Does it matter if European clubs are getting upset with the English



Attendance data in this article comes from Footballwebpages

By Tony Attwood

We are now, as we have been for over 100 years, fixated in England by English league football.   We invented it, we started it, we’ve got the strongest league, and everyone else wants to watch our games on TV.  We might now be able to watch European league games on satellite TV, but audience numbers are modest.

And when it comes to people in the stadia, the attendances are something that many European countries can only wonder at, although to be fair Germany has a claim to be sharing equal first place in this regard. 

England doesn’t have a club with an average attendance to equal Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich, and when we look at clubs with average crowds of 50,000 or more England have seven, while Germany has six, with one very close (FC Koln with 49,694).   Germany doesn’t have any clubs with an average gate of under 20,000, while England has two (Brentford on 17,079 and Bournemouth on 10,309)

But Germany is the exception.  In the French league four teams get average crowds of under 10,000 and only one over 50,000 (Marseille).  In Spain half the top league get crowds of under 20,000, and only Barcelona has over 60,000, with two clubs (Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid) attracting an average crowd in the mid 50,000s.

So the transfer of Basel’s Zeki Amdouni to Burnley (once more a Premier League team this coming season) for around £17m, hardly makes the news in England.  But in Switzerland it is seen as a massive transfer fee.

And what really puts all this into perspective is that Lazio, who surely have wider level of public awareness than Burnley on the international stage, could not really contemplate paying that much for a player in these difficult times.  What we might also note is that Lazio had an average attendance last season of just over 44,000.  Burnley, for its last season in the Premier League two years back had an average attendance of 19,299.  Its capacity is quoted at 21,944.  It tends not to sell out.

What makes the difference for a club like Burnley, where entry into even West Ham’s favourite tournament, the European Conference is out of the question, is the TV contract that the clubs have – something which pays massively more to Premier League clubs than clubs in other countries are able to get.

As I understand it, the current TV deal from 2022/23 on to 2024/25 brings in between £4.8 billion and £5 billion (depending on which source you read).  That figure has gone up by £1bn since the last time it was negotiated three years ago, although the domestic figure has remained flat.

So it is the overseas market that is pushing the Premier League’s spend-spend-spend approach to life, and its desire to play ever more games (and why not when every game is sold out).  Indeed the old way of thinking – that showing the match live on TV kills the crowd numbers – turns out to be nonsense (which is worth remembering when the desire to keep 3pm saturday sacrosanct as a no football on TV time is mentioned).

And that could be something that is now questioned, as the latest three year TV deal for the first time brings in more money from overseas markets than from the UK market.  It is valued at £5.05 billion for 2022 to 2025.

That growth in overseas TV income is hiding the fact that since 2016 the amount of money paid by UK broadcasters for the rights for TV games has gone down.   Since the paymaster also calls the tune, it is clear that the Premier League is step by step being controlled by forces beyond England.

At the moment under half of the Premier League games are shown live on TV in the UK.  And the reward of those fans who buy their season tickets (which these days in most PL clubs is the majority of fans) get the reward of games being shunted around to all sorts of odd times from Friday evenings to late night Monday.

But now this flood of money into English football is causing concern.  “English football is financially crushing the rest of Europe,” announced LeMonde noting that “In January, the Blues bought eight players for €325 million, which is more than all the teams in the Italian, French, German and Spanish leagues combined (€250 million).”   As Javier Tebas, the president of La Liga said earlier this year,  “It’s like the British market is on drugs… (The Premier League) has lost billions of pounds in recent years. All this is financed by the owners, in this case, American investors, at a loss.”

But how did this worldwide love of English football come about?  Simply through the old commercial tactic of selling it cheap at the start, getting European fans hooked on the game and the sight of full stadia, and then doubling the cost of the contracts each time they came up for renewal.  No channel dared let a rival take over the exclusive deal.  Then by sharing half the revenue from the league more or less equally between the clubs, they avoided the huge disparity that exists between the top two or three and the rest, as happens in other leagues.

It worked.  As Le Monde points out (and its funny that this sort of reporting is rarely seen in England), “In 2011, the 20 Premier League clubs had a turnover of about £3 billion, while the Bundesliga brought in £2 billion. Today, the English league earns £7.2 billion, while the German league is at only £3.7 billion, on a par with Spain’s La Liga.”   The only worry is that concerning the propensity for bubbles to burst. 


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