THE countdown to the football transfer deadline, which is at 23.00 tonight, promises much in terms of excitement and intrigue. Fuelled by a massive increase in broadcast revenues – Premier League clubs will share out £1.6bn, compared to £1.06bn last year – the country’s wealthiest owners are falling over each other to add to their squads. Tottenham Hotspur, who yesterday completed the world-record sale of Gareth Bale, have already spent more than £100m.
Despite new rules coming in from the European and domestic football authorities designed to force clubs to reduce debt and more prudently match outlays to revenues, this year has already seen a splurge in spending.
With today’s last minute deals still to come, Premier League clubs’ combined spending has already gone past 2008’s record spending of £500m. Some say this might reach £600m by close of play tonight.
The marvel of the football business is it seems so detached from most other sectors of the economy. In the past few years it has been remarkably resilient, the ravages of recession barely affecting it.
For sure, there are countless fans who may have found their reduced circumstances have meant they have not been able to attend matches quite so regularly. Many of them, though, have felt able to afford subscriptions to watch the games on television, either at home or in the numerous pubs that show the games. There is some piracy, of course, but somehow pay television subscriptions have yet to be markedly reduced in the way that music consumption was, once illegal downloading started to take hold.
TRANSFER DEADLINE DAY LIVE
The displaced supporters in the stands – and for most, football is one of the last things to be cut – have invariably been taken up by a new army of more middle class, corporate and tourist supporters, for whom steep admission prices have not been so much of an issue.
Broadcast revenues continue to surprise, with the massive and slightly surprising increase in the last round of rights bargaining caused by the enduring popularity of the Premier League and by the intervention into the market of BT, which is desperate to do something to halt the decline of its pre-privatisation customer base. There is still no more effective driver of pay subscription television than live elite football, especially the Premier League. BT Sport’s decision to bid for several packages led to a large increase in the amount paid by it and BSkyB compared to the last round.
As well as benefiting from increased revenues, many of Europe’s top clubs have exceedingly wealthy owners and it remains to be seen whether the new Financial Fair Play rules really do manage to prevent them from spending more than their clubs earn. Manchester City, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan and Chelsea, owned by Roman Abramovich, are the two biggest net spenders so far in the Premier League in this transfer window.
And in France, Russian and Middle Eastern tycoons are spending lavishly at Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain respectively.
Some clubs are being harangued by their fans for not spending. One frustrated Arsenal fan told me at the weekend he would be tuning in to the QVC Shopping Channel this evening because he would be more likely to see one of Arsenal's new signings on there than on a traditional news channel. On the other hand, he may be wrong and if you want to know what's really going on, log in to City A.M.'s live blog later today for all the latest news.
Football fans should love it but traders of any kind might be fascinated by the human stories that emerge during this last period of transfer dealings before the new year.
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Allister Heath is away