Almanac Soccer – EPL: Do We Believe The Hype?

A couple of things tend to happen at this time of the year. I turn another year older and the English Premier League begins another season. The EPL proclaims to be the No 1 Football League in the world in terms of numbers of supporters, quality of football played and television ratings from around the world. The question is; is the EPL all that it claims to be?

When the English Premier League was formed in 1992 from the old English Championship, Football in England was at the crossroads. Crowds were down, football violence was up and clubs were losing money by the millions. The EPL was formed to bring a better product to the sporting public, and more importantly Pay TV which was coming into its own in Europe, and eventually the rest of the world. It seemed overnight the package was better. Players were signed up from overseas. Due to the Taylor Report, improved stadiums attracted bigger crowds and the style of play made it attractive for not only in England, but the large number of supporters around the world. So much so that now the EPL attracts a weekly audience of 4.7 billion people each week. With an audience like this corporate backing is not hard to find. You only have to look at Man Utd’s sponsorship deal with Chevrolet – worth over $80 million a year, and their 10 year, $1 billion dollar deal with Adidas. So there’s no question the EPL gets a tick with their pulling power in terms of TV audience.

In regards to filling their stadiums, this is where is gets interesting. There was a slight drop off in attendances last season, with supporters complaining high ticket cost prices them out of seeing their team play. While the bigger clubs can replace them with overseas supporters travelling in to achieve their dream of watching their favourite team, the smaller clubs have taken a hit and you do notice the empty seats in the stadiums. Also, the German Bundesliga is now the most attended sporting league in the world, thanks to their lower ticket prices and how they encourage the supporters to cheer on their sides. There is a perception the EPL is losing touch with it’s working class supporters who have helped support and build the league for over 100 years.

Finally, while the quality of football has improved in the first 15 years of the EPL, there has been worrying signs the league – football wise – is not as strong in the last few years. The last EPL side to win the Champions League was Chelsea in 2012 and the German and Spanish sides have dominated the competition for the last decade. The English national team have not benefited from the EPL’s growth, with England’s best efforts on the international stage being a semi-finals appearance in Euro 96 and getting to the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup in Japan. At last year’s world cup in Brazil England did not make it past the group stage. The most worrying aspect is only five clubs have won the EPL title, with the gap between the haves and have nots only getting bigger. Plus there are only nine British-born Managers currently in charge of EPL clubs for this season.

So while the EPL has brought great riches and wider audiences for the larger clubs, it has to be worrying that the real benefits of having a strong football league are not being felt with the smaller clubs and local players. Of course this might be the true economics being felt by football all around the world.

About Vaughan Menlove

Obsessed with Richmond, Luton Town, Melbourne Victory and Arsenal. The Dr had a soccer career hampered by the realisation he was crap, but could talk his way around the game. Co host of It's Not Called Soccer podcast


  1. Thoughtful article Vaughan. ” There is a perception the EPL is losing touch with it’s working class supporters who have helped support and build the league for over 100 years.”
    Perception??? Surely this horse bolted a decade ago and the EPL is now a League owned by billionaires, that millionaires play, with yuppie bankers and the nouveau riche in the stands.
    Its a business corporation masquerading as a sport.
    The AFL (just) keeps the balance on the side of sport and participation, but the EPL is an example of everything we don’t want to aspire to.
    Salary cap seems a bridge too far. Funny how European sport is very capitalist, while the countries have been more socialist in history. US sport is very socialist (salary caps and drafts – maybe its mercantilism to protect the plutocrat owners from ballooning salary costs?) in the home of economic rationalism.
    Any chance of limiting the number of overseas players for each EPL club so there is some trickle down benefit for English football?

  2. Agree with much of what you say here, Dr.
    Things are certainly crook when the Australian cricket coach has to take to twitter to search for tickets.

  3. A sensible article, but twas ever thus. England has only won the World Cup once in 1966 and that squeakily long before the EPL or billionaires or masses of foreign players. Domination by big clubs is also common, though not as great as in Spain, Italy or Scotland (don’t mention the Scots performance at the World Cup, uniformly home before the postcards). When a student of mine and I were doing research on Scottish clubs and their managers and players forty years ago, but referring back to the the history of the game up to the 1960s we found managers paid not on winning performances beyond a certain level, but on the transfer fees they brought into the club. The optimum position for some clubs was one place outside promotion to the top division. Inside the top division, since the top places were a duopoly, for some clubs survival in the first division was the key criterion. With more space I could tell you how Ally McLeod kept Ayr United in the top division for many years. Other clubs aimed at finishing high in the league and winning a cup now and again, or having at least a good cup run. So behind the focus on winning the league of most who write or talk about the game was a series of discrete competitions going on, where actually gaining promotion or winning the league could lead to the destruction of the apparently successful club. Think Carlisle United, Annan, Leeds United, Northampton Town, Oxford United, and many more.

  4. Sorry I meant Gretna not Annan!

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