Rise and rise of the super-salariat

The Alan Shearer Syndrome; The pounds 15m footballer is in good company.
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The Independent Online
Anthea Turner did it for pounds 1.5m. Alan Shearer did it for 10 times more. Cilla Black probably wouldn't do it for anything. In the world of the transfer, nearly everyone has their price. And for a small band of people it's getting higher all the time.

Yesterday Alan Shearer became the most expensive footballer when he was transferred from Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United. His pounds 15m fee is more than four times the pounds 3.6 he cost Blackburn four years ago. Blackburn said they were "heartbroken" to lose him . But football clubs are not immune to the pull exerted by cold cash, and for a specialised commodity like Shearer the pull is likely to be very strong.

He joins a recent list of "super-salariat" who, in a world of service industries more commonly characterised by short- term contracts and low pay, zig-zag backwards and forwards between employers for spiralling salaries and transfer fees.

Singer-songwriter George Michael was recently bought out of his contract with the Sony record company for $40m (pounds 26m). His new labels, Virgin and Dreamworks SKG, have offered him a deal with advances of at least $12m. Formula One racer Damon Hill has reputedly been offered pounds 20m by Williams in a bid to keep him.

And the television presenter Anthea Turner last week announced she was leaving GMTV to concentrate on a pounds 1.5m contract with Carlton.

In the City, it has long been accepted that if you want the best, you are going to have to pay for it, usually with six-figure salaries and guaranteed bonuses of up to three times that.

David Varney, for example, received a "golden hello" of pounds 100,000 when he joined British Gas as an executive. But outside the City, there are other factors that come into play. In television, the decision to switch to a rival channel will depend on the vehicle being offered as much as salary. "I doubt if you there is any amount you could pay to get someone like Cilla Black to move from LWT," said an executive. "Why should she? She's got a great contract and two of the most successful shows on the channel."

And, according to one music- industry lawyer, it takes more than a cheque- book to lure a band to a rival label. "A footballer has a very short time to recoup the money spent, so it's 'let's sell, sell to the highest bidder'," he said. "Music is different: there's a lot of time between the label committing and reaping the benefits. It's an industry driven by personalities and it depends on the relationship they've built up."

He described the biggest draws as "international structure, beneficial royalty rates, and money". But the greatest enticement would be the degree of creative control, he said, adding that Michael's $40m move from Sony was the classic example of this. "George's contract was very much like a football deal - market share is the great god and if you can buy an artist like that your profile is enormous."

The super-salariat, such as Shearer and Michael, are inverting the shape of the service industries, where new company "stars" earn larger amounts than the skilled and long-serving chairman.

More may depend, for example, on readers' views of a six-figure columnist, such as Julie Burchill or Anne Robinson than who edits or manages their newspaper. But as the sums increase, so, inevitably, do charges that they cannot bear any resemblance to the returns. Head-hunters, for example, may take 33 per cent of the first year's salary paid to an executive they have placed.

And failure to reap those returns may lead to a swift fall. Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association,yesterday said Newcastle were taking an "extraordinary gamble" in paying so much for Shearer. "There's a massive risk he will get injured or suffer from loss of form and within a week the biggest signing in the Premier League could be severely depleted in value."

Shearer may consider the fate of his Blackburn colleague Chris Sutton, 23, who broke transfer records when he was signed in 1994. But he failed to live up to expectations and rumours were circulating earlier this year that he was about to be sold - for a pounds 2m discount.

And spending large sums to try to lure your star does not always work. The Polygram record company was so desperate to sign Noel Gallagher of Oasis that it reportedly offered him pounds 10m for rights to his songs, pounds 9m more than he was getting from Sony.

Dangling a pounds 2m advance, they flew him and his girlfriend to Cannes, where the couple soaked up hospitality to the tune of pounds 15,000. At the end of it, Gallagher signed a new pounds 11m contract - with his old company, Sony.

People who need people -

Hamish McRae, page 19