I’ve got a confession to make – I’m a Tottenham Hotspurs fan. We’re not popular at the moment, the most unfairly vilified team in the league. Our only crime was being the sole remaining contender to Leicester City for the Premier League title. But now that it’s over we can all say that Spurs have played some great football this season and have done amazingly to finish second place. However, Leicester have been absolutely amazing and are clear, highly deserving champions. You can’t win a league, consisting of 20 teams and 38 games by chance. You can only earn it. They have been brilliant all season and it has been a remarkable story.
Despite this, there have been people using this achievement as evidence for the decreasing quality of the Premier League. In my opinion, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a Premiership team in the semi-finals of the Champions League who are only forth in the Premiership! If anything, the success of Leicester City only highlights the strength of the league both as a product and in terms of quality on the pitch. Let’s put it this way – there’s a reason the Premier League is the highest earning league in the world, with by far the most lucrative broadcasting deals.
The money that comes into the league creates something of a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby broadcasters willingly pay more money for Premier League rights as it is the most competitive league. Therefore it is the best product for them to sell. In doing this, the money they pay then goes into the clubs and serves to increase the quality further. But it isn’t this money alone that creates such a great competition, what is more important is how it is distributed. It many leagues, clubs are allowed to sell their own broadcasting rights. The result of this is that the best clubs sell their rights for significantly more money than the lesser clubs, meaning they are able to spend more money and create an ever-increasing gap in quality (See Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain, or Bayern Munich in Germany).
Things are done very differently in England. Here the Premier League itself owns the rights for all of the games and all of the teams. So broadcasting rights for the Premier League are sold collectively by the league itself. This money then gets distributed among all the teams in the Premier League almost evenly. For national broadcasting rights, there is a small amount of favouritism towards the bigger teams, meaning they earn a slightly higher proportion of the money, but the rights sold internationally are distributed exactly evenly. Considering that the TV deal for the Premiership is the biggest deal in football, the collective selling of its rights means that even the poorest teams in the league are getting a lot of money, especially when compared to similar teams in other leagues.
Obviously money isn’t everything in football. But it certainly helps. For some of the lower teams in the Premier League it means that they can offer more money to their best players and keep them from moving to other clubs for money. It also means that they are more able to snap up playing or managerial talent from other countries who aren’t able to pay as much as they would get here. Overall it means that they are better prepared to compete with any other team in their division.
I’m not suggesting that the feats we have seen from Leicester this season are going to become the norm. Certainly not. It was something close to a perfect storm. The richer clubs will still always be richer and able to spend more money, but more and more teams will feel that they might have a chance. To me it really shows the strength of the Premier League. There are no easy games. Every game is competitive. Any team can beat any other team. You can see why people might be willing to pay more it. There is a competitive balance among the league that means that anyone can win on any given match day. The belief that good competition and uncertainty creates a better product is the reason that sport leagues in America use a draft system and put in place salary caps. Teams no longer have a position that they are expected to finish in the league; instead there is a growing fluidity of expectations. We may not have the best teams in the world, but as a collective entity the Premier League is definitely the best. Leicester’s achievements are extraordinary, in fact the whole season has been. It is evidence that romanticism in football isn’t lost, that real life underdog stories can happen. A team that was one moment fighting for its Premiership life, the next kings of the land. All the while lead by the manager who was the first victim of the mega rich footballing intervention taking the trophy from his successor.