Alex Fynn: Our football clubs need a financial revolution

From the Royal Society of Arts lecture by the author of 'The Great Divide' and former director of Saatchi and Saatchi


Football clubs make their money from three major sources: match-day income (gate receipts, sale of season tickets, corporate hospitality, catering, programmes); commercial income (sponsorship, stadium advertising, merchandise); and television. Historically, these have contributed a third each to a club's total income.

The first two categories have associated overheads. Television offers 100 per cent profit. One day, a TV executive decides your rights are worth a certain amount, the next day they're worth double that. Manchester United earned £20.42m from television last season but, under the next Sky contract, if they win the Premiership again, they will net twice that figure.

The creation of the Premier League in 1992 and accompanying Sky deal to televise matches is now regarded as the defining moment in English football history. However, it was not just money that Sky brought: the satellite broadcaster changed the game forever by repackaging it. The last ITV contract in 1991 paid £18m for TV rights to the old Division One. Under the first Sky deal, that figure rose to £30m, which was shared between the 22 clubs then in the new Premier League. But Sky's vigorous presentation provided a platform on which the game's commercial revolution could take place. It is entirely due to Sky that clubs have since seen a vast growth in income from match-day and commercial sources.

Unless there is an infrastructure outside the Premier League which creates a valued place for smaller clubs, then money will always rule at the expense of merit. You can't measure a country's strength by 20 clubs alone. The likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City in the First Division are playing in a back alley. As for Rochdale and Halifax Town in the Third Division, they exist as relics of history, and the determination of a small band of loyalists to keep them alive. Yet they could so easily be improved, to provide a sense of community and a more viable business opportunity.

If you are creating a showcase top division, you must add lower divisions offering local events. At the moment, Leyton Orient are compelled to travel hundreds of miles to play Hartlepool and Darlington, but who is interested? It would be far better for Leyton Orient to play againstStevenage Borough and Dagenham & Redbridge. The point is not that England has the biggest league in the world, but that it could be made even bigger if it was structured properly. If that means clubs at the bottom end going part-time, then so be it, as long as they remain in the system that allows progress to national level and full-time.

Will it happen? Very unlikely. The best is a compromise which would find its nearest equivalent in Germany, where there are 38 full-time clubs – 18 in the top division, 20 in the second – and a semi-professional regional structure with fluid movement of clubs and players. By making 38 clubs matter, the stigma of relegation is lessened. This approach also brings into play other elements such as a well-run youth system, judicious transfers, good coaching and local business interest. These factors may explain why Germany, France, Italy and Spain are more successful than England in major European tournaments. In these countries, there is a place for everyone, with merit playing an important role alongside money.

Television in this country has not yet tired of football. It continues to deliver an audience of free-spending males and young families that is attractive to advertisers (ITV) and subscribers (Sky). But ITV and Sky are neither philanthropists nor fans. Their interest is in ratings. And if the viewing figures fall, then so may the sums of money pouring into the game. Such a decline would compel clubs to cut their cloth accordingly. Paradoxically, it could be the best thing to happen if football is to have a sound economic future.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before