Let’s look at some numbers. £4.55bn from 2019-2022. £595m over five years. Even the most mathematically illiterate person on the planet can see a discrepancy there. The first is the current Sky TV deal for the Premier League, the most-watched league in Europe. The second, the total deal for the 71 EFL clubs across the three Football League divisions of which the Championship is the third-most watched league in Europe.
The financial discrepancy between the two football organisations, the Premier League and EFL, is shown in starkest terms by the money that media giant Sky is willing to pay for the lion’s share of media and broadcast rights. It’s right there, in front of the eyes, in glaringly big numbers. Money talks – as simple as that.
Yet, in news coming through of late, it seems that ‘the green’ isn’t the only gulf between the two leagues. Of course, there is the gulf of class between some of the playing squads, the more prosaic aspects related to the football itself. That is always going to be the case; more money buys you that sort of gulf through the ability to purchase a better/higher quality of player.
Step away from the on-pitch side of things and there are other gaps as well, quite big ones. One gap between the Premier League and the Championship can be highlighted quite simply by looking at just five clubs: Leeds United and Birmingham City from the Championship and Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Norwich City from the Premier League.
The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the globe has decimated football to such an extent that only the top seven divisions in English football still have their campaigns active. Suspended, on hiatus, whatever terms you like but they are still active campaigns when others have been nullified and voided with results expunged. The pandemic has also led to wider social changes when it comes to the workforce.
That’s where the big difference comes in between Championship sides Birmingham and Leeds and Premier League sides Tottenham, Newcastle and Norwich. Leeds and Birmingham are two sides where the playing staff/coaching staff have agreed to a wage deferral to help out non-playing staff at their respective clubs. For Birmingham, players earning above £6,000-per-week will take a 50% deferral on that extra amount for 16 weeks. Leeds United staff have agreed to take a wage deferral for the foreseeable future.
Magnanimous is a word that springs to mind, it simply is. Then there’s the trio of teams from the Premier League, including Spurs who were Champions League finalists last season. Non-playing staff at ALL THREE clubs are being put on furlough – leave of absence so-to-speak.
It’s with Spurs that the most galling aspect of furloughing lies. The North London club currently sit on a £68.6m profit and have a playing staff where the majority will be above the £6000-per-week ceiling where Birmingham’s wage deferral kicked in.
Then there’s Newcastle United who returned profits of £18.6m following their promotion back to the Premier League in the last set of financial records that were released. Their owner, Mike Ashley, is worth a reported £2bn and even that pales into insignificance against the worth of Spurs owners Joe Lewis (70.6% owner) and Daniel Levy (29.4% owner) whose combined wealth is around the £5bn mark.
Norwich’s last fiancial records showed a loss of £38m, although that will be somewhat mitigated with the share of TV revenue they will have received after their promotion to the Premier League last season.
Yet here are three Premier League set-ups, basking in the glory of top-tier football and drippingly adorned with all its ostentation, who are being shown up by the actions of two second-tier clubs whose players are willing to make sacrifices to protect the wage packets of their non-playing staff and casual workers.
The Premier League trio mentioned above has been called out by MP Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for their actions. All three clubs have decided to use the Government’s proposed job retention scheme and payouts that have come about to protect the wages (80% at least) of staff whose employers have been forced to close due to the pandemic.
Quoted in a BBC Sport article, Knight said of this situation: “It sticks in the throat. This exposes the crazy economics in English football and the moral vacuum at its centre.” You know what, he’s right!
Football organising bodies are wanting to complete the current campaigns to preserve the ‘integrity of the competition’. Yet, teams that follow Leeds United and Birmingham City’s example are doing more for the integrity of football than any completed season or campaign can offer.
In short, they are highlighting yet another gulf between the Premier League and the Football League. Trouble is, you can have all the money you want but the actions of rich clubs show that you cannot buy class.