Unless you live under the proverbial rock, chances are if you’re a football fan you’ve spent the good part of 25 years with your eyes glued to Sky Sports in order to take in the big match of the weekend.
Hundreds of thousands of customers (sorry, supporters) do the same, and as a result will get bombarded with aphorisms that the Premier League is the [insert platitude here] in the world. Be it greatest, most exciting, fairest, strongest or simply best - Richard Keys, Jeff Stelling, Ed Chamberlain and Dave Jones (massive lads fan) have all been telling us not to change channel and stay tuned. But why?
As Sky Sports held a monopoly on Premier League coverage until very recently when BT Sport sprang up - they still air the vast majority of games - it is very much in their interest to propagate and expound the idea in order to export hype and import billions in return.
That’s it. Money.
The Premier League is unashamedly not the greatest, most exciting nor even the best league in the world but merely the richest. It is the most highly covered worldwide and rakes in by far and away the most money - especially from overseas viewers.
This is not just the ramblings of a disaffected Sunderland fan at unease with the Premier League due to our relegation under club-destroyer David Moyes in May 2016, but the worries of a football fan sick to death of the advertising and monetisation behemoth slowly grinding the beautiful game into the most omnipotent marketing tool of the 21st Century.
Watch or listen to any BSkyB production, and many pundits of various differing backgrounds, cultures and, most importantly, football clubs will argue until their blue in the face over decision, the future of the game and current controversy. That is, however, unless Video Assistant Referee’s (VAR) is concerned. Of course, due to the huge controversy over decisions the system has aided to implement, dissenting voices in the pro-VAR choir do spark up, but often regarding the refereeing decision and utilisation of the system, but not the modern technology itself.
Why is this? Well, VAR puts 100% emphasis upon the replay culture, and guess who owns 100% of the rights to each replay to 90% of games in the Premier League? You’ve guessed it. Therefore the more VAR is used, the more the centre of the debate is centred and driven by tv companies, and chiefly Sky Sports.
Replay culture has dawned more and more question marks over the effectiveness and agency of refereeing decisions, causing pundits to highlight the issue more and more, the debate to be formed and therefore clamour for human error to be disregarded in order for perfection, hence the clamour for VAR.
All the bosses at Sky and other companies care about is how football can be implemented in order to get more people around the world glued to their TV screens, and thus line their pockets. Why do you think Rupert Murdoch has such a vested interest in risking UK business law in taking over the rest of Sky? The media mogul knows the value in football; a lifelong customer-base who will never turn away as viewing figures is forever guaranteed and club’s in England, the FA and Premier League rely upon TV money to exist and compete, therefore will protect and allow TV companies to rule the roost for decades to come.
The Premier League is the greatest competition in the world because that is what Sky tells you, and nothing will change that.
Deloitte produce an ‘Annual Review of Football Finance’ every year, based on the financial figures released in April/May for the season prior. Their most recent report, the 2017 edition, was thus based on finances released in the 2015/16 season.
In the review, Premier League clubs were by far and away the highest accumulated earners of all “big five” European leagues. Just in 2015/16 alone, the twenty PL clubs’ revenue stood at the incredible €4,685 million over the course of the season. German clubs brought in €2,712m, Spanish €2,437m, Italian €1,917m and French €1,485 over the same time frame.
Therefore, during the course of one season, 20 English teams brought in 80% more revenue than their closest continental rivals. Even more eye-watering is the broadcast revenue. 53% of all English clubs’ revenue came through broadcasting, a figure of €2,577m. The total revenue of their German counterparts was just more than this, but the rest lie below this threshold.
Just let that sink in a while. As Sunderland floundered near the bottom of the table, surviving by just a hair, we once again earned more than Bayern Munich despite the Bavarian's completing a domestic double and reaching the Semi-Finals of the biggest club competition in the world, the Champions League.
The inception of the Premier League undoubtedly marks the dawn of the modern age of football, allowing clubs to gain independence from both the Football League and FA, and subsequently players independence from their clubs thanks to Jean-Marc Bosman and the European Court of Justice in 1995. Football apparatchiks were then allowed to negotiate lucrative broadcasting rights; clubs allowed to negotiate lucrative money deals and players allowed to negotiate lucrative contracts.
I could very well have been sat here criticising ITV instead of Sky - it just so happens that they won the bidding war between the two in 1991/92 and have frugally taken advantage of their precipice ever since. Gone were the outdated satellite subscription services, in were new deals with the clubs directly in order to provide football 52 weeks a year, and therefore sustainable, exponential profit.
Sir Alex Ferguson claimed in 1992 that the new TV deal was:
Utter nonsense... selling supporters down the river.
However, that was when the rights brought Premier League teams £51 million combined; however, with the exponentially rising profits on both sides his stance soon changed. Deloitte project that the twenty Premier League club’s will rake in a staggering £5.08 billion by the end of the current season.
The trend is exponential and cyclical - football club’s are not normal marketing tools. It is a bond for life. Public demand will insatiably rise and insofar as football and TV exists, the pair will continue to rake the money in.
The Premier League saved football in 1992 - a sport marred by numerous controversies; Heysel, the Bradford City Fire, Hillsborough. A report in The Sunday Times in 1985 claimed football was:
A slum sport played in slum stadiums, increasingly watched by slum people.
Something had to be done. The Taylor Report, defeat of hooligan culture and ultimately, the Premier League saved English football in the short-term. Leicester City’s incredible title triumph in 2016 was not just an incredible spectacle, but a catharsis to many football fans.
Yet, even with all the success of a smaller team breaking the stranglehold of the elite, who prospered most? Sky, BT and the other broadcasting companies the world over.
In the long-term, oligarch’s control the fates of thousands and set up a gridlock of elite which will now be only broken once every 50 years at best. Leicester City’s title win was a watershed moment and a warning to the European elite and TV companies.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, well what about absolute wealth?
The Premier League is not the best league in the world, but simply the richest.