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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 22:58 GMT
Fatal attraction?
By Andrew McKenzie

Liverpool's new owners George Gillett (left) and Tom Hicks
Liverpool are now in the hands of Gillett (left) and Hicks

There is an old saying about owning a football club: the only way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one.

However, that all seems to be a thing of the past as some of the world's richest men battling it out to get in on the act.

Liverpool are the latest to go, with American tycoons Tom Hicks and George Gillett getting their hands on the Anfield club.

But what are the reasons behind the relatively recent attraction of buying a Premiership football club?


Predicted Premiership revenue
Projected figures provided by Deloitte

It might not buy you love but it does make the world go round - particularly the world of football.

Recent suggestions the Premiership bubble was at bursting point now appear laughable:

  • Financial experts Deloitte estimate that by 2008 the 20 Premiership clubs will be bringing in a combined 1.7bn a year.

  • This is a 10-fold increase since the first year of the Premiership and 25% up on the figures for 2005.

    Sky (1.3bn) and Setanta (392m) paid a combined 1.7bn to show live Premiership games
    The combined overseas rights were sold to 208 countries for 625m
    "As live" rights were sold to BT and Sky for 84.3m
    The BBC paid 171.6m for rights to show highlights on Match of the Day
    NTL/Telewest won the rights to show near-live clips on the internet and the mobile rights went to Sky/News Corp (figures not released)
    Barcelona and Real Madrid sell their own TV rights, earning them close to 100m a year - but collectively the Premiership dwarfs La Liga in TV terms
    Championship clubs receive less than 1m a season from TV

  • The Premiership's bumper new TV deals will bring in 2.7bn over the next three years.

  • The team finishing bottom of the league will receive at least 26m next season - just 4m less than Chelsea got for finishing top in 2006.

  • The winners of the Premiership in 2007-08 will collect 50m from the new TV carve-up.

  • The Premiership's collective revenues are 40% ahead of Italy's Serie A - their nearest competitor.

  • Such riches means that, according to Dan Jones of Deloitte, the Championship play-off final is "the biggest financial prize in world football, worth at least 40m to 2006 winners".

  • With the new TV deal kicking in next season he estimates that figure is likely to grow to over 50m for this season's lucky winners.


    The Premiership is not only the most lucrative but the most popular league in the world.

    It dominates the sporting agenda in parts of the world that its European counterparts and the American superleagues of the NFL, NBA and major league baseball have failed to reach.

    While George Gillett and Tom Hicks struggle to sell interest in their NHL franchises outside of North America, they will find that Liverpool's fanbase stretches from Toxteth to Thailand.

    1(2) Real Madrid 186.2m
    2(1) Man Utd 166.4m
    3(3) AC Milan 158m
    4(5) Juventus 154.9m
    5(4) Chelsea 149.1m
    6(7) Barcelona 140.4m
    7(9) Bayern Munich 128m
    8(10) Liverpool 122.4m
    9(8) Inter Milan 119.7m
    10(6) Arsenal 115.7m
    11(12) Roma 89m
    12(11) Newcastle 87.1m
    13(14) Spurs 70.6m
    14(17) Schalke 65.8m
    15(-) Lyon 62.7m
    16(13) Celtic 62.6m
    17(16) Man City 60.9m
    18(-) Everton 60m
    19(-) Valencia 57.2m
    20(15) Lazio 56.1m
    Annual income 2004-05
    (previous season in brackets)
    Seemingly the only area left to conquer is the United States.

    But with David Beckham off to LA and three of the Premiership's "franchises" now under American control, there are already inroads being made into the richest market of all.

    Miami Dolphins CEO Joe Bailey, one of the heavyweights of the NFL, says his countrymen probably see Premiership potential that has not yet been exploited.

    He told BBC Sport: "They have had significant experience in a league and understand sports from a standpoint of sports marketing and industry.

    "They can take what they learned in the NFL and other leagues in the US and apply them to clubs here. Perhaps they see some low-hanging fruits and some opportunities that haven't been done before."

    Unlike the four major American sports, with their salary caps and draft systems aimed at levelling the field, the Premiership has a no-limits policy on spending or earning.

    But Liverpool's new co-owner George Gillett denied the attraction was to take advantage.

    "If you were to put down the list of objectives we have, money would be nowhere near the top," he said when announcing their Anfield arrival to a room of cynical onlookers.

    "It would start with winning, it would start with passion, it would have respect for tradition and history. It would have the word legacy very near the top and it would have the word thank you to David Moores for giving us the chance to own this wonderful franchise and hopefully add to its history."

    But Birmingham managing director Karen Brady reckons the foreign investors are "seduced by tax advantages and Sky TV's millions".

    And Forbes magazine suggests they are "attracted to the UK's own emerging reputation as a tax haven with good schools, nice homes and safe streets".

    There may be eyebrows raised in Liverpool, Manchester and the east end of London about the good schools and safe streets part, but clearly England has its attractions.


    Of the 20 richest clubs in the world in 2006, eight of them are in the Premiership and its 'big four' are all in the top 10.

    The 2007 list is published this week and English clubs are again expected to figure prominently.

    Football will come to bitterly regret not involving its supporters in such decisions

    Steven Powell of the Football Supporters' Federation
    But more importantly for investors, they are easy to buy.

    Spain's most attractive clubs - Real and Barcelona - are effectively off limits as they are owned by their fans.

    In Italy the major clubs have long been under the control of some of the richest and most powerful families in the country.

    England's clubs are pretty much available to the highest bidder.

    The Premier League has no restrictions on foreign ownership, besides passing a "fit and proper persons" test, while England is notoriously easy for foreign investors to buy into.

    From its water and electricity companies to the stock market, just about everything virtually except the crown jewels is for sale.


    But is the new money flowing in and out of the Premiership good for the game?:

    The Ups:

    "We live in a free-market economy. How can we stop someone investing in the game they love? Whatever we think, they are there, and we will see a lot more of them."
    Arsenal vice chairman David Dein

    "The foreign investors are a fantastic service to the Premiership. Because of all these riches, the Premier League becomes more famous and much more attractive. So the foreign television rights are sold for even more around the world and the game is seen by more people."
    Superagent Pini Zahavi, who helped through the deals for Pompey and Chelsea

    "I didn't come here for no other reason than the love of the game. I could name you a few British chairman that destroyed clubs over here and then went on to be chairmen elsewhere."
    Former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric, one of the Premiership's first overseas chairmen

    The Downs:

    "There is a system in football at the moment that will do serious damage if we don't stop it."
    Fifa president Sepp Blatter

    "I don't think it's healthy for clubs to depend on some benefactor because one day that benefactor will dry up and football businesses shouldn't be baled out. We can do an enormous amount for this national game of ours if we seek ways of collectively doing things rather than working in isolation."
    Crewe chairman John Bowler

    "Our turnover is less than 4% of theirs. It is a totally unfair league."
    Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd after their recent 4-0 defeat at Manchester United

    "I doubt whether in the next 10 years there will be a German club in the final of a European competition. I just hope the European Union puts a stop to these excesses of Abramovich and foreign television."
    Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

    "Football will come to bitterly regret not involving its supporters in such decisions. We hope that the new owners will meet with supporter representatives at Anfield as a matter of urgency. Liverpool FC is a national sporting treasure. Its history and traditions must be respected."
    Steven Powell of the Football Supporters' Federation

    Football takeover trends
    06 Feb 07 |  Premiership
    Man Utd dethroned as richest club
    16 Feb 06 |  Business
    Premiership in new 625m TV deal
    18 Jan 07 |  Business
    BT signs live football match deal
    04 Dec 06 |  Business
    BSkyB and Setanta agree TV pact
    09 May 06 |  Business
    Rich clubs 'good for football'
    28 Nov 06 |  Business


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