More and more football fans are focusing on their clubs finances. Are the transfer, wage and operational decisions that a club’s board make going to affect the fanbase? Will it incur the wrath of FFP, saddle the club with debt, risk losing assets like stadium ownership or playing talent? Will the board make great financial decisions and lead the club to a place of success and prosperity on and off the field of play? Ultimately what fans want to know is does their club make a profit. We take a look.
Do Premiership clubs make a profit? One of the most comprehensive breakdowns of year on year Premier League Club finance is the Deloitte Annual Review of Football. They published a headline figure for the 2021-22 season that the Premier League had made £459 million profit, down just £1million on the previous season. This is however caveated as excluding “player trading”. When factored in this profit figure, for all 20 clubs combined drops to a £607 million loss. This was a £100 million improvement on the previous season.
You may be asking why they would exclude player trading figures from their headline profit/loss report. The simple answer is that the value of money spent on a player remains in the club as an asset, so does not technically count as an immediate loss of profit. The operational cost figure reported as a profit, excluding player trading, gives good insight into the structural health of the Premier League and its clubs. Below we look deeper into the Premier League clubs revenue, costs and how this calculates into a profit figure each year.
Premier League Club Profit: Player Wages
For the 2021-22 season the Premier League reported record revenue of £5.5 Billion. Before this can even be considered as profit, we need to extract the biggest cost all Premier League clubs face. Player wages. The same season a massive £3.6 billion was spent on player wages. This equates to over 65% of total revenue for the season. This would leave just £1.9 billion to be spent on all other operating costs or declared as profit.
|2021-22 Premier League Revenue & Player Wages by Club|
|Club||Revenue (Million £)||Player Wage (Million £)||Player Wage (% of revenue)|
The table above breaks down what each Premier League club spent on player wages last year, versus their total club revenue. Everton & Newcastle sit at the top (or bottom) with 96 and 94% respectively spent on player wages. Tottenham and Brentford fare the best with just 47 and 48% respectively spent on player wages. The Premier League average is 67% of total revenue spent on player wages. Two thirds of all money generated is spent on player wages. For some context the NBA has a salary cap in place that limits spending on player wages to 51% of franchise revenue. For clubs operating above the 67% average there is a real danger that they could either face serious financial trouble or fall foul of Premier League or UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. Everton (98%) are already facing investigations from the Premier League, Newcastle (96%) are in a transitional period, with new owners coming in and creating new streams of revenue and clearing old debts the club had to repay each year, so we should expect to see this figure lower significantly over the next few seasons.
Premier League Club Profit over time
The below graph has been taken directly from the Deloitte Annual Review of Football. It shows very clearly the trend of profit in the big 5 leagues of Europe. (figures are for top flights only). The reported figures are in Euros (€) and show operating profit, excluding player trading.
The big trends we can take away from this chart is that the English Premier League was powering away from the other European leagues before the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2019-20. This hit all nations’ profit hard. However, the Premier League has recovered far quicker than any other nation. Germany made a significant growth in profit for the first time in 2021-22 and all other nations are still trending down or staying flat. The main driver of Premier League revenue is domestic broadcast rights and an increasing value on international broadcast rights.
The graph shows a high point for the EPL in 2016-17. At the time of publishing those figures Dan Jones, the head of Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, said the increase in profit was a result of last season being the first of the current three-year domestic deal with BT and Sky, which is worth more than £5.1billion. This deal has since been rolled over due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a new deal is set to start in the coming seasons.
Premier League Club Profit and the impact of transfer fees
As we discussed above, player trading figures are often removed from the reporting of football club profits. This is due primarily to the fact that money spent on a player is essentially retained within the club as an asset. This is accounted for by a process called amortization, which you can read more about here.
However, it is well worth looking at the impact player transfers have on Premier League clubs over time.
|Premier League||Profit (£m)|
|Season||Exc Player Trading||Inc Player Trading||Variance|
The above table shows the reported profit figures of the 20 Premier League clubs over the last 5 seasons. In every case when player trading is added back in, the profit margin drops significantly. The 2017-18 season was the last time the Premier League reported a true profit when transfer fees are included. The following years started to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and have shown a loss each year. But regardless of the actual revenue generated by the Premier League, these figures make it clear that in the last 4 seasons, the Premier League has, on balance, spent over £1 billion each season.
The headline figure here is that, if you add up all the Premier League transfers in and transfers out. In the last 4 seasons the Premier League has a net negative figure of over £4 billion.
The majority of this spending can be attributed to the “Big 6” and Newcastle.
Pulling club transfer net spends from the last 4 seasons and the 2023 Summer Transfer Window we can estimate the following values:
- Chelsea – negative £673 million
- Manchester United – negative £609 million
- Arsenal – negative £552 million
- Tottenham – negative £436 million
- Newcastle – negative £416 million
- Manchester City – negative £314 million
Special mentions to Liverpool (9th) the remaining member of the “Big 6” posted a negative £218 million who’s spending has been well offset by player sales.
Brighton (20th) who may well be looking to expand the “Big 6” to a “Big 8” they are the only Premier League club (2023-24 season) to post a net profit on transfers in the last 5 years.
Generating a positive £76 million, while setting record Premier League performances year after year.
So, are Premier League Clubs profitable? The answer is yes, and no. The League itself generates vast amounts of revenue that is shared between the 20 clubs. This revenue is offset by costs, not least player wages. Controlling this is key to long term financial success and the threat of UEFA and Premier League FFP has started a positive trend in this regard. Player transfers, which technically do not count as loss figures against profits, are consistently over £1 billion per year. On a club level, Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal need to get their wages and transfer fees in order, by creating a stable and successful squad in order to maintain profitability.
Clubs like Man City and Liverpool have over the last 5 seasons found a perfect balance between on field success, player wages and transfer fees both in and out.
Brighton stand as the gold standard for clubs that want to operate in a profitable way, achieving both relative success on the pitch, profitable books and a profitable transfer policy.
The main threat to all these Premier League clubs is… relegation.