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Wed Jun 01 05:43:25 SAST 2016

Soccer in a financial league of its own

Ross Tucker | 22 February, 2016 00:09
Ross Tucker. File photo
Image by: Times Media Group

Money can't buy happiness, they say. Unless you're a sports fanatic, in which case money (your team's, not yours) tends to buy you the happiness of watching your team win more often than it loses.

There is, generally speaking, a good association between money spent in sport and success. The problem is that success brings in more money and so the rich tend to get richer while the poor get desperate, and creative, finding clever ways to stretch limited resources further.

That's why we celebrate the exceptions to the money rule.

It's human nature to love the underdog and in this era of obscene money (and the cynicism that sadly accompanies it) there's almost as much joy seeing the super-rich fall as there is seeing Cinderella steal the show at the ball.

Football in 2016 has produced some remarkable underdog stories.

Leicester City have a real shot at dethroning the big five in England's Premier League. This is a club that spends only 25% of what its rivals do on salaries and leads Tottenham and Arsenal by two points with 12 matches left.

They arguably have an easier conclusion to the season, having played all their matches against teams in the top four, whereas Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City must still play each other.

So, what began as a feel-good story for five months has a chance of becoming a sensational sporting triumph.

Then this week mighty Midtjylland, the champions of Denmark, beat the once-mighty Manchester United in the Uefa Europa League.

The Danish club pays its players a total of £10-million (about R220-million) per year.

It's a South African default to convert that to rands, which is an eye-popping amount, especially when you consider that it's more than the combined salaries paid by all the professional rugby teams in South Africa, but it pales in comparison with Manchester United's £220-million salary bill!

The English giants pay their players an average of £4.7-million per year, almost half of the entire team salary of their Danish conquerors.

France's Paris St Germain, by the way, are the best-paid team in global sport.

According to the global sports salaries survey, produced by Sportingintelligence each year, Qatari money has propelled the French club ahead of Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona and the LA Dodgers in baseball.

Their salary cost? A staggering £5.3-million per player. Their team cost £300-million in transfer fees

to assemble.

The money is obscene, but that's what the market has paid, so it is proportionate to the income. Yes, when Qatari, Emirati and Russian money flows into European football clubs, it distorts the income figures significantly, but there remains a market that makes such extraordinary cash flows possible.

For instance, Sky Sports, the main broadcaster of English premiership football, are paying a shade under £11-million per match. The deal, which has been renewed for the 2017 season, will be worth £8-billion and that money is shared among teams in the league, with the premiership clubs getting the lion's share.

The impact is astonishing. Last year, when Chelsea won the Premier League, they received £100-million. Next year the team that finishes last in the league will get the same.

From top to bottom, there will be a roughly 50% jump in earnings, and so survival has never meant as much as it does this year.

Just being in the top flight in 2017 will be worth at least £32- million more than it was this year.

The financial repercussions of being relegated have never been greater. This is why in the transfer window over half the £175-million spent was by teams in the bottom six. These are desperate times, indeed.

So as a frenetic season builds to a crescendo, keep in mind that as much as the pursuit of glory is driving Leicester, Spurs and Arsenal, there is proportionally even more to lose at the bottom.

We do live in an era of too many dollars, and, seemingly, too little sense.

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