GENEVA—The world’s richest soccer league started a new season in England on Friday as the rest of Europe looks for ways to catch up.
Off the field, the English Premier League (EPL) is a commercial juggernaut with broadcasting deals worldwide fueling player transfers and wages most others cannot match. It helps explain why some clubs created the Super League project.
League riches helped English champion Manchester City make the marquee summer signing. Erling Haaland’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund cost City more than 100 million pounds ($122 million) in transfer and agent fees.
While Haaland was a boyhood City fan whose father played there, he was also lured to a competitive league that avoids the one-club dominance recently seen in Germany, Italy and France.
On the field, five different teams have won the Premier League in the past 10 seasons, including Leicester’s stunning 2016 title. Though City has four of the past five titles, two were epic duels with Liverpool.
The Champions League is also feeling Premier League power with four different teams in the past four finals, including two all-English games. Liverpool was in three of the past five finals while winning just one Premier League title.
Those same four teams—City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham—are England’s entry in the Champions League this season.
Manchester United and Arsenal qualified only for the second-tier Europa League and are by far the wealthiest clubs in it.
Here’s a look at English financial dominance and the challenge for other top leagues:
PREMIER League broadcast rights earned 3.64 billion euros ($3.7 billion) last season with Spain’s La Liga next best at around 2 billion euros ($2.04 billion), according to UEFA’s annual survey of European soccer.
“This is of course the best example in the world of how to market a sports competition,” Jacco Swart, managing director of the 30-nation European Leagues group, said in praise.
Evenly weighted cash distribution gave the worst Premier League team, Norwich, 98 million pounds ($119 million) in prize money that beat the entire budget for most European clubs.
English clubs took 10 of the top 18 places in the latest Deloitte list of highest earners. Abu Dhabi-owned Man City led with 644.9 million euros ($657 million).
The total wage bill for 20 Premier League clubs was 2.88 billion euros ($2.93 billion) in 2020, according to UEFA—1 billion euros ($1.02 billion) above La Liga, and more than Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A combined.
LA LIGA skews prize money toward top clubs with the winner taking about 160 million euros ($163 million), up to three times more than other clubs.
It’s good for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid—who have won all the league titles since Valencia’s in 2004—though not for competitive balance.
“They do not have a very long tradition of selling (rights) collectively,” Swart said.
Real Madrid’s response to tough times was winning yet another Champions League by improbably ousting the top three English clubs and Paris Saint-Germain.
Madrid and Barcelona have long raised their Champions League earnings by using influence at the European Club Association—which they left to launch the failed Super League—to steer prize money toward storied clubs.
Barcelona has eased its own financial crisis, fueled by long-term overspending on wages, by trading future TV rights money for cash now from an investment firm.
Signing FIFA player of the year Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich was one result, though Barcelona’s reputation is being hit by pressuring Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong to take a pay cut.
A Spanish success has been coach Unai Emery lifting, first, Sevilla and now small-town Villarreal to overachieve and win a combined four Europa League titles. AP
THE Bundesliga’s “50+1” ownership rule is widely liked for protecting clubs’ identity and preventing takeovers by the oil-rich states, oligarchs and billionaires lured to the Premier League.
Clubs controlling a majority of voting rights is embedded in German culture, which also curbs ticket and pay-TV prices—a principled stand which reduces revenue.
“What people are willing to pay to watch football in England is totally different to what people are prepared to pay in Germany,” Swart said.
The average season ticket price is 1,095 pounds ($1,325) at Arsenal but some Dortmund fans can pay just 240 euros ($244).
Dortmund also excels signing and nurturing English teenagers, then selling them back to the Premier League. Haaland’s former teammate, Jadon Sancho, went to Man United for a four-fold profit and Jude Bellingham is likely next.
AFTER hosting the 1990 World Cup, Serie A was the rich, glamor league. Decline followed the 1992 launches of the Premier League and Champions League, and Italian stars started moving to Chelsea and even unfashionable Middlesbrough.
Serie A clubs fell further back by playing in city-owned stadiums—some shared, with an athletics track, and dating fast — they could not exploit commercially.
Juventus opened its own stadium in 2011 and won nine straight titles. Red tape has not helped stadium building plans in Rome, Milan and elsewhere, frustrating a new wave of American club owners.
Chinese ownership at AC Milan and Inter Milan has been complicated, though both ended a decade-long wait to win Serie A.
Italy’s favored bid to host the 2032 European Championship can spark a needed stadium modernization program and play has improved on the field.
Attack-minded teams Atalanta and Napoli helped Serie A shed a reputation for negative play, which dulled global interest in paying for broadcast rights.
LIGUE 1 has mostly been owned by Paris Saint-Germain since Qatar bought the club in 2011 months after being named the 2022 World Cup host.
Lyon and Marseille have not won titles since 2008 and 2010, respectively, and both are now in American ownership.
Lyon’s new majority owner, John Textor, arrived in June promising to spend to pursue PSG at home with European ambitions next.
Marseille has had turmoil in six years under former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, though is now back in the Champions League.
Another foreign owner driving a renewed challenge at Nice is Monaco-based British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, who was often linked to bids for Chelsea.
The overseas ownership model offers some stability after the collapse two years ago of the league’s touted new broadcast deal.
Image credits: AP