Recently the media have been banging on about Liverpool being a massive club, Villa being bigger than Norwich and so on. And a lot of us are worried in case a big club comes in for one or more of our top players.
So I thought I’d have a go at thinking about what makes a big club. What makes a big club club in any case? And has the definition of a big club been clouded by the sudden influx of money into the modern game? I’ve decided to stick to the Premier League for now in an attempt to try and work this out.
Personally I think that money talks so I thought of a few criteria to go along with it. The first one is global brand recognition. This important because it adds to the value of the club, and reflects what it says on the tin. These figures reflect the clubs worldwide fan base. These figures were posted recently and discussed so I’ll keep short and sweet.
Manchester United are in a league of their own with a “brand value” estimated at £853m, and recent signing Kagawa won’t harm that as they look to bolster their reputation in the vast Far Eastern market.
Then there are three clubs between £350m and £400m Chelsea, Arsenal and then Liverpool. I think Liverpool are dropping down and may well have trouble holding onto 4th with Manchester City moving rapidly up to just over £300m. There is then a gap to Spurs at just over £200m
Finally we get down to Aston Villa and Newcastle who apparently have a “brand value” of nearly £90m each.
This sort of explains why pre-season tours are arranged to grow our global presence. Of course the other factor here is recent success.
I’m looking at both the short term and medium term here. The Premier league table aggregated over the last 20 years shows that again Manchester United are in a class of their own with 1663 points. Then we have Arsenal with 1449, Chelsea with 1402, Liverpool with 1334 then a gap to Villa who have 1089 points, Spurs with 1086, Everton with 1034 and Newcastle with 1017. With Blackburn dropping out there is a gap down to City with 784 points.
Looking at the last two years Manchester United have managed 169pts, City 160, Arsenal 138, Chelsea 135, Spurs 131, Then Newcastle on 111. Liverpool and Everton are on 110 with Fulham the only other club managing over 100 points.
Looking at appearances in Europe it is clear how the top of the Premier League has been dominated by a handful of clubs, with only the Europa League providing the rest with a chance to showcase their talents in Europe.
I think it is interesting to look at stadium size and local fanbase. The stadiums were built at a time of relative success for the team otherwise they could not have afforded to do so and the size gives an idea of how much local support is expected. Only three clubs have ground capacity exceeding 50,000 and that is Manchester United (75,811) Arsenal (60,361) and Newcastle (52,387). Then we have clubs with 40k+ in descending order, Sunderland, Manchester City, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Everton.
Lastly I thought I’d have a look at turnover and owners. After all in “soccernomics” there is a correlation between the clubs wage bill and it’s success. There being a much lower correlation between squad cost and success.
Under the new Fair Play rules the idea is to limit the wage bill to ensure that it is controlled by turnover rather than how deep the owners pockets are, but how successful that is going to be is open to debate. Also turnover is again heavily dependant upon success. Champions League football is worth say £40m per year. So gaining success and then planning for it to continue is fatal, ask Leeds or Portsmouth.
It is clear that owners are willing to gamble with success, but not many can afford to do so. American ownership does not look to do so it appears.
So where does that leave us. The Manchester clubs look secure. United, despite their debt, have a massive global brand, and turnover to support their business model, whilst City have very deep pockets and are looking like they will have the prolonged success necessary to avoid the pitfalls of overreaching themselves. Arsenal and Chelsea have the potential to remain big clubs, especially if Chelsea build a new stadium. Spurs and Liverpool are at a crux. Neither have the stadiums, and both would be vulnerable to lack of success. Neither have owners with deep pockets and both could see their global brand falling. Villa have already fallen and unless their new manager can turn them round they will have a long way back up. The two North Eastern clubs both have tremendous potential, but the odd successful season here of there is not enough to break them into the super club level.
Unfortunately it looks as if the Champions League places are Manchester United’s, Manchester City’s, Chelsea’s and Arsenal’s to lose. Much as Spurs and Liverpool would like to see themselves as one of the big four they do not have the resources to shift them and unless their business model is based on Europa League football they are putting themselves in danger. Villa, Newcastle, Sunderland and Everton are all big clubs however none of them have the global brands, the finances or the current success to build on.
A few years of cup runs and maybe the Europa League could provide the momentum to change that and Newcastle have promised much in the last season. But Even a few years of success will not establish you, as Sir Bobby Robson found out to his cost.