by Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg (Sportsbookof themonth.com price: £14, saving £6 on rrp) SEVERAL very good books dealing with the business of football have been published over the last quarter century. David Conn’s The Football Business (1997) paved the way, while his followup, The Beautiful Game? (2005), was just as insightful.
Graham Johnson’s Football And Gangsters (2011) was a hard-hitting analysis of how the cash the game generates is siphoned off, and more recently, Martin Calladine’s The Ugly Game (2015) took an intelligent look at how the Premier League could learn from America’s (much richer) NFL. The Club covers much of the same ground as previous tomes, providing readers with a comprehensive and very readable overview of how the Premier League developed financially. It notes, for instance, that over the course of the past quarter century, “the league’s 20 clubs have increased their combined value by more than 10,000 per cent, from around £50 million in 1992 to £10 billion today.”
Pre-1992, the game was on its knees. When the government ordered top-flight club owners to convert their stadia into all-seater venues (at an estimated cost of £8 million), the chairmen hastily announced the game’s imminent demise. Nowadays, £8 million wouldn’t buy you a reserve full back.
Luck played a massive part in football’s transformation, from a sport dogged by hooliganism, decrepit grounds and falling attendances to a rich cash cow. First, a small number of switched-on chairmen sought to break from the Football League and so retain more of the revenue they felt they generated and second, the advent of satellite TV, in particular Sky.
The people who ran Sky understood that its success as a broadcaster was wholly dependent upon a mix of ‘footy and films’. The business had deep pockets and paid handsomely for the exclusivity it demanded.
It didn’t take long for businessmen to recognise that Sky’s money offered a rare commercial guarantee, triggering a series of takeovers which left many clubs owned by people who somehow satisfied the Premier League’s ‘fit and proper person’ test. Instead, the league was more interested in being “the most exciting league in the world”, even though most matches rarely live up to this billing. The fans? Unfortunately, they’re just the folks who keep the whole shebang running: attending games, buying Sky subscriptions, club merchandise and kits. Should they buy The Club, it would confirm the degree to which they’ve been taken for a ride.
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