The benefits of the Premier League’s ‘golden age’ have not been equally shared

The 30th anniversary of the Premier League will bring a million takes and many of them will refer to a ‘golden age’. But is it even true?

In the summer which marks the 30th anniversary of the start of the Premier League, we are likely to hear a lot about how it goes a “golden age” for the division. But while many people will happily tell you that this is not the case on several subjective measures, financially speaking it is certainly true, and the main driver of what has become a vast chasm of financial resources has been the television money.

But even taking into account that we know this in the abstract, the numbers are certainly startling. In the summer of 1996, Germany beat England on penalties in the semi-finals of the European Championships. At that time, the Premier League’s annual TV revenue was €685 million while for the Bundesliga it was €444 million, a difference of €241 million. But in 2022, the Premier League earned £6.1bn, while the Bundesliga earned ‘only’ £3bn. At the end of the 2018/19 season, for example, relegated Huddersfield Town raked in £96.6m in TV and prize money, more than Bayern Munich after winning the Bundesliga.

The story is the same when comparing the Premier League to the rest of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues. The Premier League now earns £2.7bn a year more than La Liga, £3.8bn more than Serie A and £4.4bn more than League One. And that had an impact on the balance of power within European club play. In the ten years since 1996, English clubs have reached the Champions League or Europa League final on five occasions. In the ten years from 2012, it was 12 times, including three all-English finals.

This dominance is reflected in the values ​​of the clubs concerned. Real Madrid and Barcelona continue to dominate the Forbes Football Rich List, but 11 of the top 20 are English clubs, and a list of the top 50 in the world would comfortably contain all 20 Premier League clubs. The upshot of all of this is that financial inequality doesn’t just exist within divisions; it exists across the continent and the number of beneficiaries has steadily declined over time. Over the past five years, three-quarters of Champions League semi-finalists have come from just five urban areas in Europe’s wealthiest countries: Paris, Madrid, Munich, London and North West England .

As with the financial disparities between Premier League clubs, this inequality raises serious concerns, but concretely, what can be done about it? TV and prize money in European club football is shared according to the rules of the competition, and it seems unlikely that UEFA will introduce rules to financially sanction English clubs that succeed in European club competition to the benefit of others. . That’s not really how they do business.

And no matter how much people like Javier Tebas may complain about the financial benefits enjoyed by the Premier League, there’s not much he – or anyone else in mainland Europe – can do about them. It even sparked speculation that the much-derided European Super League might have been here all along, just hidden in plain sight and under a different name. But when you stop to consider PSG, Marseille, Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Inter and Milan (for starters), it’s not as if European club football is short of names. which capture the imagination when mentioned, so why has the Premier League in gray skies England become so dominant?

The Premier League was the first out of the gate, and the departure in 1992 left other European leagues to catch up from the start. And the Premier League has exploited its international television rights more successfully than any other football league. The Premier League makes nine times more than the Bundesliga in foreign TV sales (€1.95 billion versus €219 million) and 26 times more than League One, which raises just €75 million per year thanks to its broadcasting rights abroad. And this early notoriety seems to have made the difference. When billionaires arrived in European football, they tended to gravitate towards Premier League clubs. Money tends to beget money.

To what extent does all this represent a “golden age”? There’s no doubt that there have been golden ages over the past three decades for some clubs. Manchester United and Arsenal may never again reach the levels of success they achieved between 1993 and 2013 (2004, in the case of Arsenal), while Chelsea and Manchester City have already enjoyed (by a long shot) the most successful periods in history. of these two clubs. Even Liverpool, who were the biggest underachievers in the Premier League’s first 25 years, pulled themselves together, winning the league for the first time in more than 30 years and being European champions twice in the course. of that period with a team that can be as good as the ones they produced in the 1970s or 1980s. Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City supporters both had seasons that will live on with fans for the rest of their life.

But for the rest…? Well, that didn’t really look like one for most, who have had to spend more and more money have a reasonable chance of keeping pace with the most successful clubs. Many clubs have come close to complete financial collapse in this pursuit. Since 1992 Hull City, QPR, Bradford City, Barnsley, Leicester City, Derby County, Ipswich Town, Oldham Athletic, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Southampton, Coventry City, Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic (16 clubs, in total , 80% of a Premier League by itself) have both played Premier League football and had (at least) one stint in administration in the last 30 years. For the most part, it’s been far from the brilliance of the Premier League. Only Portsmouth have collapsed while a member.

Of course, history is written by the victors, and the voices of those lucky enough to have benefited from all the Premier League inequalities can be loud enough to drown out those who have not. But the financial giant that the Premier League has become has not been good for every club in England, and it certainly hasn’t been good for competitive football across Europe either, although a Much of the discontent of the other golden palaces of European club football has come because they are not the beneficiaries of this imbalance rather than out of a desire for a fairer financial distribution within the game. But nonetheless, it has was a golden age. For the few rather than for the many… as before.

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