Manchester City’s millions are once again in the headlines. Etihad Airways’ £400million sponsorship deal over 10 years at the club has left many seething and questioning its legitimacy ahead of Uefa’s financial fair play (FFP) rules being installed. The deal is the largest of its kind in sport and only goes to push the boundaries of financial parity further apart if you compare it to Arsenal’s 2004 deal with Emirates worth £90million over 15 years.
But are the critics, including Arsene Wenger and Liverpool‘s managing director Ian Ayre just slightly envious of the money surrounding City? On the surface the more money a football club can have to spend on players and wages is good for that club and not its competitors, who wouldn’t be jealous of City’s ability to buy the world’s best players and off the back of that challenge for honours. But it is below the surface, into the heart of the business side of the club, where I think jealousy is replaced by concern that City are unfairly maneuvering themselves away from ever being on a level playing field with the rest of the Premier League and making sure that financial fair play rules don’t come back to bite them.
Renaming a stadium after a sponsorship deal is not a new practice. Bolton’s Reebok Stadium and the club’s association with the brand stretches back 18 years whilst Arsenal more recently named their new stadium after a sponsorship deal. City’s deal is just on a very enhanced scale. Maybe Arsenal now regret agreeing to £90million only seven years ago?
But rather than criticise, could any other clubs follow City’s lead? Across the world wealthy businessmen have looked to football clubs as a investable business, the latest being Spanish side Malaga being bought a member of the Qatari royal family at the end of last season. The money being poured into the club has already been spent on eight new summer arrivals, including ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid star Ruud van Nistelrooy. Despite numerous wealthy businessmen being at the helms of many Premier League clubs, few can still match the wealth of Manchester City’s owners. Having many clubs in the Premier League with the money of Manchester City would create a sort of super-charged level playing field where top clubs relates solely to the money you have, rather than success.
But could clubs like Tottenham and Liverpool follow the precedent set by City, just on a smaller scale? Both clubs are reported to be considering a new stadium and a similar financial package (unlikely to match the millions of City’s) would enhance their chances of competing both on the pitch and also in terms of ground and area development. How Liverpool and Spurs’ fans would react to losing White Hart Lane or Anfield for a branded stadium name remains to be seen.
The Etihad deal at City involves an extension of their shirt sponsorship, renaming their ground the Etihad Stadium and development of an Etihad Campus (the area around the current ground that will be developed to include facilities including new training grounds). There will be no getting away from the connection between City and their sponsors.
But do people like Wenger have a point when questioning such a deal and its credibility in the financial fair play rules? Firstly Wenger is allowed to be concerned as he looks to battle City on the pitch in the upcoming season but the Arsenal manager’s lack of involvement in the financial side of both clubs means that he should have possibly not voiced such worries.
The deal between Manchester City and Etihad is no doubt going to come under intense scrutiny by Uefa and rightly so. But if investigations reveal that City have been transparent and correct in their dealings, City’s competitors will have little to complain about as talking too much about finances rather than football may start to sound like jealousy.
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