|Why the Premiership Bubble Has Not Burst|
|Written by Wyn Grant|
|Tuesday, 01 January 2013 15:38|
From time to time predictions are made that the Premier League bubble is about to burst. It has not done so yet; indeed revenues from the latest broadcasting deal have increased substantially. They are likely to increase even more once the overseas television deal is concluded, something that reflects the globalisation of football.
Nevertheless, the Barclays Premier League does face a number of challenges. The performance of English clubs in the Champions League has been less impressive this season. Only Arsenal and Manchester United survived to the lucrative knockout stage, with champions Manchester City having the worst record of any English club in the competition so far and not even securing the consolation prize of a place in the Europa League.
The domestic television deal saw another increase in the amount received, reflecting the competition between BskyB and newcomer BT Vision for viewers, although many analysts think that BT’s strategy represents a big commercial risk. The amount raised was 70 per cent more than the present deal, £3.018bn over three years, an increase of £1.25bn on the current package. It gave the Premier League £1 billion a year in television income, even before the overseas rights are factored in.
University of Michigan football economics specialist Stefan Szymanski thinks that the Premier League could soon earn as much from overseas television rights as it does from the domestic market. The Premier League confirmed its increasing value in global television markets by more than trebling its income from the United States following a $250 million dollar deal for English and Spanish language rights with NBC Universal.
However, although growing, the US market is a relatively small one compared with that in Asia and even there the vast potential of the Chinese market has yet to be fully tapped. Live games are closely associated with gambling in Asia with the matches being trusted as not being fixed. In the longer run, the African market offers considerable potential as household incomes increase.
Despite their growing riches, Premier League clubs are concerned about all the money disappearing into the pockets of players and agents who earned £77m from Premier League clubs last season. They are also concerned about reputational damage resulting from very high wages paid to players at a time of austerity. That is why they have been discussing some form of collective restraint on wages, for example limiting the percentage of turnover that can be spent in that way. However, the devil is very much in the detail as different ways of implementing such a scheme would help some clubs more than others.
Another factor is Uefa’s financial fair play scheme which clubs like Arsenal hope will reward their relevant prudence and curb the free spending ways of Chelsea and Manchester City. However, various forms of expenditure can be taken into account before any penalties are applied and much depends on how it is enforced. It is also potentially subject to a legal challenge.
Envied by many, despised by others, the Premier League has developed a very successful commercial formula creating one of England’s most successful businesses but one whose excesses have attracted increasing criticism.
In particular there has been criticism of transfer fees and wages, although if a valued commodity is in short supply, the price tends to go up. What are the prospects for the January transfer window?
It is generally accepted that the January transfer window is a high risk one, but some clubs may be driven to it by desperation. There is a lot at stake. This year's £40m minimum payout is expected to stand between £55m and £60m next season and that is before one counts the benefits of higher attendances and more lucrative sponsorship deals.
Nevertheless, the odds are loaded against concluding a deal that improves a club in the long term. Unless they have serious financial problems, most clubs are not going to sell their best players mid-season. Better players on their way up are reluctant to join a relegation threatened clubs or insist on release clauses which mean they usually have to be sold at a loss. Prices for what quality is available can rise to high levels.
For all these drawbacks, spending in the January window has increased well above the rate of inflation, but there have been big fluctuations over time. Between 2004 and 2007 spending was in the £50m-£70m range, having started from a baseline of £35m in 2003. There was then a big leap to £175m in 2008, maintained at £170m in 2009.
The last three years has seen the biggest fluctuations. Spending was the lowest ever at just £30m in 2010, then rose to £225m in 2011 before falling back to £60m in 2012. Of course, the figures can be affected by a relatively small number of big deals.
Relatively little goes to Football League clubs, fluctuating between £5m and a peak of £20m in 2007. Although there are annual variations, most of the money is split roughly equally between other Barclays Premier League clubs and overseas clubs.
It's always hazardous to forecast which clubs are going to splash out and which are going to hold on to their money, in part because a big sale can release extra funds. However, some clubs do not really need to buy and will only do so if a really good opportunity comes along. Norwich and Swansea come to mind. Others are short of money or reluctant to spend, e.g., Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion. Stoke are interested in younger signings to lower the average age of the team.
Sunderland are also reluctant to spend after committing substantial funds in the measure, but are one club that could take panic measures. QPR say they do not have much money, but may well end up spending.
Fulham have a good budget after late August sales and arguably need to spend given a poor run which leaves four points off the relegation places. Newcastle United are also not safe and have said they will spend £12m, possibly more, for a striker. Wigan will go up to £4m for the right player, but are also looking for loan deals and cut price signings. Reading may find it difficult to make a value signing. Southampton have up to £6m available to strengthen their defence.
Manchester City are looking at a clear out and Manchester United are cautious in the January window. Chelsea could yet throw caution to the winds. There is real uncertainty about how much Arsenal will commit or what Aston Villa will do in the face of a growing crisis.
Media pundits have at various times forecast that one of Everton, Stoke City or West Bromwich Albion could finish in the top four. Everton are probably the strongest of the three, but their lack of quality cover for injuries is starting to show. It will probably be the usual suspects in the top four, but which ones beyond the two Manchester clubs, and in which order, remains uncertain, although United must be favorites for the title. There is all to play for in 2013.
Wyn Grant is a regular contributor to Albion Road and also the publisher of footballeconomy.com, a website covering the business and economy of the game of football.