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May 9, 2014 8:30 pm
Premier League clubs can look forward to a bigger financial pot from the outcome of eagerly awaited television rights renegotiations, said Richard Scudamore, league chief executive, insisting they would not waste it on another spiral of excessive spending.
Manchester City are in pole position to be crowned champions on Sunday, bringing to a close a season in which the league’s 20 clubs have enjoyed the fruits of a vastly improved three-year deal with broadcasters worth £5.5bn.
Winning the league has soared in value. City or Liverpool, the closest challenger, will earn more than £90m. Last season’s champions, Manchester United, earned £60.8m, roughly the same amount this season’s bottom club – Cardiff City, Fulham or Norwich City – will make.
Next year’s rights renegotiations for 2016-17 onwards will see the pie grow again as the league’s profile across 175 countries climbs.
“I sit here not complacent but optimistic that we’ve still got very significant growth potential yet to realise,” Mr Scudamore told the Financial Times.
NBC, which broadcasts the league in the US, expects a bidding war in the next round of negotiations. Its first season of coverage more than doubled US viewer numbers to 30.5m.
“I’m certain we will face competition, and that’s understandable,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group.
Mr Scudamore is “very encouraged” by the size of the league’s overseas TV audience. The US has had “a breakthrough moment”, he said, while audiences in India – a market dominated by cricket – are up almost a third.
That may be from a low base, but “if it continues on that trajectory, we will have a significant presence in India in the next three to six years”, he said.
Stiff competition in the UK heralds another steep rise in rights values. BT has done “a very good job” from a standing start, Mr Scudamore said, while Sky has had to “have a little dusting down” of its production and promotion work.
On managing the two competitors, he added: “We have to remain commercial friends with both of them. We have to encourage them both and we have to treat them very fairly.”
But will increased media revenues simply drive clubs to spend more? When he announced in June 2012 that BT’s entry had driven up the value of the UK rights by 70 per cent, Mr Scudamore hoped clubs would spend the money wisely.
Have they? Manchester City spent handsomely in recent seasons buying more players on big salaries. Its combined losses from 2011-12 and 2012-13 totalled £149.5m, Liverpool’s were £90m. Wages are rising inexorably.
Mr Scudamore gets a privileged early sight of club accounts and sees a trend of “reduced losses”, as Uefa’s financial fair play rules and the league’s own spending controls start to bite. “I think they have used some of this [increased] money to improve their P&L, which is good,” he said.
Yet the lingering impression is of a season in which the Premier League has become a very large commercial operation. “That’s not its . . . raison d’être,” says Mr Scudamore. “First and foremost the only thing that matters is that we’re a football competition.”
The season began against a backdrop of fan protests at ticket prices. It ends with the Premier League reporting stadium occupancy at 95.8 per cent, a record.
However, Mr Scudamore accepts the season ticket cost is “a stretch” for a lot of people.
“We will lose some supporters. We know that. Some people just say, ‘we can’t afford this any more’, but the clubs have historically been able to attract new ones.”
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