The data just published by Sporting Intelligence (sourced from internal PFA files) adds more fuel to my argument that the football pyramid is becoming utterly distorted in the sense that the scale of finance in the different tiers is being ludicrously stretched. In a recent public lecture as part of the Coventry Sporting Conversation series (a podcast is available here beginning at 02:05 mins.), I put the case that the lifting of the maximum wage started to stretch the level of financial activity across the tiers, and that when the Premier League broke away and negotiated its own broadcasting rights this process accelerated dramatically.
While the Sporting Intelligence data in its tabular form excited me, it was when I put into Excel and produced some graphs that I got really excited. The full set of data on average players’ basic wages , together with UK average wages as a benchmark is shown here:
At first glance it is obvious that things started to change with the appearance of the Premier League, but if we plot pre-Premier League and post-Premier League separately, the change can be seen as an acceleration of the existing trend:
The most striking features of the data emerge when you compare the average basic wages over time in each tier with the average UK wages. The Premier League data confirms the stereotype of the ability to live the Ferrari-driving playboy lifestyle:
On the other hand, life for a player in today’s League 2 is rather different from this stereotype:
Starting from a position in 1984/85 of below the average UK wage, things did slowly get better until the dawn of the Premier League. Apart from a strange positive blip in 2003/04 (and no, I can’t explain it either), his lot has been scarcely different from the average UK worker’s wage. Given that a footballer has a limited career, I wonder how a League 2 player ever manages to get a mortgage and buy a house, especially if he’s a goalkeeper – other data I have shows that goalkeepers are the worst-paid players.
This distortion in wages up and down the pyramid is simply a reflection of the disparity in revenues. Of course higher levels deserve higher broadcasting rights and should be able to pay higher wages to attract the best talent, but when the size of the difference between tiers has become so vast, the traditional view of a club having some ambition and a local businessman to back them has long gone. The only way upwards to the top is with an Arab prince or a Russian oligarch. This is of course hardly news, but the data above makes abundantly clear that unless 92 Arab princes or Russian oligarchs come along, performance on the pitch will continue to be grossly distorted by the richness or otherwise of a club’s benefactor. That is, unless change in governance takes place, and Financial Fair Play is imposed rigorously up and down the pyramid, financial doping is stopped, and a measure of sporting competitive balance returns to the game.