It’s a debate that has been waging on for years now, the question of which league is superior in both world and European football. Well, money certainly has a part to play in the decision, that’s for sure. As I saw the news of Deloitte’s annual Football Money League on Thursday (21st January) I was amazed by the unthinkable figures of football economics in a technologically advancing world. Billions across the globe follow big leagues such as the Premier League or Liga BBVA, often being the only available football on televisions in some areas. This alone shows how far football has come in the last 50 years, but is it really a good thing for the sport? Do leagues have to keep competing against each other for viewing figures?
To begin such an extensive quest for answers, you have to look at it simply. Clearly society’s change in the past half century has affected the game, as everybody is more open to spending more, whether that be on players, stadiums, wages or even ticket prices. This spending has made these leagues the envy of all businesses, who want to market themselves alongside such a worldwide sport. This has certainly made the sport more available, but it doesn’t seem so real, it is much more cash-driven. Sport is there to be played and enjoyed, so is all this commercialism and sponsorship right for the heart of the game? I don’t believe that it is, and there is no good reason that so much money should be thrown around in such a basic human game, it is honestly ludicrous how football has evolved.
Football used to be the game of the working class city men, representing the municipalities they were born and raised in, amateurs playing it for the love of the game. Now, even players in non-league, supposed to be semi-professional, can earn up to £750 a week in the Conference Premier, compared to an average of £480 a week for the average British worker, considering they earn £25,000 a year. This is how deep money has seeped into the English leagues, helped in no small part to the unbelievable £5.14 billion spent between Sky Sports and BT Sport on Premier League live coverage for just three years up to 2019. Reportedly, the league and its clubs had no intention to spread this money out towards grassroots football until persuaded to, which just shows how far the game has come and how self-centred these teams are. This is exactly how clubs are falling by the wayside at amateur level, because their finances are not strong enough to support any failure. If one of the Premier League’s claims to being the biggest league is being the richest, you can seriously see the heart of football being lost there.
Of course, Real Madrid has twice broken the global transfer record over the last seven years, but that is not to say Liga BBVA is the richest league. These deals are mainly thanks to the continued worldwide appeal to sponsors of Real and Barcelona, rather than league funds. Last year, Spanish league rules were changed, removing the privileges of Real and Barça getting around half of the individually negotiated television right funds, meaning smaller sides can start to see a fairer playing field. But these funds are by no means anywhere near on par with the Premier League. So what is that attracts stars such as Messi, Ronaldo, Bale and Neymar to La Liga rather than England?
Well, apart from them being the best sides on any FIFA game in the last 15 years, historically the two dominant Spanish clubs have been the two must reputable and financially dominant teams in the history of football. Due to their worldwide dominance, they still are according to the latest Deloitte Football Money League figures. Real Madrid’s 2015 revenue was a staggering £439 million, despite not winning a trophy, and Barcelona raking in £426.6 million, aided by the marketing power of their MSN strike trifecta. Apparently next year’s list, though, is set to be dominated by Manchester United, as their achievable Champions League stability and Adidas sponsorship income is set to be the driving force behind their rise. Their shares on the New York stock exchange are helping investors come in from all parts of the world, and soon, without any trophies to speak of, they will steal top spot on this list. Football is often a strange thing.
But this is where the success of the Premier League comes into play. As seen perfectly this season, it is a much more open league than others in Europe, where you can expect Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG, Juventus and Porto to win their respective leagues. Who, on the other hand, could’ve predicted the reigning English champions, Chelsea, to be in 14th place in late January, 19 points behind last season’s Christmas basement club Leicester City? West Ham, Stoke and Crystal Palace are stronger Europa League contenders than Liverpool or Everton, and all of last season’s promoted sides are currently outside the relegation zone. Nobody who could’ve foreseen such results last August, and anyone who has to predict a league like ours has a nearly impossible job.
This is what (ironically) consistently, year on year, makes the English Premier League the best in the world, not for its money or players, but for its stories and history. It could be argued that this is caused by shared televisual income between clubs, allowing Leicester, Watford or Bournemouth to spring plenty of surprises. Then again, judging by the 5-1, 6-0 or 4-0 successes of Real, Barça and Juventus respectively last week, I don’t think shared income has had much effect in Europe’s other leagues for the continual victims of such continental giants. I hardly think teams like Levante, Carpi, Hoffenheim and Guingamp will be able to turn around their fortunes just as quickly as Leicester and challenge for their league’s title next season. But who knows, a city that was more famous for crisps than football last year have done it, so why can’t anyone else?
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!