The difference for Manchester City between winning the Premier League title and finishing as runners-up could be as much as £30 million, according to a leading expert in football finance. Professor Tom Cannon of the University of Liverpool School of Management believes that being able to bill themselves as champions of England would potentially add that much to commercial revenue in the next year. And while even that sum is less than one-sixth of City's last annual loss (£195m), he believes that the development plans for the whole Etihad Stadium campus could enable them to meet Uefa's imminent Financial Fair Play regulations.
Roberto Mancini's team play at Newcastle today in the single match now most likely to decide the destination of the championship. If they can win it, then Manchester United will still be behind them even with a victory of their own at home to Swansea City later this afternoon. In the final fixtures next Sunday, United appear to face the tougher game, at Sunderland, while City, however historically unpredictable, would be expected to win at home to Queens Park Rangers.
They would then be able to cash in commercially, according to Professor Cannon. "With sponsors, advertisers, prices of season tickets and Champions' League games, executive boxes, overseas tours and so on, it would make a big difference," he said, "especially since it would be the first time since the Sixties that they could call themselves champions.
"Globally it's really important, for instance in the kind of deal you can do for a tour of Asia when you're seen as Premier League champions. All the evidence at the moment is that sponsors and advertisers are basically moving upmarket. I think City have a brilliant communications and marketing team, the best in the Premier League, and they'll be very smart. So all in all you could be adding £25m to £30m to the bottom line."
Last summer, City announced a10-year deal worth well over £300m for naming rights to the stadium and shirt sponsorship with Etihad, which caused considerable controversy because of the close links between the airline and the club's owners. "What was the losing bid?" Liverpool's sceptical owner John Henry asked. Uefa seem, however, to have accepted it as a genuine price, which will therefore count as income towards Financial Fair Play.
Meanwhile the owners will be allowed to sink more money into the whole area around the stadium without any effect on FFP in what Professor Cannon regards as "possibly the most exciting development around any ground in Europe".
"It could change the game," he says, "from being a one-day-a-week business to a six or seven-day business. They'll effectively have three stadiums in the campus and will be changing the whole football experience."
The other significant advantage he sees for City over Chelsea, with whom their billionaire's ownership is most often compared, is that the Middle East is an area of much greater financial potential than Roman Abramovich's Russia. "There's a lot of very rich businesses in the Middle East who could weigh in behind City if they win the championship and then go on to repeat it, or do well in the Champions' League. It's not just about Etihad. But it'll be a long time before we see Aeroflot on a club's shirts here."
Until that first title, and perhaps for a while to come, they will nevertheless still be playing catch-up with United and Liverpool commercially. As a committed Evertonian, Professor Cannon has personal experience of that. "I lead for the university in our relations with countries like Vietnam and Indonesia and I get a bit fed up with meeting people like the deputy prime minister of Vietnam and the first thing he tells me is that he's a big Liverpool supporter. But that's how Liverpool get their two enormous sponsorship deals with Warrior and Standard Chartered. That's what City have to aspire to."
Mancini believes they will do so slowly, saying: "Just now, City has a high profile in the world. Maybe we need another two years but this is normal because you can't change history in two or three years, it needs to be for five, six or 10 years."
Victory today would be a huge step along the way. They will surely have to moderate their spending sooner or later, but for now, as United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson says: "Nobody can match their financial power, no one. You have to accept that. So we do it a different way. We have to look at younger players with the potential to develop. But there's no doubt we'll be bringing players in this summer. Maybe two or three."
A title lost to their local rivals would doubtless bring renewed urgency to his recruitment. That could well happen on goal difference, a new experience for even the managerial daddy of them all, and one that would leave the bitterest of tastes.
"You have to look at that [6-1] game where we lost three goals in the last three minutes to City," Ferguson said. "That's a goal difference of six." Now it's up to eight after City completed the double last Monday, and it could be six again when the final, final whistle is blown a week today.
United have always been able to maintain that it was not the derby defeat to Denis Law's backheeled goal in 1974 that sent them down but results elsewhere. If four more games go to form starting today, they will have to admit that what will always be remembered as "the 6-1" was what did for them in 2012.
Newcastle United v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm; Manchester United v Swansea City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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