As the 2014-15 football season drags towards its end, all the top flight clubs are basking in the glory of the nice fat TV deal which has been concluded. Football supporters and those watching games on TV will be less happy, however, as ticket prices and subscription rates increase even further. Steve Jones asks, whatever happened to football being “the working man’s game”?
As the 2014-15 football season drags towards its end, all the top flight clubs are basking in the glory of the nice fat TV deal which has been concluded between the Premier League and the two companies who were successful in their bids, Sky and BT Sport. A record £5.136 billion will be paid over in return for TV rights to live games between 2016 and 2019.
Sky customers may not be so happy, however, as soon after the deal was finalised monthly fees to access these games went up yet again. Even less happy will be the lower leagues who will see very little of this money, despite all the promises: according to the BBC, only 5% of Premier League income ever reaches the other leagues.
Least happy of all will be the long-suffering football supporters. Forced to attend games at all manner of odd times – Saturday nights, late Sunday afternoon, or the middle of the day – to fit in with television schedules, they can still expect to still see over-inflated ticket prices continue to creep up. Football has gone from being a relatively cheap game to watch to being one which is so pricey that many cannot afford it. The joke going around is that the average Premier League football crowd is fifty shades of grey, referring to the colour of most people’s hair – or rather their age!
What is even more bizarre is to see the fantasy finance world in which most clubs seem to now operate. The Mail on Sunday has collected data which shows that many clubs are operating on the back of huge debts, mainly accrued to stay in the division or qualify for Europe. Arsenal currently has a debt of £240 million, Manchester United has a debt of £342 million, and Chelsea has a debt of £958 million. Only Spurs and Swansea seem to be able to operate with no debt, alongside West Brom who have a debt of just £1 million. Indeed the total combined debt of the Premier League clubs now stands at £2.5 billion.
Yet they only have a combined income of £3.1 billion. Out of this they then have to pay the wages of their over-priced superstars, hence the tendency to pay their support staff bugger all. The combined wage bill of these clubs stands at 59% of total income. Only three clubs pay less than 50% of their income on wages – Crystal Palace, Hull and Newcastle. Against this, Leicester is paying 130% of their income in wages, and QPR a massive 194%.
So how does all this work out in actual profits for the clubs? The pre-tax profit of Chelsea, for the last available year for which data is available, was just £19.1 million, Liverpool’s is £5.5 million, Arsenal £3.8 million, and Manchester United occupy top spot with £67.9 million thanks to a big push upwards in ticket prices, etc. Incredibly, champions Manchester City report in with a £17.7 million loss!
Even by the dismal standards of British capitalism, this does not look good. No wonder the clubs are so keen on ever-larger TV deals being agreed and on pocketing as much of the money as possible.
As in all other aspects of life, the owners are inviting us to foot the bill one way or another. The belief that the Premier League has become a game for the rich rather than the working class sport it used to be is starting to take root. These clubs should be assets for the local communities, not toys for Russian oligarchs and Middle-eastern sheiks. They should be put under public ownership, and run by coaches, staff, players, and supporters, with local working class communities having a full say rather than being shut out as is the case at present.