18th February 2023
What are the chances of ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ by The Boomtown Rats getting an airing at Manchester City’s Etihad stadium anytime soon? Quite minimal, we think, given the extensive rap sheet issued by the Premier League on Monday 6th February 2023 in relation to Manchester City’s alleged transgressions since the acquisition of the club by UAE interests in 2008.
‘So what?’ you may ask. Well, the overriding point for us in all of this is the integrity of the Premier League as a competition and the apparent and previous reluctance of the Premier League organisation to come forward and deal with the allegations head on. Indeed, as one journalist put it, the investigation by the Premier League into Manchester City’s financial behaviour and disclosures had been ongoing for a longer period of time than the duration of the First World War. And there you have it. Not so much a cause célèbre as a cause oubliée.
In “The Athletic podcast” broadcast on February 7th entitled “Why the Premier League is going to war with Manchester City,” Matt Slater outlined the nature of the charges, which exceed 100 in number, across 5 broad categories:
1. Issues around the provision of accurate financial information and accounts
2. Issues around contracts paid or supplemented from another entity or jurisdiction
3. A breach of the EUFA licensing rules – as laid out within the English Premier League (EPL) Handbook
4. Potential breaches between 2015 and 2018 of EPL’s profitability and sustainability criteria
5. Issues around non-cooperation
From our perspective, the timing is very interesting. Following the Tracey Crouch review, HM Govt. is slowly but surely moving towards the appointment of an independent regulator for football. For some this is the cure for the game’s financial and operational ills. For the Premier League, it evidently represents an intrusion into an otherwise vibrant and rich competition, or so various pundits, audit companies and commentators would have you believe.
Of course, we do not subscribe to this happy medium of high drama and high wealth. Anyone who is familiar with our work will recognise that the Premier League clubs have been very efficient at destroying value since 2009 to the tune of £5.16bn from a total revenue of £45.5bn. Just to be clear what that means; over a 13-year period the clubs competing in the EPL, as a result of their strategies and a loose regulatory oversight, have taken £45.5bn in revenues and given a further £5.16bn to stakeholders. Presumably the vast majority going to players and their agents…
Therefore, with one eye on a near-certain increase in regulation and the other on the accompanying licensing conditions to participate in professional football competitions in England including that of being unable to join a European Super League, it could be argued that the Premier League had almost nothing to lose in chasing down Manchester City. Before the debate intensified about the introduction of a regulator, there was always the chance that a club(s) could go their own way as was proposed by the Big 6 club group in April 2021 regarding the European Super League. With that escape route now supposedly blocked, clubs have seemingly nowhere to go but to stay and face the music.
Unfortunately, when cases arise where financial rule breaches are alleged, the optics are never good and, in our view, given the length of the investigation, the Premier League has taken a very big hit in terms of image and integrity. In a casino there is always the suspicion that the odds are stacked against you and rest in favour of the house. In football, though, when the odds are allegedly stacked against you by one or more of your peers, then that is a very different level of suspicion.
Manchester City’s expansion since the 2008 takeover has been both swift and impressive. It remains to be seen how each side will defend and prosecute their respective positions. However, the impact of the club’s expansion is clear in our divisional data as can be seen when comparing Manchester City’s economic losses to that of the division as a whole.
Between 2008-9 and 2020-21, the club achieved economic losses of £1.07bn whereas the division’s overall club economic losses amounted to £5.16bn.
Viewed through the more robust and intellectually credible economic profit lens, the Premier League division is neither a bastion of wealth nor is it beacon of profitability. Yet Manchester City’s growth since 2008 has been an integral part of this narrative given that the club is responsible for 20.68% of the £5.16bn in economic losses from 2008-21 with revenue rising from £87m to £613m over the same period.
In any other market or industry, a single entity which exhibits such rapid revenue growth along with significant economic losses might be accused of ‘buying’ the market or in seeking to affect the overall level of market economics. Let us stress, we have no evidence that such a course of action was a deliberate strategy but it might explain some of the reported antipathy towards the club from several other clubs within the EPL.
Nevertheless, there are those that argue that spending money creates the spectacle that is the Premier League. The problem with this perspective is that this dynamic, when accompanied by an industry with poor economics, is nothing less than a doom spiral with increasing losses and a diminishing number of participants. The inevitable result is increasing economic losses and threats to financial viability to the point where only multi-billionaires and City States can contemplate further participation and investment. Is this really the best we can do for the national game?
The process to determine Manchester City’s guilt or innocence in this affair will take time and considerable resource from both sides. The integrity of the competition itself is at stake as much as the integrity of said competition’s oversight. It is not a good position to be in if you are the Premier League and the longer it takes to come to a conclusion, the more damaging it becomes…
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