£5.136 billion, let me run that number by you properly: £5,136,000,000. That is the amount of money being paid to the Premier League for the live TV rights of top flight fixtures in England from 2016 through to 2019. There will be 168 live games shown from 2016/17 onwards in comparison to the current number of 154. The increase of fourteen games and the introduction of ‘Friday Night Football’ have bumped up the overall cost of the TV packages on offer by 2.118 billion from its current rate of ‘just’ £3.018 billion, that’s around a 71% increase. We’re yet to add in the international TV rights deals either, which could take the figure towards a staggering £6 billion. Insane figures.
Don’t worry, the numbers are out of the way now, you get the picture, it’s a ludicrous amount of money. There is a lot more to be analysed. You can see the effect money is having on Premier League clubs as even the teams towards the bottom end of the table are able to compete with Europe’s more illustrious outfits in terms of signing players, which will in-turn ensure the standards of football should improve even further. I don’t buy in to the debate that other countries get to see ‘better’ football than we do in England, it’s extremely competitive throughout, whereas many of the other league’s in Europe see the standard drop once the top 5, 6 or 7 clubs are taken out of it. So thats an immediate positive to be drawn from it. We’re paying through our noses to enable Sky and BT to afford these TV deals, but at least we’re paying for the best.
Is the best quality football necessarily the be all and end all though? Well yes, and no. The problem is that the continuation of players being offered ridiculous contracts and transfer fees regularly hitting the £20 million mark mean that clubs must continue to charge the prices they do for season tickets and match-day tickets. The players’ agents know that the clubs need to sign the best players possible and they also know the amount of money they have at their disposal, so therefore no matter how much money is earned through TV deals each club must still set aside most of their cash for players wages, signing on fees, agents fee and transfer fees. This is the pattern of modern football and there is no sign of it ending.
Football fans throughout the country and further afield pay to watch the beautiful game because they simply love it, the drama, the magical moments, the last minute goals, the controversial red cards. The game is more often than not an exciting one, but without the fan interaction from the sidelines that could start to wear off. It is the responsibility of everyone involved to make sure that doesn’t happen. A further increase or even a lack of decrease in ticket prices over the coming years could further price your every day fan, in an increasingly tough economic climate, out of the game. The solution for this is of course to see that extra £2 billion or so not used to line players’ pockets but instead used to subsidise ticket prices and encourage more people from each clubs’ local community to attend matches. Can I see this happening? In short, no. But it needs to. We could eventually get to a day where TV viewing figures are through the roof but every match is being played in front of half-empty, lifeless and emotionless stadia, you could even say this is already the case to a degree. The passion on the pitch, which is such a pull for the TV companies could end up disappearing and the end result could be masses of football fans losing interest in this famous old game.
Football fans basically spend and spend to feed their habit, we’ll pay more to watch on TV, which won’t be passed back down to us in terms of lower prices to watch the game. It’s a lose, lose scenario.
We must also spare a though for the clubs not currently competing for the top twenty places in English football, because of course there is more to the game than the Premier League. Whilst the best get better and the rich ger richer, the poor unfortunately get poorer. The gap between the top flight and the rest of the Football League is bigger than it’s ever been, at least in terms of money. If you go down further than that you find the clubs in the higher echelons of non-league football mostly treading water in order to survive. And yet these clubs still manage to help produce players that could go on to make it big in the football league and even the Premier League. It is a credit to them, they have to be extremely financially streamlined in order to succeed.
The enjoyment at that level though is possibly even greater than that of supporting your average Premier League team. With the clubs realising the need to keep fans on-side, a lot more effort is made to get them through the gate and to get them involved. The community side of things as you go further down the league’s is what some would now call ‘proper football’. The players earn a similar wage to the fans and can as-such relate to them more. Whereas the stars at the top end of the game are almost in their own bubble with sometimes no idea of the struggles of your average fan. Maybe more education and a wage cap is the answer as far as that is concerned. Then again, forgive me for being cynical but how would these players cope on, say, just £50,000 a week?
The answers are out there, the problem is that nobody in a position to listen will. The reason being it would cost them dearly, but the bigger picture is that these immense TV deals could eventually cost the whole game dearly.
Thanks to Dan Watts c/o @BaggiesFacts for this guest piece.