Assessing the Wide Gulf Between the Premier League and Championship

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When comparing football league hierarchies, disparities in quality, revenue, and viewership are a common occurrence. However, the divergence between the Premier League and the Championship often seems..


Initially, the Premier League wasn't designed to overshadow lower divisions to this extent. Rick Parry, one of its founding figures, recently expressed that the league was never intended to evolve this way. He believes the current situation is so dire that it seems impossible to bridge. The widening gap has prompted suggestions in the past for a Premier League 2, an idea resurrected by Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani.

RISING DISPARITY IN TV REVENUES By the end of the 2017-18 season, Premier League clubs had reaped an average of £157m in revenue from TV deals, while Championship clubs averaged just £24m. This marked the fourth consecutive year of widening broadcasting revenue disparity, as the Premier League continues to benefit from billion-pound deals with entities like Sky and BT.

Despite the latest deal falling short of the £5.1bn raised for the 2016-19 period, it still stood significantly higher than the £3.02bn raised from 2013-16 and the £1.77bn for the 2010-13 period. Moreover, Amazon's entry into broadcasting matches from the 2019-20 season added more conglomerates vying for a share of the lucrative Premier League rights.

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PLAY-OFF FINAL TV money estimates that promotion from the Championship to the Premier League is worth around £200m. This immense financial incentive has pushed several Championship clubs toward a high-risk approach to secure a spot in England's top-flight football.

Aston Villa's strategy following their 2015 relegation led to economic turmoil upon failing to beat Fulham in the play-off final. While a summer takeover averted serious trouble, clubs like Bolton and Portsmouth faced dire financial situations after failing to regain top-flight status.

CHAMPIONSHIP CLUBS: SEEKING FAIRER DEALS Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani contends that Championship clubs are unfairly compensated in TV revenues. Despite Leeds featuring in 19 televised matches during the 2017-18 season, they received only £2m, or £2.5m per game. Radrizzani's proposal for a Premier League 2, aiming to provide more equitable TV revenue distribution to Championship clubs, garners support from many second-tier chairmen.

Had the Football League accepted a deal to take a 20% cut of a combined Premier League and Football League package in the late '90s, the income gap between them might not have accelerated as rapidly.


Teams transitioning from the Championship to the Premier League have often coped well with the challenges of the highly competitive league. Statistics prior to the 2017-18 season showed that 40% of promoted sides managed to survive in the top tier for the subsequent two seasons. This metric significantly influences team stability, as 83% of teams that survive relegation threats twice go on to establish themselves in the Premier League for a minimum of five consecutive seasons.

However, breaking the dominance of the 'top six' remains a different matter. With the exception of Leicester during their title-winning season, no promoted side has managed to disrupt the established hierarchy at the top of the Premier League.

DISPARITY IN REVENUE SOURCES The revenue generated by clubs like Manchester City and Manchester United significantly surpasses that of clubs lower down the league. While TV money is relatively evenly distributed among all 20 teams, the discrepancy in other income sources places Championship sides at a substantial disadvantage.

For instance, the revenue difference between Manchester United and Middlesbrough is staggering. Manchester United earned £112m through match-day receipts and £276m from commercial income, a £82m increase compared to what they earned through TV and broadcasting. Conversely, Middlesbrough heavily relied on the £101m earned from TV rights. Their match-day receipts totaled only £9m, with commercial sources slightly higher at £11m. Top clubs hold significant global brand appeal, an advantage not shared by any Championship outfit.

IMPRESSIVE CHAMPIONSHIP ATTENDANCES During the 2016-17 season, the Championship ranked third in total match-day attendances, surpassing both La Liga and Serie A. While the higher aggregate attendance can be attributed to playing more matches (46 compared to 38), these numbers are undeniably impressive. The average attendance for the 552 Championship matches exceeded 20,000. Despite the Premier League's supreme status with a 13.6m aggregate attendance (30,809 average), the second tier of English football continues to attract significant crowds.

Championship fans display unwavering loyalty to their clubs, seemingly unswayed by the allure of the Premier League. While this scenario might change in the future as younger generations gravitate toward star-studded Premier League giants, for now, the Championship remains immensely popular. TV viewership numbers also reflect a high level of interest in the league, evident from Sunderland matches averaging nearly 400k viewers per game, with several other clubs also exceeding 300k viewers. Sky's interest in continuing as the sole UK provider of Championship matches allows them to broadcast up to 80 mid-week matches per season.

DISPARITY IN FINANCIAL MUSCLE The Premier League tax during transfer windows is a widely recognized phenomenon, allowing foreign clubs to demand higher prices from Premier League outfits due to their substantial budgets. During the 2018 summer transfer window, Premier League clubs surpassed the £1bn spending mark for the third consecutive season. However, this total fell short by £200m compared to the previous year. Notable transfers like Chelsea's £71m signing of goalkeeper Kepa and Liverpool's recruitment of Alisson from Roma for £4m less both made the top 10 list of most expensive Premier League transfers. However, they were still overshadowed by Manchester United's £93m payment for Paul Pogba.

Promotion to the Premier League provides clubs with the opportunity to break their transfer records, a common occurrence. Fulham, for instance, doubled their record signing amount when acquiring Jean Michael Seri following their return to the top flight. Similarly, Huddersfield, previously spending £1.8m on Christopher Schindler, increased their spending to £17.5m on Terence Kongolo and a rumored sum of £11.4m for Steve Mounie. Meanwhile, Championship clubs struggle to make such significant expenditures. As of 2018, only eight Championship arrivals cost more than £10m, with Ruben Neves being the most expensive at £15.8m.

THE OUTLOOK FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP The Premier League-Championship gap, largely propelled by a rapid increase in TV and broadcasting revenue, primarily drives the current financial disparity. Despite initial parachute payments to cushion the financial impact, clubs face substantial setbacks post-relegation. The reliance on Premier League funds emphasizes survival as a top priority for clubs facing relegation threats. Clubs relegated to lower tiers witness significant wage cuts for players, leading to squad decimation as individuals seek better contracts elsewhere.

However, financial metrics should not solely define the gulf between the leagues. Championship clubs have consistently performed admirably upon achieving promotion, often outperforming previous achievements, such as Derby's 11-point haul in the 2007-08 season. Unlike second divisions in other countries lacking interest, the Championship continues to captivate TV audiences and draw enthusiastic fans to matches. Given its sustained popularity, there exists an opportunity for English football's second tier to negotiate a better financial deal, potentially through the establishment of a "Premier League 2." This could assist in bridging the vast gap between the top flight and the Championship, although they might still remain significantly distant.


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