Business/Finance

Premier League TV income impasse: are we on the brink of an all-Euro Super League?

European-Football-Super-LeagueControversy over how to divvy up the revenues means uncertainty in England. The outcome of these deliberations could move us closer to a European SuperLiga including the big six Prem clubs (and maybe more than that)…

A couple years ago I wrote about the prospects for a European football SuperLigaThis is hardly a new idea (with Marca suggesting it’s a when-not-if, and perhaps sooner-rather-than-later situation) but at that point I was considering the massive infusion of cash into the English Premier League courtesy of its new TV deals and speculating that as a result the rest of the leagues in Europe would soon have no choice but to form a continental Super League.

It wasn’t just me pondering the implications of all that Prem money on the rest of the continent, either – major players in other big leagues were openly concerned, as well.

At the time, my assumption was what I indicate here – a new league comprising large teams on the European continent, established to challenge the English, who currently operate the richest league in the world. Now, though, there’s a new development that perhaps changes the assumption dramatically. I still think the Superliga is inevitable, but now I wonder if it includes England’s top teams, as well.

The league’s clubs are currently divided over a controversial proposal to shift a larger chunk of overseas TV revenue to the top clubs. The big clubs are enthusiastically pro. The not-so-big clubs, predictably not so much.

A meeting with representatives from all 20 Premier League clubs was held in London on Wednesday, but no agreement could be reached on the plan that would see 35 percent of the income from the next international TV deal distributed according to final league position.

The division’s six wealthiest clubs — Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool — are all reportedly in favour of the proposal, but a majority of 14 is required for any change in the rules to be actioned and many of the smaller clubs remain vehemently opposed.

Under the present arrangement overseas TV revenue — worth around £3 billion — is shared equally among all 20 Premier League clubs, while two-thirds of domestic broadcast income is divided according to where clubs finish in the table and how many times their matches are shown live.

Let’s go ahead and state the obvious: all clubs can be expected to vote their pocketbooks. In the end it’s a math question – if the proposal on the table means more money, it’s a yes. Less money, a no. Period.

In a world where the current domestic league structure was the only option, something nobody was really happy with would be negotiated. Or maybe the 14-club majority would simply impose its will, forcing the big six to take what they got and like it.

But that’s not the pitch on which this match is being played. There is a cautionary precedent for everyone to consider – let’s not forget how the Premier League was formed in the first place:

The competition formed as the FA Premier League on 20 February 1992 following the decision of clubs in the Football League First Division to break away from the Football League, which was founded in 1888, and take advantage of a lucrative television rights deal.

In other words, the rich clubs have ditched their poorer sisters before. Now, though, we’re talking about six teams as opposed to 20+. Which means you need more clubs to stage a competiton. And that circles us back around to the aforementioned continental leagues. Except now it’s not a case of those clubs trying to aggregate enough revenue to compete with the Prem. It’s about pooling all the money into one huge pot for Europe’s richest teams to share.

So the big six – Arsenal, Man City, Man United, Liverpool, Tottenham and defending league champions Chelsea – they’re not at the mercy of the small-club majority, after all. Before the meetings reconvene in November, then, the 14 nay votes need to sit down and contemplate what happens if their richer counterparts play the Super League card. The choice becomes a) a smaller piece of a large pie, or b) no piece of a massive pie. The reality they’d face is simple – an all-Europe Super League would funnel everyone not involved into a footballing ghetto.

Two years ago I speculated as to who’d be in the Euro SuperLiga. I based my thinking, logically enough (since money talks and bullshit walks), on who the largest clubs are. If we do the same thing now (using the Deloitte list once again), we might expect the top of the Super League to look something like this (these are the 30 biggest clubs in Europe, and we’d expect a 40 or 44 team setup with two divisions and a standard promotion/relegation process):

Club Revenue (in €millions) Nation
Manchester United 689 England
Barcelona 620.2 Spain
Real Madrid 620.1 Spain
Bayern Munich 592 Germany
Manchester City 524.9 England
Paris Saint Germain 520.9 France
Arsenal 468.5 England
Chelsea 447.4 England
Liverpool 403.8 England
Juventus 341.1 Italy
Borussia Dortmund 283.9 Germany
Tottenham Hotspur 279.7 England
Atlético Madrid 228.6 Spain
Schalke 04 224.5 Germany
Roma 218.2 Italy
Milan 214.7 Italy
Zenit Saint Petersburg 196.5 Russia
West Ham United 192.3 England
Internazionale 179.2 Italy
Leicester City 172.1 England
Newcastle United 168.2 England
Southampton 163.3 England
Everton 162.5 England
Lyon 160 France
Fenerbahçe 157.7 Turkey
Galatasaray 155.9 Turkey
Benfica 152.1 Portugal
Borussia Mönchengladbach 149.3 Germany
Sunderland 144.4 England
Napoli 142.7 Italy

Here’s where it gets really interesting. If you’re counting, you might notice that this list includes not six, but 12 English sides, a revelation that might add even more nuance to the November meetings. (It’s possible a complete list of the top 40-44 clubs might include more, but I don’t have that data). If I’m West Ham, for instance, not only am I in that likely list of Super League clubs, I’m #18 in revenues, which means I might even expect to begin life in the top tier. How does that earnings projection stack up against a) the Premier League status quo, and b) the re-engineered Prem earning structure proposed by the big six? When all is said and done, even though I’m not a “big” club (by England standards), I’m a huge club by global standards. Is it in my best interests to vote with the small clubs on the proposed reapportionment of TV revenues, knowing if I do it might help dynamite the Premier League, which would get me into the Super League?

Hmmm.

Two more factors that could affect the thinking (by any number of clubs). First, what if Brexit undermines the English economy in ways that diminish the Premier League’s financial position (and what if the country’s presumed new immigration laws are stricter, making it harder for foreign players to earn work visas)? Does this move Prem sides down (and possibly off) the list? If you’re one of the lower ranked of the English teams currently in the top 30, does this possibility affect how you vote in November?

Second, there’s that sticky Catalonian secession situation, which has gotten all kinds of ugly in recent days. It’s too early to know how it will all play out, but if somehow the Catalans do manage to escape Spain, the next question becomes whither Barcelona? There are only three Spanish clubs in the top 30, and Barca is the richest by a narrow margin. If they exit La Liga it would be very bad for everyone involved financially, but it’s possible political pride could get in the way of making a smart business decision.

If Catalonia secedes and if La Liga boots the Catalan teams (currently Barca, Espanyol and Girona), none of the options facing these sides – especially Barca – are attractive. Form a Catalonian league, with Espanyol as the second-best side? Yeah, let’s call that Plan B. Barca joins the French, English, Portuguese or Italian leagues? Maybe. England would be the best financial deal, but it would also create the worst travel logistics on the western half of the continent. France would represent the best combination of cash, convenience and competition.

I have no answers to these questions, but the current impasse in England perhaps moves us closer to the inevitable (I believe) SuperLiga moment. At the very least, we now have a new period of economic uncertainty, and it arises at a time where the money surrounding high-level club football is out of control. Transfer fees, salaries, TV contracts – the financial stakes have never been higher, nor have the risks facing clubs who fall a little short.

I’d expect a lot of urgency, and perhaps palpable anxiety, on the part of everyone involved the Premier League proceedings, and I imagine the rest of Europe’s footballing interests will be paying close attention.

____

Thanks to those who contributed to the Rocky Mountain Blues list discussion on the subject earlier today. Their thoughts helped shape my thinking. Props specifically to Andrew Magalee, Ryan Korkie, Adam Shrek, Peter Wohelski and Tim Reid.

Categories: Business/Finance, Sports

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