EVER wondered why THE INDEPENDENT has been featuring a rising number of articles this season on the English Premier League (EPL)?
Easy numerics: The Premier League is simply No 1, it tops the global list with total stadium attendances of more than 13 million, and a worldwide audience in over 200 countries, with Germany’s Bundesliga only second.
Rather unbelievably, the Championship, which is England’s second tier, ranks as the third most-watched league in European football during the 2016-17 season, with an total of more than 11 million, higher than Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1.
That’s why the football-loving billionaires have a very close eye on the “Home of Football” with almost two thirds of Premier League clubs foreign-owned compared to 58 per cent of Championship clubs. UEFA (the European-football controlling body) also found that the Premier League and Championship continue to top the list of foreign club ownership last season.
Some of the figures are just staggering: For the first time, the average wage bill of the Premier League (153.9 million euros) is more than double that of the next highest-paying league – the Bundesliga (75.3 million euros).
And as an awesome salute to the EPL, five Premier League teams – Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal – feature in the top 20 clubs by wages alone.
LOUDEST CROWD FIGURES
Aggregate crowd attendances speak the loudest and for the 2016-2017 season, England topped the charts with 13,607,420 with Germany’s Bundesliga second at 12,703,896, England’s Championship at 11,086,368 followed by Spain’s La Liga (10,621,000) and Italy’s Serie A (8,377,860).
For the first time in European football, 11 clubs have reported aggregate league attendances of over one million. West Ham, Celtic and Liverpool have now surpassed the one million mark, joining Manchester United, Arsenal and Man City in the top 11.
As the startling figures show in 2016-17, 13.6 million turned up for 380 matches, with a quarter of clubs attracting 50,000-plus average crowds: Manchester United (75,290), Arsenal (59,957), West Ham (56,972), Manchester City (54,019) and Liverpool (53,016).
In the last 25 years, several clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, have extended their grounds, while others have moved to new homes like Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton.
Sports journalist Jason Edwards of The Daily Mail says: “Incessant news coverage, the number of high-end clubs, big transfer fees and high attendances all rake in the big scores for the Premier League matches. Less impressive is its reputation for developing national youth talent, an area for improvement with most clubs in the league, but taking everything into account, the Premier League tops the bill for us.”
More feathers in the cap for England? England’s 20 top tier clubs together reported more revenue than all 597 clubs combined from the 48 smaller UEFA countries (all except Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Russia and Turkey).
Twelve English clubs feature in the top 30 revenue rankings, with Manchester City (sixth), Arsenal (seventh), Chelsea (eighth) and Liverpool (ninth) all in the top 10. English clubs occupy 16 of the top 20 places in the broadcast revenues table. Manchester United is top (146m euros – 21 per cent of total revenue).
EPL: QUARTER OF A CENTURY
Now going on to 25 years, there have been plentiful of changes in the Premiership. Just look at the foreign player influx. Of the 242 players that started 11 matches on the opening weekend of the 1992-92 season, only13 were not British or Irish.
The number of overseas players who started 10 games on the last day of the 2016-17 season was 112 out of 220. Over 25 years, a total of 3,835 players have played at least one Premier League game while 113 different nations – including the Seychelles, Pakistan and Guinea-Bissau – have been represented.
Usually shirt-sponsorship deals reflect the distinct popularity of the big clubs, says former England striker Kevin Keegan, who once managed Newcastle, Fulham and Manchester City. Premier League clubs have smashed their own record for combined shirt sponsorship deals, with the 20 clubs generating £281.8 million for the 2017-18 season, a rise of more than £55m on last year.
He says: “It’s simply phenomenal. This increase underlines the commercial strength of the League with shirt sponsorships close to trebling in seven years.”
Shirt deals are one revenue stream among many that feed the coffers of Premier League clubs. All clubs earn money from three key streams: Match day income (tickets, food & drink, hospitality, programmes, hoardings and so on), media income (mainly television rights) and commercial income (including sponsors, where shirt income is often but not always the biggest component).
Manchester United’s club-record deal worth £47m a year with Chevrolet remains the biggest deal in the Premier League, and Chelsea’s with Yokohama (tyre-makers) remains second biggest at £40m a year. But Manchester City’s deal with Etihad (airlines) has leapt to £35m per year via a ‘step increase’ in their contract while Tottenham’s renegotiated deal with AIA (insurance giant) has grown even more, also to £35m-a-year.
Spurs have finished as runners-up in the past two seasons and will be moving into a new stadium in London – both attractive points to sponsors. Liverpool’s deal has also grown with Standard Chartered (global bank) to £30m a year but that is good enough now only for a top-six place.
A majority of the 20 clubs have seen increased deals for the new season, West Ham and Everton registering the biggest leaps among the ‘middling clubs’ via new contracts with gambling firms.
The international appeal of the Premier League is demonstrated with 16 clubs having sponsors with overseas headquarters based in countries as diverse as the USA, China, Japan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Malta, Kenya and The Philippines.
Everton recently announced their new shirt sponsor will be Kenyan-based online betting firm SportPesa – the first African company to sponsor an English Premier League club when they did a deal with Hull last season; Hull was relegated but the gambling firm play on in the top flight.
Only Liverpool, Southampton, Stoke and Watford boast British-based sponsors.
What’s giving another big EPL shot-in-the-arm is the rising show of Premiership clubs in Europe, says Jita Singh, former Singapore award-winning coach. This season marked the first Champions League campaign in which there were five Premier League clubs (Manchester City, Tottenham, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea) competing in the group stage after Manchester United qualified following their Europa League victory over Ajax, despite finishing sixth in the Premier League.
He says: “The Premier League has set a new record as all five of its representatives in this season’s Champions League qualified for the knockout stages. It is the first time in the history of the Champions League that a country has had five teams in the last-16 stage of the competition, clearly highlighting the improvement that has been made this term.”
In my view, what sets the EPL apart is the hot competition for the Premiership title. In most European leagues, the title is often a matter of interest for two rival clubs, maybe three, but in the EPL there are often six clubs who could realistically be crowned champions. Just quickly to name a few, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United.
And there’s also the Leicester City factor to think about. You wonder how come a small club like Leicester can win the Premiership? How did that happen? It could be the EPL and its magical unpredictability.
Another big question: Are the best players in the world playing in the English Premier League? The answer is actually no. Let’s admit something from the outset that the elite top two players in the world are currently plying their trade in Spain. That’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Let’s throw Luis Suarez into the mix, too.
You may have different names in your head, the Brazilian Neymar for example, but the plain fact is the best exponents of the beautiful game are not playing in England.
However, add up the total numbers of quality internationals in the top 10 teams in all the leagues and who has most strength in depth? Undoubtedly it’s the Premiership.
What does that mean in terms of pure football, you may ask? If you’re a regular spectator at EPL league matches the chances are you’ll be watching top internationals week in and week out, not just when the elite teams turn up. This makes a huge difference to the overall quality of play and gives the Premier League the edge over other world leagues.
Fast forward 35-40 years and the Premiership is now watched by over 600 million people in roughly 200 countries, a staggering number, from Peru to Pakistan, Argentina to Armenia and Nigeria to New Zealand.
Matches are broadcast live and eagerly anticipated. The incomes from overseas broadcast rights are enormous but what’s special about the Premier League is that they are distributed collectively amongst the 20 clubs. In other European leagues, with the exception of the Bundesliga, the money tends to go to the individual clubs with most coverage.
So it’s a statement of fact that the English League is the most watched sports show on any continent at any one time during the season.
The reason? Simply because it has depth and quality and excitement unrivalled within the football world.
And that’s why, let me repeat, THE INDEPENDENT continues to feature a rousing number of articles on the No 1 League, which supremely tops the global list with total attendances of more than 13 million.
Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based sports journalist who has covered the Premiership for over three decades. He is the EPL correspondent for THE INDEPENDENT.