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Big Money and the Beautiful Game

Premier League fans around the world will tell you: this season is shaping up to be the most exciting and unpredictable since the league’s inception in 1992.

Last year’s champions, Chelsea, languish four points above the relegation zone, having sacked their seemingly invincible manager, Jose Mourinho, the self-anointed ‘Special One’, after he lost nine games out of the first 16. Meanwhile, Manchester United, the most successful club of the Premier League era, have floundered under the management of Louis van Gaal, the man who led the Netherlands to the semi-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Despite having spent just shy of £262m (€339m) on new players under the Dutchman, United play a style of football about as exciting as watching paint dry, and look likely to miss out on Champions League qualification. Arsenal, a team that last won the league the year this profanely-titled track by Eamon went to number one, once again have a realistic chance of becoming champions, thanks to the brilliance of master assist creator, Mesut Ozil.

The most remarkable story of the season, however, is that of Leicester City, a team that this time last year sat in the relegation zone (the bottom three), and now lies joint top with Arsenal after 22 games. Their star striker, Jamie Vardy – a 29-year-old who played semi-professionally until 2012 – has scored in 11 consecutive games, breaking a record previously held by Ruud van Nistelrooy, while Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (pictured), a player Leicester City signed in 2014 for just €450,000, has supplied the chances.

Such a thrilling start to the season has come at a price, however. The Premier League is ultra-competitive – no fixture can be considered a formality – but presently the league has no domestic titans of the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, and not a single player in the FIFA/FIFPro World XI. In the last four seasons, English teams have made it into the quarter finals of the Champions League on just three occasions. But that might be about to change.

TV Rights Bonanza

Having sold the domestic TV rights for 2016-19 for the equivalent of £1.7bn (€2.2bn) per season – an increase of 71% on the previous three-year deal – the Premier League is close to completing the sale of overseas TV rights for 2016-19 for an expected £1.08bn (€1.4bn) per season – a 45% increase on the previous period. For some perspective, when the Premier League began in 1992, the league earned less than £8m (€10.4m) a year from overseas TV rights.

It is the value of such broadcast deals that have pushed Premier League revenues in 2013-14 higher than those of Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A combined, and more than £1bn (€1.3bn) higher than those of Germany’s Bundesliga. Last year’s Deloitte Football Money League – a ranking of the world’s football clubs by revenue – placed eight Premier League clubs in the top 20 and 14 in the top 30, with the prediction that these figures will grow even further with the new broadcast deals.

The most lucrative game in world football isn’t the Champions League final or the Copa del Rey; with the winner gaining promotion to the Premier League from English football’s second tier, last year’s Championship play-off final was worth £120m (€155.6m). This year’s final will be worth even more.

Increasing Revenues, Increasing Competition

An old joke goes, “What’s the quickest way to become a millionaire? Be a billionaire and buy a football club”.

Despite huge revenues, Premier League clubs rarely turn a profit. The 2013-14 season was an outlier, with clubs making pre-tax profits of £187m (€242.4m) combined – the first since 1999. But it has been predicted that with the success of cost control regulations and the bumper broadcast deals, some of the risk normally associated with investment in Premier League clubs is diminishing. Booming revenues can only enhance competition within the league, with traditionally weaker sides investing in higher-quality players in order to avoid relegation. But it is at the elite level that fans will be hoping some of the money finds its way. If the Premier League is to enhance – or even retain – its reputation, the biggest teams – Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal – have to appeal to the world’s very best players by showing that they can compete in Europe on a regular basis.


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