“When I was your age, I could go see a movie for a nickel.”
It’s a cliché, but my grandmother still said it, and I know she’s not the only one. I would roll my eyes, tune her out and take another Werther’s Original out of her seemingly never-ending pile. But it’s an understandable sentiment, a yearning for a vague but comfortable “simpler time” when everything was the way it used to be. Nowadays, movie tickets go for $15 a pop.
That same sentiment has become a recurrent narrative every summer in the soccer world, particularly in the Premier League. Raheem Sterling for £49 million? That used to buy you Zidane. Ten years ago, you could get Ronaldinho for £35 mill; now you get Christian Benteke.
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It’s a vague disappointment in how soccer – maybe the world – has changed. Last year, Chelsea “bought” the title, and now Manchester City is accused of doing it again. Now Arsene Wenger has joined the chorus, claiming Arsenal can’t keep up with the Premier League’s big spenders.
But Arsene’s words come off as a hollow excuse. Like the price of a movie ticket, the world has changed and the stakes have grown. It may have been accelerated by the high-spenders, but it’s an era that would have come without them. And it’s benefiting teams like Arsenal too.
The worldwide ubiquity of the Premier League means teams received between £64 and £99 million from broadcast rights alone this summer (there’s a separate question about whether the league would be as popular — and thus, as lucrative — without these big-spending newcomers increasing competition at the top, but that’s for a different article). Next summer that payment will go up £50 million more, pushing teams’ broadcasting windfall to more than double what it was back in the early 2000’s. Combine that with nine-figure sponsorship deals and shouldn’t we expect teams to be spending drastically more? If revenue is spiking and teams aren’t spending, shouldn’t questions be aimed at their ownership, not Manchester City’s?
Newcomer Kevin De Bruyne pushed City’s spending this transfer window to about £150 million, and after sales, to a net spend of about £100 million. We could say that City is buying the league, or we could say £100 million is about the going rate these days for a pretty significant overhaul of what was the oldest squad in the Premier League. The teams they’re aspiring to compete with, the Barcelonas and Real Madrids of the world, are spending that kind of money all the time. Especially now, as Everton have so far proven with John Stones, other teams have enough money to resist big-money offers.