A Different League...

June 14, 2018

Our current state has opened a few eyes to the imbalance in English football and in some ways I feel a bit nimbyish about all of this. For years clubs in lower leagues have complained about the riches in the premier league not passing down the tiers and if I’m honest, yes I cared, but not enough. It takes a fall from grace to appreciate what you had and football is no exception. I hope to unpack some of the statistics around player salaries here to put all of this into context so that hopefully we can see the imbalance in all its opulence.

 

It should be noted that I do not agree with a purely socialist system in football where riches are shared evenly between all 92 clubs. That would be entirely slanted and would make English clubs uncompetitive in Europe. Or would it? That seems a very good place to start. The richest of the rich lie in the champions league. Income from the champions league alone is a minimum of €12.7m if you reach the group stages. Boost this by €1.5m per win and €500,000 per draw and you could expect most clubs to clear €13m for qualifying for the group stages. That’s around £12m. Qualifying beyond the group stages obviously brings more revenue. Qualifiers from groups will receive €6m, quarter finalists €6.5m, semi-finalists €7.5m. Runners up €11m and winners €15m. Spurs would, therefore, have made around £25m from the champions league. Liverpool around £48m. Sticking with Liverpool let’s add in tv revenue of around £150m and match day revenue of circa £75m. Advertising aside the club are looking at turnover of around £275m. Huge figures. The one thing that sticks out is the tv revenue of £150m. That’s for the premier league and dwarfs earnings from the champions league. Yes, you play less games in the Champions League, but still...

 

Liverpool do, of course, have a higher wage bill and a reported £208m wage bill eats up most of that revenue. Real Madrid’s last wage bill by comparison was £240m with a similar level of tv revenue but matchday revenue almost doubling Liverpool’s. There are then the sponsorship deals. You know all this already though. There is nothing new here in terms of the top clubs getting huge amounts and ultimately that is why we watch the champions league, to see top players putting themselves against each other. Bearing in mind that tv revenues for La Liga largely mirror the premier league for the top teams though, how do the wages compare with the rest of Europe? Well, average wages in Serie A are around £45m per club with Juventus unsurprisingly well on top. Premier League is competitive across the continent with even Leicester breaching the latest top 20 revenue earners.

 

What then does this mean for Sunderland in League One? The fact is that it has huge ramifications. If you look around at the rest of League One there is a degree of preparation for the drop. Clubs in league one have either become accustomed to a drop in turnover and have adjusted wage bills accordingly or they are established as league one clubs and operate in that financial climate or they have recently been promoted and so are accustomed to even lower turnovers. Sunderland are different. The average premier league player earns around £50,000 a week. Average. Championship averages drop to around £20,000. That still gives scope to retain players if you have suffered a drop. If you don’t clear the decks though and you go through a double drop, the situation is stark. You can half that championship amount if you’re optimistic. The riches that are earned at the highest level mean that it is nigh on impossible for a club to build from the bottom. If you have dropped from the top to league one in two years you have an awful lot of offloading to do.

 

We have seen great examples recently in Bournemouth and Burnley of clubs that buck the trend. Let’s not forget though that both those clubs dipped under the super income gift that the new PL TV deal gave a couple of years ago. They got in at the right time. Burnley have massively exceeded expectations but you do worry about what would happen should Dyche leave. They have had exceptional years. Then again Leicester won the league. These clubs are on a hamster wheel of trying to keep up with clubs capable of financially blowing them out of the water. How much worse is it for clubs lower down the leagues?

 

I am not one for celebrating not being a premier league club. I do not think we should accept that as football fans. Financial fair play was supposed to sort all of this out but ultimately it is Little more than lip service. Whilst the riches benefit just a few clubs we will always be waiting for a financial benefactor to push us into the elite. Our destiny will always be the hamster wheel. That is quite depressing to think about but ultimately does it change anything? Probably not. We have pride and we can hold our heads up. Our fans are proper fans, not day trippers taking selfies. I choose a club that belongs to the city. I choose Sunderland. It would just be nice if financial fair play actually meant anything.

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At the back end of the 1980s, football fanzines began to sweep the country and in 1989 we were presented with a new vehicle on which to enjoy some of this ride – A Love Supreme. ALS was a place we could all go to celebrate and commiserate being a Sunderland fan. Win, lose or draw, the pages of the fanzine became solace for many of us as we stumbled our way through our day to day lives, punctuated by the ups and downs of more match days than any of us care to remember.

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