Interesting financial news from Deloitte that FA Premier League clubs turned a profit in season 2013-14, the first time the combined results of the top 20 clubs in England have been in the black for 15 years. The reason for the £190m surplus was a 29% increase in revenue, largely as a result of the-then new TV deal, which runs until summer 2016. Wages rose only 20% that year.
Clubs will be happy to have stemmed the losses, although the first year of a new TV deal is always their high water mark, but the underlying bubble remains a problem. Income cannot continue to rise at heady double-digit rates, shareholders of BskyB and BT will eventually see to that, despite the fact that next big boost from TV is already confirmed for season 2016-17.
The play to watch is not if or when a dysfunctional football sector gets its act in order, it’s when an almost-as dysfunctional broadcasting industry reaches equilibrium. We’ve discussed before Sky’s absolute need for Premier League rights to secure their place as a prime broadcaster. BT, Virgin, Netflix and others are busy eating into their movie, news and entertainment broadcast market. It’s this need which is driving revenue towards the English Premier League. Without English Premier League football, Sky are vulnerable.
Sky took the first step towards passing the financial pain of their new deal down the line to consumers this month in the form of a price increase. The company have successfully done this before, many low income families are now paying £70 per month for satellite TV, and subscriber losses after previous increases have been almost non-existent.
Millions of people have high stakes skin in this game: subscribers, Sky and BT executives, their respective shareholders, Premier League clubs and the dependent ecosystem below them. All the spinning plates have remained in the air, despite price increases through a recession, but one fundamental remains:
This is a bubble.
Speculators are confused when they only see a market inflate over a long period that it’s not a bubble. The moment these TV deals become unaffordable to subscribers, or more likely, to the broadcasters, the bubble will burst.
Debts are high, profitability is here, but the underlying commercial pressures to stay in the league remain, so wage pressure will continue to eat away at available funds. Those outside of the bonanza have to figure out how to compete for audience and players, while waiting on the final act.