The credit crunch might be old news but its effects are finally coming round to bite football where it hurts. As the Premier League approaches its 20th anniversary, the writing’s on the wall for the unsustainable practices of the past decade.
Leeds United should have been the warning sign back in 2001 but the pursuit of glory and untold riches has led many clubs down the wrong path – Portsmouth being the latest.
Just look around the Football League at the clubs that are saddled with debt or emerging from administration with the predictable relegation. The recent Equifax report makes difficult reading for many fans and chairmen — over half Championship clubs are listed as insolvent. Worse still, a UEFA report shows Premier League clubs owe 56% of Europe’s football debt.
The reality is that there’s no money to be made in football – not real money anyway, ask Reading’s John Madejski. Every club with a new owner aspires to be a global brand – Man City, QPR, Derby County, etc. – but Man Utd, with a long history and heritage on top of recent success, are one of the few clubs to truly capitalise on their marketing potential. As a lifelong Nottingham Forest fan, I know that every corner of the world has heard of our once great club. Promotion and (relative) Premier League success could provide a platform but I wouldn’t bet on it even with billions behind us. And let’s be honest, the Glazers own Man Utd, massively leveraged like Liverpool, with debts that are not far from being a noose slowly tightening around their necks.
Changes to Football League money — a proposed extra £100 million from the Premier League and parachute payments over four years rather than two — and talk of wage caps point the way towards greater equality. The outgoing Football League chairman Brian Mawhinney believes salary capping is inevitable: “The business model of football in this country doesn’t work. I have some clubs in the Football League who are paying up to 85% of their income in wages.”
The expected Ofcom announcement, which will open up Sky’s subscription channels, could pave the way for a change in football finances — changing the amount of money Sky pays for the Premier League rights. Less Sky subscribers, less money…
Football must be sustainable – and UEFA’s Financial Fair Play makes sense – but it should also be more equal. There will always be big clubs but all of the money sloshing around in football should not be in the hands of the few. And if clubs can’t afford players wage demands, they shouldn’t pay them. As Sir Alan Sugar wisely said many years ago: “It doesn’t matter whether the television company gives us £3m or £33m, we’ll piss it up the wall on wages.”