Did Big Business in the Premier League Create Role Specialisation with a Capital ‘S’ in Our Area? ￼
The English Premier League (EPL) is the top tier of the English football pyramid system and is the world’s most watched and lucrative domestic league (Taylor, 2013). English football underwent a turbulent time in the 1980’s due to hooliganism, racism, stadium disasters, poor facilities and an underachieving national team. Thus, in the late 1980’s, top English clubs believed that a radical shift in direction was needed to ensure the future growth of English football (Cox, 2017). This coincided with clubs being more commercially aware regarding maximising revenue to ultimately reinvest into the team to boast performance (Taylor, 2013). This commercial imperative consequently led to tensions between the top clubs and the Football League (King, 2002). This direction of travel led to convoluted discussions regarding a breakaway of clubs from the Football League unless more favourable financial agreements could be secured regarding lucrative TV rights. On the 17th July 1991, clubs signed up to the Founder Members Agreement that would be the foundations of what we now know as the EPL and this competition was finally established on the 27th May 1992 (EPL, 2021).
Although the format of the newly formed EPL was indistinguishable from its predecessor the old English First Division, it would benefit from a commercial rebranding and would also enable clubs to gain independence from both the Football League and the Football Association (Cox, 2017). This freedom ultimately allowed them to negotiate both broadcasting and sponsorship agreements. A TV rights bidding war for the EPL between ITV and British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) ensued in which BSkyB won the race with a bid in excess of £50 million per season across the first five years of the EPL. This is a staggering figure given the TV rights for its predecessor were less than £15 million per season across four seasons (Cox, 2017). Since then, the TV revenue has increased exponentially to £2.75 billion per season in 2016 to an eye watering £4.5 billion for coverage of the 2019-22 seasons. These figures are a direct result of the world-wide public appetite for viewing EPL football matches on TV. This is evidenced by the broadcasting of EPL games to over 200 territories to >600 million homes with a potential TV audience of >4.5 billion people (Ebner, 2013). Due to the consistency of the ‘big six’ clubs to also qualify for the UEFA Champions League, they were able to secure lucrative sponsorship deals and develop their brand both domestically and globally. This has afforded them tremendous power both on and off the field. Figure 1 depicts the average revenue of these clubs across a 5-season period and the data has been segmented into three revenue streams.
Figure 1. Average revenue for the ‘big six’ EPL clubs between 2016-20 seasons. MUN = Manchester Utd, MCI = Manchester City, LIV = Liverpool FC, CHE = Chelsea, ARS = Arsenal FC, TOT = Tottenham Hotspur FC. Data across 5 seasons manually computed from Deloitte (2021) report.
Perceived Influence Financial Changes had on the Specialisation of Roles in Football Science & Analytics
One aspect that should not be overlooked regading the changing face of football science and analytics in the EPL is the influx of foreign managers and the good practices they applied to the game (Bradley, 2020). Although Arsène Wenger is usually given credit for the appliance of football science and how this fundamentally changed the way Arsenal prepared their players. We usually have to dig deeper to unearth the innovators and early adoptors of football science/analysis, who’s scientific endeavours behind the scenes at EPL clubs pushed the area onwards and upwards. The advancement of football science as a recognised and respected discipline and the established educational routes through various establishments obviously helped to upskill a new generation of football scientist/analyst. However, it is hard to argue against that the key drive of most of the football science & analytics infrastructure came about through an increased financial turnover that ultimately funded the scientific advancements we see today.
The innovations that arguably had the most profound impact on football science in the EPL are related to optical tracking and global positioning system technologies (Castellano et al., 2014). Most EPL clubs also started to embed specialised performance analysts into the environment so they could quantify match physical performance and the array of technical events from an individual and team perspective. Although revenue and foreign influences have played a significant role in the EPL’s transformation, another is the expertise of the support staff. In the early days of the EPL, it would be common place to see at the training ground the coaching staff plus a few other support staff such as physiotherapists, a medical doctor and kit man. In the modern EPL, all clubs have the expertise of a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, medical experts, analytical staff and coaches. As previously mentioned, the large revenues generated by EPL clubs have allowed a greater number of staff to be employed at clubs with unique specialisations. For instance, in the early days you simply had a match analyst that would have many roles and responsibilities but in the modern game there are more specialised functions for the analyst that relate to recruitment, opposition analysis, video telestration, data viz and data architect etc. Interestingly, this role specialisation is found across the full spectrum of EPL clubs in which you will commonly find highly experienced and educated staff with qualifications up to PhD and MD level. This specialisation has also found its way into the world class training facilities of EPL clubs. For instance, Manchester United trained at the Cliff which only had a limited number of pitches, a gymnasium and changing rooms etc. Now Manchester United employ hundreds of staff at their Carrington HQ, which includes an array of grass and artificial pitches, state of the art medical and conditioning areas alongside monitoring technology, MRI scanners and other specialised equipment (Witts, 2019). This trend has continued to trickle down the EPL to other clubs and this really highlights that specialised staff and facilities are becoming the norm in the modern EPL.
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Bradley PS. (2020). Football Decoded: Using Match Analysis & Context to Interpret the Demands. Amazon, UK.
Castellano J, Alvarez-Pastor D, Bradley PS. (2014). Evaluation of research using computerised tracking systems (Amisco and Prozone) to analyse physical performance in elite soccer: a systematic review. Sports Med. 44(5): 701-712.
Cox M. (2017). The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines. Harper Collins, UK.
Deloitte. (2021). Football Money League. Deloitte Sports Business Group, UK.
Ebner S. (2013). History & Time are Key to Power of football, says Premier League Chief. The Times. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/public/ceo-summit/articles3804923.ece. Accessed October 2021.
EPL. (2021). Origins. https://www.premierleague.com/history/origins. Accessed October 2021.
King A. (2002). End of the Terraces: The Transformation of English Football. Leicester University Press, UK.
Taylor M. (2013). The Association Game: A History of British Football. Routledge, UK.
Witts J. (2019). Training secrets of the world’s greatest footballers: how science is transforming the modern game. Bloomsbury Publishing. London UK.
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