“The Football Crash”: Are footballers the bankers of modern sport?

Musa Okwonga

Pompey 300x225 The Football Crash: Are footballers the bankers of modern sport?For some time now, the headlines about footballers’ wages have seemed oddly familiar; and, with the publication of a new report, the analogy has finally become clear. These athletes, with pay packets beyond the imagination and comprehension of the average working person, appear to be the bankers of modern sport.

Dave Boyle, the author of The High Pay Centre’s new report “Football Mad: Are We Paying More for Less?”, writes that “since the creation of the Premier League in 1992, top footballers’ salaries have mushroomed, rising by 1508% to 2010.

Over the same period average wages [i.e., those of the ordinary UK worker] increased by just 186%.” Moreover, he notes that “the amount spent by clubs on wages has also increased dramatically. The percentage of turnover spent on players has increased, from 48% of turnover in 1997, up to 70% in 2011.”

These superheated salaries, continues Boyle, have hit the ordinary fan particularly hard. “Fans are now paying up to 1000% more to watch their teams play, all in order to support their club’s gargantuan wage bills,” he writes. “Fans watching at home are similarly seen as a captive market, whilst those who want to watch at the pub are paying more – or finding their local can’t afford it, given the 10,000% increase in pay TV subscriptions.” Perhaps most alarming is his observation that “since 1992, over half of England’s professional football clubs have been formally insolvent. Most only survived because the wider community received less of what they were owed in order to ensure players continued to get all of what they were promised.”

But why does this matter? Who cares about inequality of pay? After all, pubs were packed for this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament.  The new season has begun in spectacular fashion, sweeping aside the last traces of Olympic fervour with a series of wonderful goals. And so what if many clubs are living beyond their means?  People are prepared to shell out substantial sums in support of their teams, whose adventures offer an experience that they can’t find anywhere else.  There is also the fact that the overwhelming majority of elite players have come from poor backgrounds against severe odds, and, so the argument goes, are entitled to the windfalls that come from their very short careers at the top of the game.

Strong as these contentions may be, they do not satisfactorily address two of football’s greatest problems: an increasing lack of competitiveness, and of sustainability.  The Premier League is much-heralded for the possibility that any team is able to beat any other: however, a closer look at the statistics gives the lie to this assertion.  In the last three seasons, the bottom three teams in the league have beaten the top three teams in the league in only 7% of the matches that they have played against each other, scoring 41 goals in those 54 games whilst conceding 151.

So what, fans might say: the football, such as Manchester City’s title-winning 3-2 victory against QPR on the last day of last season, is still thrilling. And they’d be right. On the whole, supporters have accepted, if somewhat grudgingly, the predictability of league finishes.  The compelling problem relates to the health of the game itself. Directors, instead of ensuring its long-term future, are chasing quick results, desperate for same-season gratification. Accordingly, revenues are not flowing down to football’s grassroots; they are not even trickling down. They are evaporating.

It is tempting, at a time like this, to look enviously at Germany.  There, notes the report, “clubs are owned by their supporters, who must control at least 50+1 % of the votes within a club.   That ensures a degree of accountability to fans (which works to keep ticket prices lower) and has prevented oligarchs and other wealthy individuals taking over clubs.”   There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with a wealthy individual’s takeover – you will not hear many complaints from Chelsea or Manchester City fans, for example – but the question becomes a more vexed one when those individuals, as in the cases of Portsmouth, Malaga and Manchester United, have financial goals that are at variance with the club’s best interests.

It seems that, both on and off the field, Germany get it.  Their clubs perform well, if not exceptionally, in Europe; their domestic league remains reasonably competitive, and their ticket prices remain cheap.  Moreover, they invest heavily in their coaching talent, as Boyle points out: “the ratio of coaches to players in Germany is 1 to every 150 players whereas in England it is 1 to 812…whilst the German FA makes qualifications mandatory, our own FA sets them as ‘aspirations’ for improvement.”

The message from Boyle’s study is clear: just as we had a financial crash, we may soon have “a football crash”.  Football is developing a serious case of tooth decay: however, even as the game is crying out for a round of root canal surgery, we keep on feeding it bowlfuls of sugar.  Sooner or later, this is really going to hurt.

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  • Thrasos

    When it was discovered that a few “bosses” had had pay rises of 8.6% whilst their employees had none. this was headline news in The Independent. When it’s discovered that under performing pig’s bladder kickers had increase of over 1000% it only appears in an obscure blog. How perfectly right on.

  • edzuiderwijk

    When all the top clubs go bankrupt and are demoted to the Conference, then Arsenal will be champions by default (almost).


  • lello74

    jesus i cant believe there is so many people blaming the footballers for earning so much money……only the very stupid people can do that.the premiership tv rights is worth billions of pounds that are divided more or less fairly between all teams…….if footballers didnt earn what they do then all that money would go to the bloody owners………is that more fair????????…………..even the silly rules from uefa(the fairplay),is going to disappear as soon as they see that is totally illegal and a restraint of trade……is like telling a new owner of a rundown shop that it cant invest money on his business unless doesnt earn the money first ……….only platini,who didnt go to school very much could have thought something like this……..

  • chuckjaeger

    The NFL is no different yet is seems as though you still watch it. Michael Vick and dog fighting is just one example.

  • chuckjaeger

    I discussed the salary cap thing with an employment lawyer a few years ago, his explanation was basically this:

    Under employment laws you cannot cap an individuals salary but it says nothing about all the teams agreeing to a cap as a proportion of their income. However, that puts the clubs in breach of another set of laws governing competitiveness where they are basically setting up a cartel to stop wage inflation in their industry.

    The NFL gets around this by a) being in the U.S where massive concessions are made to the sporting business and b) the fact that they are franchises rather than individually owned and operated. The NFL that runs the franchise can say how salaries are paid and distributed if an owner wants to be part of a franchise. All the clubs in the NFL are essentially seen as individual parts of one large company rather than in the EPL where they are individual entities that compete against each other in the sporting arena AND as companies in the free market.

  • pinkfeet

    “The new season has begun in spectacular fashion, sweeping aside the last traces of Olympic fervour”

    In your dreams – otherwise you wouldn’t even be writing the article.

  • Dominic Hagan

    they need to impose solvency laws on clubs and start restricting season ticket prices. let them get as much they can out of sponsors and owners but leave the poor fans alone.

  • MD Rathe

    I agree with the sustainability point but i think the competitiveness angle is a bit weak. Man City won their first PL title (i know i know 1992 etc) and i think the last few years have seen 3 different clubs win the title. Add to that we now have several clubs getting promoted and staying up while others who have been around a while find they have been overtaken and suffer, like Bolton. We also have Spurs who have broken into the CL places and Everton who have been sniffing around Europe for most of Moyes rein, occasionally getting a season in here and there.

    If you want a league where all 20 teams have an equal chance of winning at the start, well i can’t tell you where to look because I’ve never heard of one! There are always favourites and the also rans and i think Newcastle last year would have been very long odds on finishing where they did. The opening odds are not always accurate predictors of performance. With unpredictability and a few David and Goliath games there is a nice mix and I do not feel competitiveness is an issue frankly.

    I also think rumours of football’s demise are rather exaggerated, some clubs that are badly run will get into trouble, others that are well run will have success, its all part of life’s rich pageant. Again, if you want 20 cookie cutter clubs all prudently run, making conservative decisions and never taking any risks then its going to get a bit dull isn’t it? Ultimately the size of the fan base will decide the league table rather like the size of a countries population is supposed to be the main determinant of GDP once they are developed. How do you grow your fan base to attract more people in without doing something new, trying something? Sometimes it works sometimes not. And if the league did its job then rogue owners, crooks, convicts people with a record a mile long in financial misdemeanors wouldn’t get past the entrance door.

    Finally everyone seems to be lauding Germany and its clubs, but lets look a bit closer, this article highlights several issues that show the German model is not a cure all for our own problems:

    (its not mine but it saves me typing a fair bit more here!)

  • Adam

    It is painfully obvious that football is ridiculously overpriced. Fifty odd quid to get into game is simply a joke.

    The problem is very few people speak out, or I suppose are given the platform to speak out because the establishment don’t want the masses to see the flaw in their product.

    Sky have destroyed what was once the beautiful game make no mistake, despite their channels constantly telling you that the Premier League is ‘the best league in the world’ on a regular basis. The monopoly they have on the game has created a vicious circle.

    The more countries and customers they sell to, the more money they pay the clubs. The clubs then pay average players exorbitant wages to keep up with The Jones’ (not to mention the agents) and clubs increase entrance fees to suit, taking advantage of fans loyalties to their club. Those that can’t afford to pay at the ground but still want to see their club then invest in a TV subscription. And the behemoth grows stronger.

    It has noticeably spiralled out of all control in recent years with the advent of Uber Rich owners. Players earning in the region £200′000 a week, and smaller clubs trying to keep up with the likes of Chelsea and Man City are finding that the massive TV revenue they get, barely pays the wage bill.

    All the time the game is losing its soul. The working class can barely afford it, the eventual winners can be predicted from one of 3 teams, the stadiums are sterile and the atmosphere at games (the reason the English game was so popular in the first place) a shadow of itself. The connection between players and fans is long gone, despite how many times they may kiss the badge.

    Attendance statistics are manipulated to tell us that stadiums are regularly full, but compared to bygone eras the number of people attending are relatively low. The fact our stadiums are all seated contributes to this, but the establishment will not even consider returning to standing areas (cheaper than seats) despite how safe and popular the German model has proved. We don’t want the riff raff back at football after all do we!?

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