The Richest Game in the World: if you follow English football at all, you will of course have been soaked in the hyperbole of the Championship’s playoff final this weekend, won by Hull City.
Yet it might not quite be the bonanza it seems, as David Conn cogently points out in the Guardian today.
Promotion still provides significant money to sign and pay the wages of new players, but newly promoted clubs struggle to afford established stars, and Championship clubs ask inflated prices for their better players. In the Premier League finishing places tend to accord exactly with the size of a club’s wage bill – Manchester United and Chelsea pay the most, the promoted clubs have the least to spend. Last season Sunderland spent £40m on mostly British and Irish players, only just survived, and the manager, Roy Keane, complained too many were not good enough. The other two promoted clubs, Derby and Birmingham, went straight back down.
Conn points out that the bonanza only exists because the Premier League does not share revenue with the divisions below as was done pre-1992; that leads to the growing inequality in English football, and a perhaps damaging scramble to get on the gravy train.
The danger seems to be that clubs may be predicating their existence in a boom-and-bust situation.
As twohundredpercent pointed out today, the level of debt in the Premier League in spite of the enormous increases in income over the past few years is alarming: the Big Four owe a collective £1.862bn, whilst the likes of Fulham face severe problems if they’re relegated with their £149m debt.
Football’s boom years have not been uncoincidentally linked with a period of remarkable, sustained economic growth in England over the past decade, a consumption-led extravaganza funded by cheap credit and a property boom that is all now coming crashing down around Gordon Brown’s stony features.
The fear of a sustained economic downturn in Britain, and the consequences this would have for a high-priced consumption activity such as football (where season tickets are now an expensive luxury), is presumably partly driving the Premier League’s overseas expansion moves, such as the much-maligned Game 39 proposition.
Yet ticket prices continue to rise domestically, and remain a cornerstone of clubs’ finances. Season ticket prices. look set to rise at over double the rate of inflation this summer, hitting fans already stretched by rising fuel and food prices hard. What happens if demand falls for tickets, but clubs already have millions invested in the ever-increasing salaries for future years?
Beyond the glitz of the all-English Champions League final and the Richest Game in the World (or Race for 2009 Relegation), the sustainability of English football’s boom remains in question over the long-term.
Image credit: ArcticCorsair on Flickr