The Premier League enjoys a love-hate relationship with the population of Britain. For its fans it’s a vital part of the week, a moment of escape from a week of hard work and the incessant bad news from around the world; first class entertainment. For its critics, it’s a gross waste of money, a league of divers, cheats and pampered professional brats. Not many people will be able to say they sit on the fence for this one; for most of the year it dominates the sports news and often seeps into actual news as well. It is a ubiquitous cultural institution.
People often complain about how expensive it is to watch games- both at stadiums and on TV. But this is just a testament to how immensely popular the league is. Because there are only 20 clubs in the top league, the massive demand and effectively very limited supply lead to a huge amount of money flowing into a sort of ‘narrow’ space. The Premier League has a natural monopoly of the supply of top quality English football – in the same way only one train company can operate a particular, busy train line, only one league can take up the job of supplying the most popular football- this is a monopoly that can’t be broken up.
A much more contentious issue with the Premier League is in regards to where all the money goes towards- a lot to the eye wateringly high pay of the top players. But this pay is just evidence to how skilful the elite players are that play for the 20 clubs that play each other for the majority of the year. The best players command the highest wages as thousands of clubs across the world would be prepared to pay them certain wages; the players will obviously play for the clubs who offer the best deal. Complaints about excessive pay are effectively just complaints about the workings of a free market, about capitalism itself. This is what happens when the demand for skilled labour (to compete to supply the best product- a football team in this case) reaches this level.
A common opinion held is that these players don’t deserve such huge sums, I recall a friend of mine saying: “The money should go towards nurses, they deserve it more”. But that’s mistaken road to go down; firstly, there is not an opportunity cost forgone of paying nurses instead, we’re talking about what clubs spend their money on. Unless the various owners suddenly felt incredibly charitable the money would just be used somewhere else in the club. Secondly, if nurses deserve the money more than footballers because of the important work they do, surely then they ‘should’ have higher wages than all other entertainers who provide a comparable service to the nation; musicians, artists and comedians alike? So the simple answer is no, Premier League players are extraordinarily talented and earn what they do for a good reason; they’re some of the best at it of the hundreds of millions of men across the world that love playing football. Week in week out they ensure that football lives up to its name as “the beautiful game”, indeed the quality of football has never been higher. The level entertainment they bring to the world is immeasurable.
Having said all that, almost all of the Premier League clubs almost certainly need to restructure their wage bills slightly, because most are running up unsustainable debt. But this is really just a matter of the clubs not being run sensibly and even after changes the wages will be sky high, so this argument will carry on. Football faces other problems too: racism, cheating, and goal-line technology spring to mind. But people should lay off the highly paid elite on the pitch, changing the distribution against their favour will do no good, the advertising and sponsorship for the top teams will become only ever-more lucrative, there’s only ever going to be more money flowing into the sport; if the distribution of wages changes, the money will just flow to less deserving people involved in the industry.