Serie A woes hold a lesson for the Premier League

Italian football hasn’t had a great decade. Corruption, debt, plummeting crowd attendances and a subsequent decrease in league status have plagued a period in Italian football that won’t leave many feeling nostalgic. Champions League victories for Inter (2010) and Milan (2003, 2007) and the brief tenure of Jose Mourinho spiced up life in Serie A for moments in an otherwise uncompetitive era. We can look to our Mediterranean counterparts with a vague sense of sympathy and superiority but the reality is that in this country that we are not a million miles away on many of these issues. Italy is there to serve as a warning for Premier League clubs, in the same way that the Bundesliga should stand out as a positive example. The fate of our league rests with a few laws and attitudes and we would do well to pay heed to the situations in nearby countries.

Whilst corruption may be endemic in football it seems to be arguable that the Premier League is relatively clean cut in comparison to Italy and Turkey, however the other issues are more pressing.

Club debt

The debts of Serie A clubs can be seen as a metaphor for their national economic crisis. For years they have simply borrowed and spent too much whilst doing little to increase their actual revenues. The combined revenue of the top three Italian clubs for last season (as stated in Deloitte’s Football Money League) was €166m which was significantly less than that of Spain’s top three (€295m). English clubs too have a long way to go before they reach the commercial heights they should be. Only Man Utd is anywhere near to reaching its potential but they still lag behind the Spanish giants by around €50m. The astronomical debts of Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd don’t really bare thinking about in comparison to their revenues and although they have wealthy backers the FFP rules will make for uncomfortable times at the top of the English game. Club debt at the end of 2010 reached over £2.5b for the Premier League clubs alone, a figure that has surely risen in 2011 due to increased club spending from clubs such as City, Chelsea and Liverpool (The Guardian). Italy’s combined debt for all three of its top leagues was recorded in 2010 as €2.9b (World Soccer), and they think they’re having a crisis.

Attendance

Attendance in Italy has been a real problem recently with the average for the league at just over 23,000 for this season, a drop from last seasons tally (ESPN). Although England’s is considerably higher at around 34,000 this figure too has fallen from last season despite the presumed increase in popularity for teams like Man City. Teams like Arsenal and Man Utd make a considerable amount of their money from their stadiums but if we look at the risks we face in domination from the top few clubs whose spending power vastly outstrips the rest of the league then we can see a startling similarity to the reason Italian football is experiencing low crowds. This has been perpetrated by the unequal television rights distribution that was only changed back to collective selling two years ago. People like Liverpool’s Ian Ayre should take a look at Italy and their forced abandonment of individual television rights before they start clamouring for it.

Obviously there are huge differences between the Italian and English leagues; the pace and style of the football here is considered to be more entertaining hence its worldwide appeal. However that doesn’t mean that there aren’t warning signals for us to heed coming from Italy and other nations whose leagues are infested with unmanageable debt and a lack of competition. Instead of waiting for FIFA or UEFA to take action perhaps it is time the Premier League attempted to combat the rising and unsustainable spending in our league.

Follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay

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