The Premier League, like every other European soccer league, is marked by a huge gulf between its haves and have-nots. Now a second gulf is developing at the top of the league, between the rich and the uber-rich, and the ensuing arms race is nothing short of astonishing.
At the top, three clubs — Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City — dwarf even the outlandish spending of the rest of the Premier League. It’s easy to explain how Chelsea and Manchester City climbed into the financial stratosphere. Chelsea was bought by Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich. Manchester City, similarly, was purchased by the Abu Dhabi royal family. It gave the two clubs unlimited spending power to reach the top of England.
Manchester United is a different story. Though it’s long been reviled, the club’s rise to financial dominance is the model.
United, always one of England’s biggest clubs, benefited from several things in the 1990s. Sir Alex Ferguson, perhaps England’s best-ever manager, developed a talented group of young players at the club, led by David Beckham. This period of success coincided with the beginning of the Premier League, a creation that saw Manchester United dominate the league just as it became the world’s richest, and most prominent, soccer competition.
The result is that Manchester United is now regularly described as a “global brand,” and huge sponsors are willing to pay extra to be associated with the club. Combine this with the team’s share of the league’s TV contract, and the match-day revenue from England’s largest club soccer stadium, and United has a home-grown financial advantage.
The rest of the rich clubs are scrambling to catch up.
Arsenal, once Manchester United’s sole rival at the top of the league, went into penny-pinching mode to pay for a new stadium just as Chelsea and Manchester City came to prominence — in some ways, the opposite of United’s fortuitous timing. Tottenham Hotspur is rebuilding its own stadium, part of the reason the club hasn’t spent a dime this summer to add to its up-and-coming squad.
Everton has been working on a new stadium plan for more than a decade, and has a new owner with deep pockets. Liverpool just finished a stadium expansion, and is doing its best to spend money on new players as well.
The hope, for the four, is that new stadium revenue will combine with on-field success to propel them into the same stratosphere as the three wealthiest teams. Overcoming the financial gulf, though, is no easy task.
Of that group only Arsenal has won a Premier League title, and it hasn’t lifted a trophy since 2004.The arms race continues this year, but one has to wonder if any of the rich clubs will ever catch up to the uber-rich three.
• If you want evidence of MLS’s growth – and growth potential – consider this: Two years ago, the league triumphantly signed its biggest broadcast deal, with ESPN, Fox and Univision paying a combined $90 million per season to show the league’s games. This week, Adidas announced an extension of its deal as the league’s officially licensed jersey provider, which had been worth $25 million a season. The new deal? It’s $117 million per year, nearly five times more, and currently worth more than the TV contract.
• Australia’s women’s soccer team defeated the United States, Japan and Brazil to win the Tournament of Nations in the USA. It was perhaps the greatest-ever triumph for the Matildas, who’ve always been just outside the women’s soccer elite. It was no small feat to defeat the USA in a road game, and it could propel the Aussies to greater heights.
• It’s hard not to root for FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League to keep its dream run going in the U.S. Open Cup. The team, which draws enormous crowds in a lower-division league, is two victories from becoming the first non-Major League Soccer team to win the cup since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Ligue 1: Paris Saint-Germain vs. Amiens, 10 a.m. Saturday, beIN Sports. Ligue 1 is the first of the big European leagues to kick off its season this year. The weekend’s first game involves PSG, aiming to get back to the top of the French standings, though forward Neymar, a recent record-setting acquisition, is unlikely to play. Can Amiens provide any resistance at all?
DFB-Supercup: Bayern Munich at Borussia Dortmund, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 9. Like the Community Shield, this annual exhibition matches the German Cup winner (Dortmund) with the league champion (Bayern). As always, Bayern seems set to cruise to the Bundesliga title, and BVB is the only club that ever seems able to stand in its way.
Community Shield: Arsenal vs. Chelsea, 8 a.m. Sunday, FS1. For both clubs, this is an opportunity to pick up a minor trophy, but mostly an opportunity to test their players’ readiness for next week’s season. Chelsea is trying to integrate a few new additions; Arsenal is mostly figuring out how to deal with a glut of forwards.
MLS: New York at NYC, 5 p.m. Sunday, FS1. They call it the Hudson River Derby, between Yankee Stadium-based NYC and New York, which like so many other New York teams actually plays its games in New Jersey. As has been the case over the last two years, this is also a matchup of two of the East’s best teams.