Championship clubs aim for jackpot
This website receives many strange emails. One of the weirdest arrived a few months ago from someone who announced his intention to buy a lower-division club in England and stated his belief that promotion to the Premier League could be secured comparatively cheaply and quickly. One caveat was stated: he didn't yet have any money; another was implied: that he had no experience in football.
The temptation was to point out the unlikelihood of his plan coming to fruition. There are enough Championship clubs recording sizeable losses already chasing the dream. Yet what 2012 has shown is how many others are prepared to speculate in a bid to accumulate, especially now the prize at stake is so much greater.
The sale of the Premier League's broadcast rights for £1 billion a year from 2013 to BT and Sky means a 70% rise in television revenue for top-flight clubs. Meanwhile, last season's was the first featuring increased parachute payments for clubs demoted to the Championship, worth £16 million a year for the first two campaigns and £48 million in total.
The impact was immediate. Whereas previous refugees from the Premier League have made a swift descent into the division's lower reaches, West Ham, Birmingham and Blackpool all reached the play-offs. But for the financial problems caused by Carson Yeung's disastrous ownership and the complications of their cup runs, Blues would probably have secured automatic promotion. West Ham, with the division's largest wage bill, went up at Wembley.
It suggests that, while parachute payments are necessary to prevent the majority of relegated clubs spiralling into administration, the picture was distorted. Now Blackburn are thought to be gambling on spending two years' payments in a single season to ensure an immediate return to the Premier League and a share in the television bonanza. Bolton and Wolves are likely to be more prudent but they, too, have an advantage.
Except that others are attracting investment. Watford have already been bought by the Pozzo family, owners of Udinese and Granada. They have quickly installed Gianfranco Zola as manager, sacking the admirable Sean Dyche, who cut costs, sold the leading assets and achieved results, and talked of creating a self-sustaining Premier League club.
The former Watford manager, Malky Mackay, took Cardiff to the play-offs on a budget last season but is now being allowed to spend, with £3 million going on Birmingham's Jordon Mutch. City's summer is more notable for their Malaysian chairman changing their colours in their quest for success; the Bluebirds are now, well, redbirds. Other Asian investors, Leicester's Thai owners, have been heavily, and largely unsuccessfully, flashing their cash for two years. Since the start of last summer, the best part of £20 million has been committed in transfer fees alone.
They may be joined in the ranks of the ambitious: a potential investor is in a process of conducting due diligence at Leeds, while the Al-Hawasi family from Kuwait are buying Nottingham Forest. And consider the potential of those two clubs.
Forest are the double European Cup winners, a club with a large and loyal fanbase. Besides a tradition of success, Leeds are the only club in one of the country's biggest cities. Within a couple of seasons in the Premier League, they could be one of the 10 most valuable propositions in English football. While the circumstances of Ken Bates' 2007 takeover continue to arouse suspicion, and the way debts were written off still feels unjust, there is no doubt he is a canny businessmen. He will drive a hard bargain, but buying Leeds or Forest now could still seem a snip should they go up. Then they are clubs worth far more than, say, Swansea or Wigan.
Collectively, the events of this summer suggests several things. This is not just a boom time to be a Premier League player. Their Championship counterparts may anticipate improved contracts, while wannabe WAGs could reap the benefits of the lower leagues; salesmen of luxury cars, and other footballers' peccadilloes, may also find rewards.
Pleas for wages to be kept under control are likely to fall on deaf ears, while this could become a division of two halves. The smaller clubs, such as Barnsley, Burnley, Peterborough and Millwall, are less likely to attract bidders figuring Premier League football is a possibility. Cut-price promotions - like Blackpool's in 2009-10 or Swansea's the following year - might become a thing of the past. If there is a correlation between the wage bill and the final position of the top-flight clubs, it may be mirrored in the second tier.
And falling out of the Premier League will have greater consequences. This is why Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton may be feeling particularly sore. Had Venky's not slashed budgets at Ewood Park last season; had Owen Coyle made short-term signings, instead of the futuristic buy of Marvin Sordell, in January; had Steve Morgan managed to replace Mick McCarthy with a proven manager or had buys like Roger Johnson worked out, they would be in position to share in the bounty. Instead, they join a division where clubs are frantically putting their money in the slot machine in the hope of hitting the jackpot.