At first, I was fooled too. The Football League’s official Agents’ Fees Report for the 2008/9 season splashes on the introductory page that “In total, League clubs have committed £8.8m to agents during the last twelve months, compared to £11.1m in 2007/08.” And the League’s official website builds further on this headline decline, with Football League Chairman Lord Mawhinney saying that “Given the severe economic recession, it is encouraging to see these figures declining. . . I would like to think that in pioneering the publication of agents’ fees, The Football League has helped bring this about.”
This seemed to mark the continuation of a trend since the League began publishing agents’ fees six years ago, with the total amount spent on agents’ fees declining year-on-year for the third straight time.
Then I finally scrolled to the final page of the report. This page listed both total transfer spending and the percentage of transfer fees spent on agents’ fees. It turns out that the “decline” touted by the League was actually only a necessary consequence of the decline in total transfer spending itself, massively down from £81.5m to £39.5m. So naturally, the absolute amount of money committed to agents also declined to some degree. But the percentage of transfer spending committed to agents actually rose from 14% in 2007/8 to 22% in 2008/9, the latter the highest figure since 2005/6.
Most media outlets have followed the League’s spin on the report (the AFP leads that “English league clubs slash agent payments”) by leading with the same total figure. It seems, though, that it’s only in League One and League Two that spending on agents is really in decline. In both, the number of clubs not committing any money to agents at all rose, whilst in the Championship, it declined (every single club in that division paid an agent).
Where the big money is — in the Championship, which has no salary cap — agents were paid a much higher amount per transfer that they were involved in in 2008/9 than in the previous season.
A number not touted in the report, but easily available via even my poor math skills, is that when a fee was paid to an agent, that fee was considerably higher this year at the top end: in the Championship, it rose in 2008/9 to £53,108 per transfer compared to £46,744 in 2007/8 and £31,369 in 2006/7. So, even though the total number of transactions involving agents has gone down, they ended up still being cons
Here are the totals paid to agents for each division in 2008/9, with the 2007/8 figures in brackets.
Total amount paid to agents: £7,541,379 (£9,302,060)
Average agent fee per transaction: £53,108 (£46,744)
Total amount paid to agents: £1,078,955 (£1,531,337)
Average agent fee per transaction: £17,402 (£12,349)
Total amount paid to agents: £189,167 (£227,686)
Average agent fee per transaction: £4,203 (£5,992)
The serious caveat that agents were paid 8% more of transfer fees this year than last across the League — and considerably more than that in the Championship — should not take away from the value that the Football League publishes these reports at all, a step the Football Association is finally forcing the Premier League to follow this year. As the above graph illustrates, there was a massive drop in fees the year after the publication was first released, and though there was a rise this season, it remains well below earlier levels.
Under Mawhinney, the League has taken some steps to better regulate agents from publishing the reports to instituting a ban on “dual representation”, where an agent acted for both a player and the club in a transaction — a step the Football Association unfortunately backed down on also introducing to the Premier League.
But progress is not as clear as the headline suggests. After all, as our little dig into the figures shows, Football league spending on agents’ fees as a percentage of transfers rose this year, especially in the Championship, and agents were paid considerably more per transaction. This is a trend that should be closely monitored by the League.