Does TV revenue make a club well run? Or is it just taking clubs to the edge of a cliff?

By Tony Attwood

This is the third and final part of the little series of articles answering the question “What determines if a club is well run or not?”

The series began with my own personal view of how I feel about the club I’ve supported from childhood with 10 ways measure Arsenal.

Then I took a peek at what Arsenal Supporters’ Trust is doing through its questionnaire  in  Measuring Arsenal’s success: asking silly questions, manipulating the figures.

Now finally I am turning back to the article in the Daily Telegraph a couple of days back which got me thinking along these lines.

In this article the Telegraph gave some examples of well run clubs, some of which I don’t agree with at all.

For example… .


Now it is true that for the last two years Everton have made a profit, but prior to that it was loss, loss, loss year after year after year.  In fact, the only time you can find a profit before that was in 2004/5.  That was the year they sold Wayne Rooney to Man U.   Every other year until the windfall of the latest TV money it is loss-loss-loss.

This means that Everton, along with the other clubs I’ll highlight below, by way of example, are totally in the hands of the bidding process between Sky and BT.   And just imagine for a moment that despite its mega investment, BT finds that actually it is not getting anything like the return it imagined it would get from football.

Of course that might seem fanciful, but just four days ago the Telegraph reported that the rights for Spanish football on UK TV was moving to BT Sport for next three years after Sky pulled out of the bidding.  However at the last moment it seems the rights went to Sky after all.

We don’t know the ins and outs of this sort of thing but if these battles are anything like the battles between other duopolies in the business sector each company will have two strategies: one to get the rights, the other to undermine the opposition. In such battles the organisations affected by the sale (in this case the clubs) are very much at the whim of the bidders – which can lead to total turmoil.

So rising bids in recent years will not mean rising bids for TV rights forever.  At some stage the amount being bid will decline and then… the clubs that have become reliant on the hand out will fall into one very big hole in the ground.

And as for Everton…

Well,  between selling the manifestation known as “Rooney” and 2012 Everton lost £45 million.  And they are still harping on about a new stadium.  Indeed as the Liverpool Echo reported Everton will not “jeopardise” the club’s long-term financial “stability” to build a new stadium on Walton Hall Park.  (I think they use the word “stability” differently up north).

Which is sensible in one way, but represents the lack of a chance of progress in another way.  So what did the Telegraph say about Everton…

The reality is that Everton have done exceptionally well to remain a competitive Premier League club – consistently finishing higher in the table than clubs with higher annual revenues. The likes of John Stones and Ross Barkley represent further potential goldmines for the shrewd chairman Bill Kenwright, whose main priority is to find a bigger home for the club and take them to the next level.

And that after eight years of consecutive debt with relief turning up by chance from an outside party.

Ah well.  Moving on…


They have been selling players like mad, which is fine when they can be replaced (which indeed for the moment they have been) but it doesn’t look like a sustainable model. They have taken £65m in the last three years from the sale of homegrown players, which is truly magnificent, but is it sustainable?   No, not unless they have invested in a cloning institution – which would incidentally be illegal.

In 2009 the club was in administration, which meant that many small businesses were not paid the money they were old.  Remember, only football creditors get paid.  But last year they made a profit for the first time since 2005, this time through selling players (profit from player of £32 million) and had… new TV money.

So, good work in that period.  But sustainable?  Nope.


Tottenham have reported profits in eight of the 10 years since 2005, normally just above break-even, £28 million in 2007 and £33 million in 2009.  Their latest accounts showed £80m profit due to the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and TV money.

Since then they have spent rather a lot on all sorts of players who haven’t quite worked out as they might have hoped, so maybe next time around they profit will be quite a bit down, but still, they have… TV money.

And we don’t quite know where all the money is coming from for the new stadium, so hard to make a judgement on that one.


19 years in the Champions League, a model stadium built and mostly paid for, achievements like the Unbeaten Season in the earlier part of the century, a double FA Cup / Charity Shield triumph in the last two years…

Only Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona earn more on a matchday than Arsenal and that money is now going not to repay the loans on the stadium, but instead to buy the likes of £42.5m Mesut Ozil and £32m Alexis Sanchez.

12 years of profit in a row, the ground built, trophies in the last two seasons – and no dependence on the TV revenue.  For Arsenal that money (which is outside their control) is simply a bonus that keeps them ahead of the rest, and that is the contrast.  While the likes of Everton are secured by the chance arrival of TV cash, Arsenal are secured by all the investment in recent years.

Crystal Palace

Yes they were in the Telegraph list.  Thirteen managers in five years,  administrators in twice in two years, a ten point deduction, and then in 2014 a £23m pre-tax profit in 2014 due to… oh come on, you can guess now.  I’ll give you a clue.  It begins with T and then is followed by a letter between U and W.

The point for Palace is that on reaching the Premier League, revenue increased by £76 million from £14 million to £90 million.  That is an astronomical increase, and much of it will be soaked up by higher salaries.  But it doesn’t mean that everything is all right.


I could go on analysing clubs in this way, but my point is that the clubs selected above were from the Telegraph’s list of well run clubs.  But let me end with my own favourite basket case: Liverpool, whose entire approach to money has always bemused me.

Liverpool reported a profit in 2007/08 of £10 million.   The club then lost £176 million over the five years leading up to 2013/14, (which was careless) including an average of £47 million for the last three seasons.

Ah, say the apologists of the club, that is because of the failed attempt to build the earlier stadium, and the cost of paying off Kenny Dalgleish and Roy Hodgson, which alone was estimated at over £30m.   Both were of course just down to bad management, but let’s set that aside because everything at Liverpool is now wonderful.

Or is it?   Between 2005 and 2011 Liverpool made a profit on selling players of £106 million which is pretty damn impressive and to be admired.  They came 5th, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 7th, 6th during that run which would have upset some supporters.  And something that would have the Telegraph snarling about fan anger if it were Arsenal’s figures.

So they were kept alive with selling players, and as a result slipped down the table.

However, in the last three seasons the club has registered total losses of £15 million from this activity, and the losses seem to be carrying on.   Liverpool like the rest, are being rescued by the new TV deals, but then so is everyone else.

This is not a case of proving anything you like with figures, this is looking for patterns and asking straightforward questions.  And remembering that just because everyone gets more money, that doesn’t mean everyone will triumph.


Arsenal like many clubs got into severe financial trouble during the second world war and you can read something of how they pulled themselves through in the new publication from Arsenal Independent Supporters Association which will be sent to all members in the next few days.

Meanwhile if you want to know about Arsenal’s fall from financial grace and its total recovery these books tell the story…

Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal from 1893 to 1915

Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born out of its collapse in 1910.

21 Replies to “Does TV revenue make a club well run? Or is it just taking clubs to the edge of a cliff?”

  1. Tony

    I think the article should include United Chel$ea and City in comparison with Arsenal

    Comparing Arsenal with mid table clubs doesn’t reflect the true picture imo.

  2. Some football clubs and business’s are run as non profit organisations so profit is not the only indicator to success. To class the charity shield as a trophy is embarrasing.

    Arsenal is no doubt in a very srong and sustainable position due to fan investment, tv money & sponsorship and to say that 2 of those are just a bonus is not really based on the truth.

    The fact a large majority of staunch Arsenal fans and there children are priced out of watching matches is not necessarily a good thing. The fact we are 3rd in terms of matchday revenue with a much smaller stadium than some other teams is not a good thing either for fans.

    I dont mind you being myopic towards Arsenal but the things you write should at least be honest to a point.

  3. Hi. Long time reader etc etc.
    I really like your articles, but for the first time I really must reply.
    the stadium is by no means nearly paid for. There is still 220 Million £
    left to be paid. even though we have the cash to just pay for it, we are not going to do that, and will be stuck paying 6-7 million pounds in interest for a long time. In fact the stadium wont be debt free for another 20 years or so

  4. Interesting piece, but you have to look beyond pure profit/loss to see if a club is well run or not.

    Two metrics that you hint at are useful to check in more detail: dependence on TV money as a proportion of revenue, and the turnover to wages ratio.

    The latter has dropped across the board because of the TV deal, but will creep back up over the next few years. The former has risen with the new deal, but drops when clubs make other commercial deals (or somehow increase their matchday income).

    I’m moving into Swiss Ramble territory so will say little more except that he put together the figures for all PL clubs in the most recent post, which makes for interesting reasons.

    Slightly surprisingly, for all of their issues, Liverpool look in decent shape, because they are not overstretched on salaries, and they have one of the most diverse revenues streams of all. If the TV money went away, they (along with us and United) would be in the strongest position to cope. Others; Palace for example, are utterly reliant on the TV cash.

    @Rosicky Comparing us with Chelsea and City seems pointless, since neither is still set up to run as a business for different reasons.

  5. Surely the article is responding to the Telegraph’s claims in respect of the clubs specified as being well-run and commenting on each. General comparison with Arsenal is not its primary purpose.

  6. OT: Arsenal U19 at Durban U19 tournament

    Durban U19 International Tournament Semi Final Fixtures (Aug 5, today):

    PSV Eindhoven v South Africa U19 – 3pm
    VFB Stuttgart v Arsenal – 5.15pm

    Those times are local times (Durban, South Africa)


  7. Sorry Zoon but as always I can’t actually understand the point you are making in relation to the original article. Some evidence as always would be helpful.

  8. @ Zoon,
    1. Except for Old Trafford, we have the largest ground in the EPL.
    2. I agree with you that ticket prices are far too high. But funds have to be found from somewhere in order to pay the obscene wages now prevalent in the top echelons of professional football. 😉

  9. I am guessing it is more than 15 minutes into the second half in Durban. Someone on Arsenal scored in the 53 minute, and consequently we are leading 0-1 against Stuttgart.


  10. Stuttgart tied the game in the 72 minute. I don’t know what minute it is in now.


  11. @ZOON. More than a little confused.

    1). Agreed in part, but there is a world of difference between: non-profit or fan owned club, and money sinkholes like City, PSG and Chelsea.

    2). The Charity shield has an odd status. Strangely enough Mourinho counted the one he won in 2005 amongst his Chelsea trophies. Maybe it only counts it you win it?

    3). Arsenal have the second largest attendance in the PL, and the second highest matchday income. Seems to fit. Across Europe, its more complex because you don’t compare like with like — All of the big German clubs have cheap standing seats for one, so less income per seat than in the PL.

    4). The prices thing has been debunked on here time and time again. The media love to make unfair comparisons that make our prices comparatively worse than they actually are. Are prices too high? Yes. but they are across the board.

    5). As my earlier post mentioned, we are lucky that Arsenal has relatively balanced revenue streams. The point of the article (sorry if I’m putting words in your mouth Tony), is more about how TV money has unbalanced the revenues in many other clubs, to the point where it could damage their future finances.

    To reflect your point to Tony, healthy criticism is good, but base it on more than the old mantras.

  12. I was getting the score from some betting site, and they stopped updating at some point. The game ended tied at 1-1, and being a semi-final, it was decided on penalties.

    > Arsenal 1(4) – (2)1 VFB Stuttgart

    > Arsenal secured their spot in the final of the Durban International Cup, after they defeated VFB Stuttgart 4-2 on penalties on Wednesday evening.

    > The Gunners went ahead in the 54th minute, as Yasin Fortune cut in from the left before placing an effort into the far corner.

    > The German side then leveled matters through Ozcan in the 74th minute to send the game into a penalty shoot-out.

    > And it was Arsenal, who held their nerve as they triumphed 4-2 in the shootout, with Gunners goalkeeper, Ryan Huddart, pulling off two saves.

    Good luck in the final, Arsenal U19!

  13. If the other clubs learn to use the TV money sensibly, building up a “kitty” for their plans over the next 5-10 years and not trying to step economically above their means, they will be able to survive while building and improving their club.

    One or two of them are surely going to attract buyers, or decent investors, and it is in their own interest to try to bring youth through, whether for the club or to be sold, at least 1-2 a season.

    This takes time and those trying to rush will probably fail. One thing though, without the increase in TV money they would be all much worse off.

    I am sure though that the big money people will be trying to hone in on the example of the owners of City, Chel$ and try to buy a club with good prospects, they are just waiting to see what this FFP is going to evolve into.

    Maybe this is why FFP is going the way it is, in order not to shun the possible rich buyers away.

    As long as PL football captures the world the TV money will come, but do not think for one moment that other Leagues are going to sit still and watch PL go from strength to strength without trying to do so themselves.

    All in all, interesting times for football ahead.

    Mind you, maybe clubs in the not so far future will end up paying for genetic material from footballers to make clones, who they will not have to pay any wages to anymore 🙂 . Who knows?

  14. Let me begin by saying I absolutely love Untold and its unique approach to covering Arsenal and football in general. Having said so, there are two things that really grind at me.

    Firstly, the constant “we told you so”s when something fairly unexpected – and predicted by Untold – occurs. Lately, for example, it has been the emergence of Coquelin and Bellerin into the guns that they have become. It feels very nice to be proven right (and tell others so), and indeed most people feel that way, but repeating it gets really tedious, real quick. To your credit, you do acknowledge it when something you predicted does not come true, but nowhere nearly in the same frequency or magnitude. I could be getting it wrong, and you could be saying it ‘tongue-in-cheek’ but I’m just not getting that vibe. Humility, guys.

    Secondly, all the stories about Arsenal doing it the right way, and everybody else doing it the wrong way; while largely true, I must add, are not much more than feel-good stories for us Gooners. I don’t feel that all the (especially financial) doom and gloom being predicted by Untold could even remotely come true on a football-wide basis. Like how all the clubs are going to be in financial strife if there was another GFC (or the like) affecting wealthy people’s wealth, TV-money dried up etc etc, except for Arsenal. If Arsenal was the only financially viable club standing, where would that leave the rest of football? Nowhere, and the league would be scrapped before Arsenal would be allowed to boss the league like Celtic is currently doing in Scotland. Look at what happened when the banks (and some countries) went under, the other countries and banks bailed them out. I simply cannot see a scenario where Arsenal is ALLOWED to stand head above shoulders over everyone else, regardless of whether we are doing things right or not. So, while we should celebrate the Arsenal way, I fear it’s not going to get us anywhere near the advantage Untold predicts. Look, even the FFP is becoming more lenient (unsurprisingly).

    Sorry, I don’t post often but this has been grinding on me for some time now and it had to be said. Keep up the good work!

  15. Frédéric Bastiat’s parable of the broken window from Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas (1850)

    Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation – “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”

    Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

    Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade – that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs – I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

    But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”

    It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

  16. Crovax.
    Regarding “I told you so…” and Tony’s article, which is excellent: how often is Lord Alan Sugar saying this?
    Remember, in 1992 when the first big SKY TV deals were set-up he wanted the television money to go to the FA, (I know, I know, but nobody knew then), because he knew “…the Clubs will piss it up the wall!”
    Was it prescience? I doubt it; he just knew how the Clubs worked; but he wanted the money to be invested into football right down to the grass roots.
    An opportunity lost.

  17. Tony, you’re doing exactly what you accuse others of doing – manipulating the figures – and it’s not necessary.

    “a model stadium built and mostly paid for”

    No, it’s not mostly paid for. As per the 2014 accounts, gross debt stands at 240m – the second highest in the PL after Man U. It will take another 20 or so years to repay that.

    “matchday … money is now going not to repay the loans on the stadium, but instead to buy the likes of £42.5m Mesut Ozil and £32m Alexis Sanchez.”

    Misleading. We’ll be repaying capital and interest on the loans for 20 years. Whether the money comes solely from matchday income or not, we are currently paying around 19m a year in capital repayments and interest. Not enough to buy another Özil, but enough for a Welbeck or Chambers or Gabriel.

    “no dependence on the TV revenue. For Arsenal that money (which is outside their control) is simply a bonus that keeps them ahead of the rest, and that is the contrast. While the likes of Everton are secured by the chance arrival of TV cash, Arsenal are secured by all the investment in recent years.”

    We are highly dependent on TV money, and that dependence will grow. It’s our largest revenue stream. From the 2014 accounts:
    Matchday Income 100.2
    Broadcasting 120.8
    Commercial 77.2

    Don’t forget that Champions League money – which has been a strategic target in our austerity years – is part of broadcasting income.

    TV income is not a bonus. It was the driving force behind the establishment of the PL in the first place. It wasn’t chance or a lottery win – but I’m sure the founding clubs including Arsenal didn’t dream it would be so successful that the PL is now ranked 2nd world-wide (behind the NFL?)

    Matchday income has peaked, so the key revenue stream under our control is commercial income – and our record here is abysmal. In 2012/13 we ranked 8th in Europe in the Deloittes Money League. However, we ranked 12th in commercial income behind Shalke.

    In context, Man U earned 189m and we earned 62m. We’ve improved a bit since then with our new shirt and kit deals – but Man U have improved their own deals by much larger amounts, so the gap has widened, and we’re probably 150m behind them now. Small wonder they can throw cash at transfers.

    Yes, we’re a well-run club on some scores. But we’re being dragged down by a seriously under-performing commercial setup.

  18. Football corruption in the Ukraine

    A couple of days ago, KyivPost published the article (in English). The head of the Ukraine FA also happens to be a member of parliament, and is involved in introducing legislation to reduce corruption in sports. The article ends with a listing of same games that have been fixed. The article mentions that foreigners are involved in the match fixing. Mike Riley 😈 is not mentioned. The article is quite detailed.

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