The Premier League finances are utterly unsustainable. But will Arsenal survive?

By Tony Attwood

There is a problem with the way football is reported in England and it is this.  There is always an assumption that how things are now will be how things are next year.  Only bigger.

It is curious because serious journalists working in other areas of reporting rarely fall into such a simplistic trap.  They know that economics is a mish mash of causes and effects, and that the best laid plants of economists and governments are liable to fall over at a moment’s notice.

But in football there are grand assertions: The Premier League will remain the world’s richest league because, well, because.

Yes the PL clubs earns around €2bn (£1.7bn) more than the Bundesliga clubs each year and the last TV deal has taken the PL earnings even higher.   And the assumption is that this will continue.  For ever.

So why not?  The simple answers are

a) nothing grows forever.

b) all markets are in essence chaotic.

c) the Premier League’s product is totally dependent on taste and technology – two of the most unreliable factors known to marketeers.

d) Although some Premier League clubs have very rich benefactors they themselves can come unstuck due to a sudden change in the market, a war, a revolution or indeed an assassination.

And what we have forgotten to a large degree is that one TV deal did collapse.  Although it was ultimately sorted out a lot of lower league clubs did lose out heavily when ITV Digital went down.

The particular problem for the PL is that the clubs spend all their money as soon as they have it – or better said, before they have it.  And they spend it mostly on foreign managers and foreign players.   But let us remember that the current UK government is filled with people who have said, in relation to the European Union, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”   If that happens I find it hard to believe that in the ensuing chaos the government will pause to think about 20 businesses and their 400 or so extraordinarily highly paid non-UK nationals who suddenly have no right to work in the UK.  If you think that the government will then quickly push through a “footballers can stay” bill, then your thought patterns run along different channels to mine.

What makes the PL so different from the old Football League Division 1, is that last season Chelsea were given £151m by the Premier League just for being in it.   Go back 25 years or so and the amount given by the League was nothing compared to that.  Money came from selling players at a profit (that will stop) and gate receipts.

So the owners could suddenly stop investing, and the TV companies could suddenly find themselves going out of business (because people are watching in different ways), and who is out there to tidy matters up?  The government?  The FA.  OK you can stop laughing now; the former won’t care and second is congenitally incompetent.

Already we have seen a dramatic decline in the value of the pound against the euro following the vote to leave the European Union.  If the negotiations fail that will go further.   And add to this the tiny detail that the PL has for years been trading on the fact that Germany and Spain make it very easy for non-EU citizens to enter their countries to play football.   Two years on they can get a local passport, that makes the EU citizens and so they can play in England.  Except they can’t after we leave.  Even if EU citizens are allowed to stay that will only protect us for about three years.  After that it will be a league full of British players.

The finances in the Leagues below the PL should be much more stable – as the Football League receives about 4% of the amount the PL gets.   But even here there is chaos as the League clubs pay more in wages than they earn in total.   They survive on loans from their owners.

Worse, over 50% of the income of the Championship clubs comes from the Premier League in terms of parachute payments.  Even worse again the PL pays solidarity payments to all the football league clubs.  One wonders what cuts would come in first, if everything falls apart.

How is Arsenal affected?

Arsenal is profitable, and its minor level of debt is in the final moments of being paid to the banks for the stadium.   It is still highly exposed to very expensive player contracts, but of course over between one and four years these all run down.  Bank borrowing against the asset of the ground would see them through a total collapse.

But there is something else in the locker – and we have touched on this recently: home grown youth players.

Let us imagine chaos as a result of the UK leaving the EU with everyone talking up to the end about the need to put Britain first, and the desire to stand up to the horrible Johnny Foreigner chaps.  And with the foreign players fleeing, the TV deals collapse.  What then?

What Arsenal have is a youth team made up of players, many of whom are English, and others who probably will be allowed to stay because they have come to England to learn their trade rather than being grown up economic migrants, here because England pays better wages and able to claim citizenship.

So Arsenal would still have a quality team available.  Not many in the PL have that double bonus of a lot of youngsters who can really play, and a relatively debt free club.   Also Arsenal have a good stadium that is paid for and which they own.

Tottenham might get into their stadium in time before the crash, but would have so much debt no bank would lend them a penny.  West Ham have a stadium that cost them nothing, but they now have no security to borrow the money against.   Chelsea have their owner and he has seemed very willing to lend money as long as he is not turned away for being foreign.

Manchester City likewise except… their owners are, back home, embroiled in a political dispute that looks like it is not going away any time soon and could boil over into all out war, and may well have by the time you read this.  Manchester United are of course safe financially – as long as their owners can reign in their desire for ever more loot.

Of course it might not come to this.  Maybe the growth will go on forever with salaries continuing to rise at the current rate.   On that basis my basic maths suggests that in nine years time the salary bill of Manchester City FC will be larger than the gross domestic product of the UK.

Something to ponder.

14 Replies to “The Premier League finances are utterly unsustainable. But will Arsenal survive?”

  1. ‘After that it will be a league full of British players.’

    Nothing wrong with that. At least we might be able to relate to some of them in the way that we did in our previous most successful playing period.

  2. OT
    Pires, playing for the victorious French team showed he still has all the old skills in the Star Sixes competition in London yesterday’
    Merson on the other hand, carrying a good size beer gut, was frankly embarrasing playing for England, misplacing passes and falling on his back side a couple of times.

  3. An interesting and thought-provoking article, Tony but why the sneering jibe of “Johnny Foreigner” mentality of ‘leave’ supporters? The vast majority of them just want to return to being an independent, sovereign nation again. Remember, we were taken into the EU illegally (by Act of Parliament which was unconstitutional; yes, we do have a constitution, contrary to popular and your belief) and hoodwinking the nation was probably the only way it was going to happen. Remember also that we do not get anything from the EU that we have not paid twice for. The “Johnny Foreigner” jibe would be better aimed at the EU’s attitude toward us. Would you sneer at any of the old Soviet States that fought for independence (several of which are now in the clutches of the EU. Why do you decry sovereign independence so much (perhaps the picture on your home page answers my question).

  4. Nothing grows for ever? I beg to differ.

    A certain family’s fortune has now reached the $500 trillion mark and keeps growing.

    Still i get your gist.

    But many phrases and mantras we have been taught all our life may need some serious serious review.

    Football will of course change and d/evolve depending on the mindset that controls it.

    We will not agree with all of the changes but will probably end up still having love for football.

    Players from abroad come to PL because
    1: they can usually get more money.
    2: There are many teams that will take them.
    3: They get a higher visibility on media worldwide.
    4. They just don’t have the resources in their individual countries.

    What if Europe manage to develop those attributes too?
    This will reduce many transfers to PL, but won’t necessarilly change the direction of player movement, at least not until English players generally improve their skillset.

    Europe will just attract many who would have come to PL from other countries.

  5. Leon – ‘After that it will be a league full of British players.’

    “Nothing wrong with that.”

    You mean, apart from the massive drop in quality that we will be watching? Or the massive drop in sales revenue? Or having a complete lack of diversity? Yeah, how brilliant would that be.

    “. At least we might be able to relate to some of them” What a shame, that someone has to be from the same country as you, in order for you to be able to relate with them. Bloody foreigners, ruining our great British game, aye?

  6. Peter Kay, the Brexiteers outnumbered the Remainers, and the Remainers have to live with that.
    The Remainers dislike the Brexiteers’ suspicion of garlic bread and general little England ‘it’s not racism’ perspective, and the Brexiteers have to live with that.
    Hey ho, life is not perfect, you can’t always get what you want etc. 🙂

  7. One interesting word in English. OXYMORON

    What is oxymoron?

    An Oxymoron is defined as a phrase in which two words of opposite meanings are used together….

    Here are some funny oxymorons :

    1) Clearly Misunderstood
    2) Exact Estimate
    3) Small Crowd
    4) Act Naturally
    5) Found Missing
    6) Fully Empty
    7) Pretty Ugly
    8) Seriously Funny
    9) Only Choice
    10) Original Copies
    11) Open Secret
    12) Tragic Comedy
    13) Foolish Wisdom
    14) Liquid Gas

    Mother of all Oxymorons is-

    15) “Happily Married”

  8. 16. Great Britain .
    17. Successful English Managers
    18. World Class English Players.
    19. Knowledgeable locals
    20. Our Arsenal

  9. Definitions –

    *Intelligence* is like underwear, you should have it but not show it.

    *Stupidity* is like a bra, even with attempts to hide it, it shows up.

    *Ego* is like the bum. You can’t see yours but others can, and you keep noticing only other people’s !!

    Funny but sadly. true!

  10. He sees clearly now….

    Medico Legal joke of the day

    A recent article in the Times reported that a woman, Anita Patel , has sued a reputed Hospital, saying that after her husband had surgery there, ” He lost all interest in me .”

    A hospital spokesman replied in court: “Mr. Patel was admitted for cataract surgery. All we did was corrected his eyesight.”

  11. Declan, I can only truly speak for myself; there is a myriad of opinions on both sides of the divide and neither side should be pigeon-holed. Personally, I like garlic bread and many varieties of world food (Lithuanian boiled pigs ears and fish soup take some getting used to, though). I have made friends in many countries. I love to experience and learn about culture and custom throughout the world. This has no relevance to my desire to live in a free and independent country. I cannot be so tolerant of the custom of many Remainers that I am “racist”. This scurrilous slur is a constant refuge for those with a weak political argument and, by today’s standards of propriety is libellous and slanderous. And “little Englander” surely applies to those Remainers who think that England is so little that it is frightening and dangerous to go of its European Mother’s apron strings. I’m confident that most Leavers, like me, wish to leave in order to trade freely with the rest of the world, which doesn’t smack of racism to me.

  12. Peter,

    My argument is always thus: there are only so many people you can fit into a lift, before the cables snap and all plummet to their doom. I live in an East London borough about a ten minute drive from the mean streets of Tottenham, with a 63% ethnic majority. ‘Multi-cultural’ doesn’t do it justice and I’m married to a Jamaican woman, but I’m a staunch Brexiteer and wouldn’t ask a single person around me to go back home any more than I’d want to leave their country if I’d made my bed there. Despite this, it’s slightly worrying there’s a possibility foreign-born players may move away en-masse, because I’m convinced they’ve taken our attitude and application to the game of football into otherwise unknown pastures. Like you, I want a return to free and independent, but at what cost to the country we’ve become? Is it really worse than it was, say, 30 years ago? Only those of a certain age will remember…

  13. para

    That is true, but they only grow their fortune on the backs of bankrupt individuals and failed banks! They will end up asset rich, but cash poor, because nobody will have enough cash to buy from their collection of repossessions.

    The fact that the head of that family is “British” only goes to illustrate the extent to which their corruption already exists in this country.

    Against that background, football is nothing

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