PtG Article 29.11.2017

Weak links in the sports business

Play the Game 2017 examined the distribution of income from Europe’s top leagues in a session on how money in professional sport flows.

The twenty clubs of the English Premier League (EPL) are among the wealthiest in the world. In addition to their players, other high-ranking professionals employed by these clubs receive lucrative salaries.

However, according to research conducted by Sheffield Hallam University lecturer Peter Prowse, all but three of England’s top clubs have not pledged to pay their staff the so-called real living wage (RLW), a sum defined by the UK’s Living Wage Foundation as GBP 10.20 per hour in London and GBP 8.75 per hour in the rest of the country.

Many EPL clubs are located in deprived inner city areas, Prowse pointed out, and all claim strong links with the local community. However, only Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea, have agreed to pay the RLW, the latter being located in one of London’s most affluent boroughs. As a rough guess, Prowse said, a commitment to the RLW may cost a club GBP 500,000 per year – small change when transfer fees of tens of millions are regularly changing hands.

Small change

Christian Müller, Dean at Cologne Sports University, asked whether the growth in revenues enjoyed by Europe’s top clubs is diluting financial regulations such as UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules. While the rules remain in place clubs are increasingly circumventing them through a number of loopholes, Müller explainied.

An attractive league, he pointed out, requires fair play, suspense, credibility, and, crucially, uncertainty of outcome. However, the increasing disparity between Europe’s richest clubs and the rest has reduced this uncertainty.

Despite this, interest remains high and attendances remain healthy, which implies that many fans will accept a degree of predictability. Current trends, Müller concluded, include a more uneven distribution of revenues and more lenient enforcement of financial regulation.

Leeds University researcher Alessandro Moretti detailed his analysis of football’s secondary ticket market, which, he said, is worth about GBP one billion annually in the UK. Methods used by touts to obtain tickets, he said, include direct contact with players, officials and box office staff and circumventing sales limits through the use of multiple accounts.

Legislation that is currently being discussed, he said, appears to be targeted purely at the online market, and will do little to prevent the traditional street sellers from plying their trade.

Uncompetitive friendlies

UK-based football journalist Steve Menary detailed recent trends in pre-season friendlies, which include the majority of Europe’s top clubs playing warm up matches abroad. While tickets for pre-season tournaments can cost more than a seat at the Champions League final, he said, most games remain uncompetitive with substitutions made every six minutes on average. While they were previously seen by clubs as a method of gauging fitness and assessing formations, pre-season friendlies are now viewed as a means to increase a club’s global fan base, sell shirts, and satisfy overseas sponsors, Menary said. Increasingly, he said, local teams are not invited to compete in pre-season competitions against the rich European clubs.

Madison Steenson and Karen Perry, researchers at Canada’s Thomson Rivers University, spoke of the potential impact of a hard Brexit on football transfers to and from the UK. European players, they said, may be required to obtain work visas before they are permitted to play for a UK club, and an endorsement from the governing body of their home nation may also be required. Players from nations with a low FIFA ranking may face additional difficulties in obtaining visas, they said.

In more than 40 sessions, over 200 speakers will present their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of the most topical questions in world sport during the tenth Play the Game conference, taking place in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 26-30 November 2017.Read more about Play the Game 2017