European football has been a huge success story in its ability to generate revenue growth, led by broadcast but supported by commercial and match-day revenues.
The impact of COVID-19 with all major leagues severely disrupted, or ended prematurely, and the postponement of Euro 2020, will mean 2019/20 will see a marked reduction in revenues.
While all will be impacted, those clubs from smaller countries, typically with a greater dependence on match-day revenues, risk being hit the hardest. The expected quiet summer player transfer window may also limit vital additional funds as bigger traditional buying clubs have their own financial challenges. A likely mixed picture on the timing and nature of the return of fans to stadia, economic weakness faced by broadcasters and commercial partners and even ongoing restrictions on European travel suggest it could be a bumpy recovery.
In addition to appropriate government support, necessary and justified to protect a sport which means so much to so many, it will be important that all stakeholders play their part in this recovery. Solidarity across all stakeholders as well as strong leadership and action individually will be needed to ensure none of the rich diversity European football has built over decades of history is lost.
Premier League clubs’ wage costs surpassed £3 billion for the first time ever in 2018/19, an increase of 11% from 2017/18 to £3.2 billion. Over the last two completed seasons the combined increase in wage costs has outstripped revenue growth of Premier League clubs.
The wages to revenue ratio increased again from 59% to 61% in 2018/19 as Premier League clubs spent an additional £306m on wages compared to 2017/18 with only Arsenal and Watford reporting decreases. The ‘big six’ clubs, excluding Arsenal, all significantly increased their wage spend, ranging from 18% to 28%. Similar to the disparity in revenues, the average wage cost for a ‘big six’ club was £284m, an increase of 17%, compared to an average of £110m for the remaining consistent Premier League clubs. Despite its significant increase in wage costs, Tottenham Hotspur had the lowest wages to revenue ratio in the league (39%) for the third season running.
Outside the ‘big six’ there were also some significant increases, as the promoted clubs increased wage costs in a bid to avoid immediate relegation, with mixed success, and other clubs sought to maintain Premier League status or challenge the ‘big six’ at the top of the table. Two promoted clubs increased their wage costs by 70% and 82% respectively – the first, Fulham was relegated, the second, Wolverhampton Wanderers qualified for European competition. The remaining 11 clubs increased their wage bills by an average 9% (£8m).
Eight Premier League clubs reported wages to revenue ratios of 70% or more, the indicative warning threshold used by UEFA as part of its Financial Fair Play Regulations. AFC Bournemouth, Everton and Leicester City reported wages to revenue ratios of 85%, 85% and 83% respectively. This is the first time there has been more than one club with a wages to revenue ratio of over 80% since 2015/16.
Correlation between wage costs and league position
The Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient, which measures the relationship between league position and total wage cost rank, increased from 0.75 in 2017/18 to 0.82 in 2018/19, indicating a relatively strong correlation between final league position and total wage cost in the 2018/19 season. Across the league, 14 clubs finished within two places either side of their wage costs rank with eight clubs finishing within one place.
At the top of the table there continues to be a strong relationship between league position and total wage costs. The top six wage spenders all finished in the top six league positions in the 2018/19 season, however only Arsenal and Chelsea’s finishing positions (third and fifth) perfectly correlated with their their wage cost ranks.
Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, the two lowest wage spending clubs in the league, were both relegated along with Fulham, which also ranked in the bottom third for wage spending. This indicates that while spending significant amounts on wages cannot guarantee the club will avoid relegation it certainly gives clubs a greater chance, all other things being equal. Across the rest of the division (7th to 17th) there is significantly less correlation between league position and total wage cost. The Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient drops to 0.25 for this section of the league indicating that the mid-table remains a highly competitive and unpredictable environment as has been highlighted again by the 2019/20 season to date.
Climate for Change?
Environmental sustainability has, over recent years, become front-page news. Whilst COVID-19 has shifted football’s current priorities, post-COVID-19 there may be an even greater emphasis on addressing climate change to shape a greener recovery after the pandemic.
Football’s activities have an impact upon climate change through multiple areas such as travel, energy and water use, catering, plastics, waste management and construction. Equally, climate- related episodes such as flooding and extreme weather conditions have negative impacts on both professional and amateur football (as when storm Ciara caused multiple postponements in UK sports fixtures in February 2020).
As the world’s most popular sport, football has huge potential to influence fans to address climate change, if football takes a conspicuous lead in adapting its activities to have a positive environmental impact. But is football putting enough emphasis on addressing its carbon footprint, and sustainability?
A long list of sports organisations have signed up to a UN-led framework – Sports for Climate Action – seeking to move the sports sector to a low carbon economy. Signatories should commit to a set of five principles and incorporate them into strategies, policies and procedures, integrating them into their sports communities, for a wider dissemination of the message.
The aim is for the global sports community to address its own impact (e.g. via measuring, reducing, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions) and in so doing to “use sports as a unifying tool to drive climate awareness and action among global citizens”
Football organisations that have signed up include
La Liga/Liga BBVA
There are plenty of positive examples of initiatives across the sporting world. F1 and SailGP have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030 and 2025 respectively, and London Marathon Events has implemented measures to reduce environmental impact and deliver more sustainable mass participation events. In football, Germany’s Bundesliga clubs are perhaps leading the way, with numerous examples of action being taken. Examples include an optional €1 on ticket prices towards a climate change fund, tickets doubling up as public transport passes and solar panel installations on stadium rooftops.
The challenge facing football – is to move from undertaking ad- hoc environmental initiatives to embedding environmental sustainability into strategy.
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