Chelsea are the current Premier League Champions, though their title will likely be bequeathed to Manchester City this seasonFlickr - @cfcunofficial

Last week, the Premier League announced that it had sold the five main packages of domestic TV rights between 2019 and 2022 to BT and Sky for £4.464 billion. Although this was a slight reduction on the previous deal which totalled £5.136 billion, it is still an astronomical sum that dwarfs the original deal in 1992 which amounted to a meagre £191 million – a sum that wouldn’t even get you Neymar these days. One may think that the reduction in the price of the broadcasting deal is a positive sign; maybe the tide is changing in the ocean of football finance. Alas, such a sentiment would be naïve. Money is still running football and its influence is reaching unprecedented levels.

In recent years, awareness of the astronomical figures and sums of capital dominating football has increased. Fuelled by TV deals and sponsorships, the rapid escalation of transfer sums and players’ wages epitomises the inflationary environment that dictates the financial landscape of football. Over the 25 years of the Premier League’s existence, for instance, wages have increased thirtyfold, on average. Currently, the league’s highest paid player, Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez, is reportedly earning £350,000 a week – a far cry from the ‘seismic’ moment in 1994 when Chris Sutton became the first £10,000 a week footballer after a move to Blackburn.

Yet, to focus on players’ wages distracts from the wider point, and players are not to blame. Financial escalation in the Premier League runs deep.

In October, the BBC Price of Football report found that more than 80% of ticket prices have either been reduced or frozen for the current and previous Premier League seasons, with the league also introducing a three-year cap on away ticket prices at £30. A small comfort, perhaps, that things are moving in the right direction, albeit incredibly, almost imperceptibly slowly – certainly not at the pace that is needed.

Football, but especially the Premier League, needs to be wary that attracting big investors and astronomical sums through TV rights deals might be good in the short term but the long term implications of ignoring the lifeblood of the clubs – the fans – could prove to be extremely deleterious. A recent poll suggested that 82% of 18–24 year olds believed that the price of tickets was the primary obstacle to attending matches. The true effect of this disillusionment is yet to truly materialise but over the next 25 years, such sentiments will serve to radically alter the landscape of the Premier League and not merely in a financial sense.

What is perhaps most frustrating is that there has been a marked shift over the past decade in how Premier League teams generate their revenue with broadcast deals and sponsorships replacing match-day receipts as the most critical strands of club revenue streams. Over the course of a season, such deals account for approximately 70% of the club’s total income. These TV deals thus give clubs fiscal space to make concessions to fans, especially to the younger generation who feel progressively priced out of the game. But, despite this, clubs do not appear to be demonstrating that the windfall that they are getting from the TV rights is being utilised to reduce inflated ticket prices. This is dangerous and damaging for the long-term health of the game. Affordability, especially for the younger generation, is becoming a big problem – this essential node between club and fans is being mismanaged in ways that will prevent fans from continuing to attend in the future.


Mountain View

Modern football is unworthy of the devotion of the man on the Clapham Omnibus

During last season’s Champions League quarter-final between Arsenal and Bayern Munich, the Bavarian fans staged a protest, unfurling a banner that read “Without Fans Football Is Now Worth A Penny” – however, such sentiment appears to fall on deaf ears. While the cash registers still ring loudly in the halls of the Premier League, those in power will fail to hear the growing din from the stands.

Football has been labelled as the people’s game in the past, yet current trends are alienating these people and undermining the very confidence that has made football the nation’s most watched sport. The danger is that the Premier League creates a culture where what unites football fans is not passion for the game but an antagonism towards prices. Perhaps such antagonism is ultimately what is needed for the financial culture that has enveloped football to change. Or, possibly, renewed and sustained boycotts of Premier League matches is required – perhaps then football executives might pay more attention and respect to the lifeblood of their club.

Unfortunately, this is a quixotic ambition; the passion of football fans will prevent this. Heart frequently triumphs over head where football is concerned. The love for the game and emotional attachment to a club will mean that stadiums will continue to be filled and attendance maximised. That said, existing financial trends in football are not sustainable and something will have to give within the next few decades. For the future of the game, let’s hope that what gives is not the fans