The English Premier League has reinforced its dominant position in European football, breaking its all-time spending record in the summer transfer window and hoovering up the world’s most expensive players.
The gross spending of Premier League clubs has already topped £1.5bn with more signings expected before the transfer window closes on Thursday next week, beating the previous record of £1.4bn in 2017, according to Deloitte’s Sports Business Group.
Further data on specialist website transfermarkt shows that even after money recouped from selling players, the English top flight’s net spend of £942mn as of August 26 is far ahead of European rivals. Led by FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, Spanish top-league clubs have a net spend of £48mn this summer, making La Liga the nearest rival.
Portugal’s clubs have made use of the window to generate a surplus of about £220mn so far from player trading.
Teams are spending at a time when inflation is putting pressure on football supporters as consumer spending power drops.
The bet is that ticket sales will remain resilient after a record-breaking season for attendances, while global broadcasters are locked into multibillion-dollar contracts that last for years.
“What we’ve typically seen in the past is that the ingrained level of loyalty and tribalism among fans [means] those things are hard to let go of,” said Chris Wood, assistant director in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group.
“As we’re going through this cost of living crisis, are stadiums still selling out? That will be an indication of whether [it’s] biting fans’ ability or desire to turn out on a Saturday afternoon.”
The extent of the Premier League’s spending spree, and how far ahead it is of its rivals, surprised many in the industry, according to Marlon Fleischman, an agent at Unique Sports Group, which represents players including Chelsea’s Reece James.
“You’ve got clubs backing their existing managers to make sure they’re competitive, new owners trying to ensure their new purchase is as competitive as possible, and then new managers who need the backing to go and reshape squads that are either unbalanced or not performing,” said Fleischman.
Clubs such as Chelsea and Newcastle United are under new ownership, while Manchester United has a new coach and ambitions to return to the Uefa Champions League after slumping to sixth in the Premier League table last season.
Defending champions Manchester City have generated a surplus of about £34mn. The team acquired Norwegian striker Erling Haaland from Germany’s Borussia Dortmund for £54mn but sold England forward Raheem Sterling to Chelsea for £50mn.
Chelsea, which is owned by a consortium led by US financier Todd Boehly and investment firm Clearlake Capital, has a net spend of more than £140mn.
Manchester United signed Brazilian midfielder Casemiro for about £60mn from Spain’s Real Madrid as part of a wider £120mn net spend.
Newcastle United, which was acquired by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund last year, has a net spend of about £120mn, according to transfermarkt, following the £63mn of signing Alexander Isak from Spain’s Real Sociedad.
The Premier League’s global appeal has paid off in the form of increasing broadcast revenues. Total revenue generated by England’s top 20 clubs is set to increase by 10 per cent to £6bn this season, as the value of the league’s media rights swells.
If clubs continue to acquire the best players at the expense of their European rivals, it could benefit the Premier League in negotiations with television broadcasters, according to David Diaz, head of sports law practice at Baker McKenzie Madrid.
“It will probably increase the actual value of the Premier League,” said Diaz. “It will bring top star players to the Premier League as opposed to other leagues, which probably will not have the ability and the financial power.”
Although England is reaping the rewards of “presenting the best football show in the world”, Italian football agent Giovanni Branchini warned of the risks of excess.
“England in a few years will hit a big crisis as well because these things are not forever,” said Branchini. “They’re living this magic moment but I don’t see a cautious attitude. There is no price that is too high in England. Prices keep rising and buyers keep buying.”