Maybe it is an unintended consequence of Brexit. Maybe it was just the weather. But the fact is that in this summer’s transfer window not only was more money spent by Premier League clubs but more money was spent in England than ever before. The question many fans will now be asking is where that money goes next.
According to research by the consultants Deloitte, Premier League clubs spent £1,165,000,000 in the transfer window that closed on Wednesday night, with fees ranging from the £89m Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba to the £1m Sunderland paid paid it for Donald Love. £445m of that total was spent on players from English clubs, roughly a 50% rise on last season. Further to that, spending on players in the Football League practically doubled, to a record £140m.
The reasons for the rise in spending are not difficult to ascertain, with the advent of the new £5bn TV deal the primary culprit. “As has been the case for a number of years now, the increase in broadcast revenue is the principal driver of this spending power,” said Dan Jones, partner in the sports business group at Deloitte.
“The increase in the value of these deals and the comparatively equal revenue distribution of these by the Premier League have again allowed clubs throughout the division to invest significantly in this summer’s market.”
For those concerned about the health of the domestic game the key question is what will happen to any newfound riches. According to Deloitte, the answer is simple: more players. “Membership of the Premier League has never been as lucrative as it is today and as such we have seen this have knock-on effects in terms of the spending in the Championship,” says Jones. “This summer saw a record £215m gross spend by Championship clubs, more than twice the previous record, driven by the investment of recently relegated clubs seeking an immediate return to the Premier League as well as by that of ambitious Championship clubs seeking entry to the world’s richest football league.”
These are unprecedented sums for the English football pyramid, although much of the spending is condensed at the top of the Championship. Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Norwich between them, the three clubs relegated from the Premier League in May, spent roughly £117m on new players, more than half the gross total in the Championship. Further to that the sale of four Newcastle players – Giorginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, Andros Townsend and Daryl Janmaat – accounted almost entirely for the growth in transfer fees received by Football League clubs from their Premier League counterparts.
“There are vast sums coming into the game and we want to see that shared more equitably throughout the footballing pyramid, right down to grassroots level,” Liam Thompson, a spokesperson for the Football Supporters’ Federation, said.
“Concerted efforts from fans over the last few years have shown that clubs can do more with the money coming into the game. For example, Stoke City have continued to keep season ticket prices low as well as providing free coach travel to away games. A number of other clubs in the Premier League and Football League have frozen or reduced prices. This helps ensure live football is not out of reach of fans. The £30 [Premier] league-wide cap on away ticket prices is a significant victory for football supporters but we urge football fans to remain vigilant and continue to ask their clubs what they’re doing for their supporters.”
The £30 rule does not apply in the Championship and fans of relegated sides are finding they can pay more for away travel in the second tier than in the Premier League. John Williams is an academic at Leicester University who specialises in the social impact of the national game. He suggests clubs could focus on this issue to bring in more support.
“The fear, with Championship clubs in particular, is that they will spend whatever money they get to try and get into the Premier League, that’s the danger,” he said. “The riches are so great, they’ll spend the money on players, wages and whatever else they believe necessary to produce that dividend.
“But there are a few other places the money could go though. Firstly, clubs could spend it on the women’s game. This would firstly stimulate local support locally, but it would also show that clubs are working for the public good and for inclusion. It would also be a good investment as the women’s game is growing and is no longer sniffed at by big clubs.
“It would also make sense to work hard on young supporters,” he says. “We know that the temptation is for young supporters to identify with much larger clubs, to wear their stuff locally. Anything a smaller club can do to reduce the price of their own goods is a good thing. Reduce the price of kits, reduce the price of tickets, see how far you can push it down, make it real.”
One final tweak that could be made, Williams says, is one adopted by the Premier League champions. “Maybe do the thing that seems to have proven surprisingly popular here in Leicester. The owners chose a couple of games and gave any supporter who came to the match a free donut or soft drink. When my students have interviewed fans since, they don’t see it as a crass stunt but as a sign that the owners care. Why not choose a couple of matches and show that we care and you’ll get something that you like too? Why not spread the love?”