Sky and BT win Premier League rights: The billions keep pouring in, but do fans benefit from football’s boom?

 
Julian Harris
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Premier League fans have seen the price of their season tickets continue to increase
The flood of cash pouring into the Premier League each year just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Many fans roll their eyes as the numbers in football become increasingly astronomical – but do supporters of top flight teams benefit from the growing billions that TV firms put in?

In terms of ticket prices, the answer is almost certainly “no”. One might think that if clubs are raking in cash from TV companies then they don’t need to squeeze their local fans’ wallets so much. But the cost of adult tickets has kept rising, up 15 per cent since 2011. At my club, Arsenal, the cheapest adult season ticket is around 125 per cent more expensive than 15 years ago, and now costs over £1,000. Extra cash from TV may convince some clubs to offer more one-off promotions for youngsters and for cup games, admittedly.

For the millions of fans who watch on TV, costs are not rising so sharply. Between 2010 and now, the amount of money spent by TV firms each year has nearly doubled, rising to over £1bn. Yet the cost of a Sky Sports subscription has climbed at a much slower rate, from £20 a month to £24.50 – and these days it includes far more sport.

Sometimes the competition can cause problems for fans, though. Sky subscribers who want to see games on BT Sport, for example, must pay an additional £13.50 a month to BT. While competition usually makes things better for consumers, in this case the “product” is top flight English football, and the Premier League inherently has a monopoly over that.

The biggest winners from the booming cost of TV rights have been Premier League footballers. Clubs may be getting richer from the TV money, yet have struggled to keep wages down. To use Arsenal as an example again – wage costs have nearly doubled from under £90m in 2007 to an estimated £170m+ today.

Clubs are desperately trying to keep wages down. City A.M. last month revealed a little-known cap on annual wage bill hikes that Premier League clubs have signed up to. And with Financial Fair Play designed to limit clubs’ losses, international regulations could also weigh down on wages. Lower wage costs and higher revenues would be great for clubs, but would mainly benefit owners – and with the odd exception (such as Swansea City), most Premier League fans do not own any of their clubs’ equity.

The clearest way that fans benefit from big Premier League TV money is through the quality of players that their teams are able to attract. Last summer’s spending by top flight English clubs eclipsed their supposed peers in rival leagues. Premier League clubs spent £835m – more than all the Serie A clubs, Bundesliga clubs and Ligue 1 clubs combined. Hull City spent more than several Italian giants added together. Spanish top flight teams spent around half the amount of Premier League clubs.

This should, in theory, mean better players and better teams. But football’s never quite that straightforward.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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