The relative tranquillity of this summer’s transfer market has disguised the fact that Premier League revenues are up. This rise in revenue is attributable to the value of overseas television rights which have doubled to exceed £1 billion over three years. The twenty Premier League clubs have asked its chief executive, Richard Scudamore not the reveal how much the new deal is worth. Another rise in income may seem positive news but this will have far-reaching implications for the future of television rights and the ownership and financial management of clubs. In the spirit of openness should fans be made aware of their club’s share of the pot? Knowledge of the figures would allow fans to better hold their respective clubs to account and scrutinise their decisions.
In the midst of a global economic downturn Premier League clubs are reluctant to have details of their wealth made public. The desire of top flight clubs not to reveal the details of this new agreement is also motivated by a wish not to give any rival clubs or agents an advantage in the transfer market. All valid reasons but fans may wish to know more about the financial health of their clubs. The distribution of overseas television money is more equitably distributed than in Spain and Italy where the elite sides negotiate their own deals. The appeal to make this information confidential may not be due to the discrepancies which occur between Premier League clubs but because of the financial mismanagement it would reveal.
The figures that Premier League clubs do not want fans to see have huge implications for the future of the league. Overseas fans are the main driving force behind these increased revenues. This has maintained the Premier League’s financial advantage over Serie A, the Bundesliga and La Liga. This goes some way to explain the cosmopolitan profile of Premier League owners. The Chinese financier Kenny Huang is vying to become the latest foreign Premier League owner, recognising the unlimited potential of overseas markets. What does this mean for the average fan who attends games and watches their club on television? The ability of the domestic fan to bolster their club’s profits has long been in decline.
In an effort to attract overseas fans we have already faced the rescheduling of league games and the widely criticised proposal of the 39th game. The prospect of each side playing an extra game abroad was received sceptically by managers but less so by club chairmen. The argument that overseas markets have altered the focus of Premier League clubs is hard to dismiss. Arsenal has recently signed a deal with MP & Silva, an international sports media company. Anticipating a move towards the internet becoming the dominant medium for football the club are intent on revamping its media output so it can eventually interact with fans across the globe, for a fee, via the touch of a button.
Such decisions may make business sense but for the humble, domestic fan are the investments of clubs misplaced. A paradigm shift in how clubs raise revenue and how we watch football may be occurring. These changes may mean greater revenues still for top flight clubs and yet financial mismanagement still afflicts the league. Manchester United and Liverpool fans protest about the scale of debt at their clubs and Portsmouth became the first Premier League side to enter administration this year. With so much money sloshing around the system questions need to be raised about clubs’ investment in youth and coaching, paying down debts and reducing the cost of attending matches. Greater freedom of information would allow fans to question their club’s actions and guard against financial short-termism.