: The success can hardly be capitalised on. FCW is reaching its limits when it comes to ticket sales. The Schützenwiese cannot be more than sold out - the 2.7 million francs in spectator revenue is probably the maximum, unless FCW increases the prices. However, this is not even possible for the stands behind the goals, for example. The league stipulates that tickets for fans of visiting clubs may not be more expensive than comparable tickets in the other sectors and that an away ticket in the Super League costs CHF 25.

Mike & Tobias Keller in conversation at KELLER Pressure. They say: «We stand by FCW, but...» Photo: Madeleine Schoder

«The club is our lifeblood»
Growth is to be achieved with targeted measures and investments as well as new sponsors. Under Hannes W. Keller, the Kellers' contribution was around a quarter of the budget. Now it is 10 per cent. The two owners want to support FCW even more broadly. «I'm almost a travelling preacher because I tell people that up and down the country,» says Mike Keller. He is employed 80 per cent by KELLER Pressure and works for FCW on Fridays, for which he does not receive a salary. On his travels, he looks for sponsors to help broaden the financial base. Or someone who can help cover the deficit.

And if that doesn't work out? «Then we'll look for someone to take over the whole thing, or we'll say: ‹No, we'll stay regionally anchored, and the soul, the heart and the philosophy are more important to us than the Super League at any price›. With all the consequences that follow,» says Mike Keller. Sound finances are just as important as sporting success. The figures have to be right. «We are also happy when people cheer in the crowd, when our players can go to the fans to celebrate after a win. But this cheering has to be financed,» says Tobias Keller. Otherwise it's not an honest celebration. The numbers have to be right. Always.

The topic of finances has pushed other issues at FCW into the background. For example, the women's team. Mike Keller sees this topic as part of the overall context of FCW: «The first team has priority because we are all dependent on it and we want to ensure that we remain in the Super League in the long term.» And with the sporting success of the first team, other important areas such as women's football, young talent, infrastructure, but also internal structures and cultural issues can be developed sustainably. Women's football and all other areas are the focus of the Board of Directors.

Since last week, however, there have also been two other issues: the riots from the cup game and the licence to play. The league refused FC Winterthur a licence for the new season at the beginning of last week. The Schützenwiese is not suitable for the Super League. They know that.

A third major construction site will probably be needed soon, but you can't see it from KELLER Pressure. And this time, the others will pay. As a tenant, FCW is only a supplicant, says Tobias Keller. But they also know that FCW is the best Winterthur city marketing organisation since Winterthur Insurance. The city can hardly afford to let the club down. The Kellers certainly won't do that. «The club is our lifeblood,» says Mike Keller. But now the city has to move forward. But they don't say that - they don't like to talk in public.

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