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Some things in sports, especially football, just don’t change. After another oh, so predictable season at Elland Road with managerial changes and just enough hope and expectation to make the subsequent failings on the field even more difficult to take, it looks like — barring a miracle — we are going to be in the Championship for another season. But the Championship is something that has changed and will continue to do so. Let’s look at just how much it has changed, and at those risking everything to get out of it.
Whichever way you look at it, the Championship is a fantastic league. The sheer competitiveness, the number of games and — though the gap is maybe decreasing in this aspect — the fact that it doesn’t suffer from the prima donnas and egos that blight the nation’s top league means it is little wonder it is the third most watched league in the world. That said, it is also a horrible league to be in, and one that players, fans, managers and owners alike are desperate to leave. Contained in that last sentence is the nub of what is driving the momentous change in the English second tier, the owners. It is a testament to the changing landscape of football, the number of column inches, debate and downright anger that is generated by a club’s owner; something that you would occasionally notice in your program in the past. Now it is held up as the single most important factor in your team’s success or otherwise.
Each season, only three teams can attain membership of the elite club that is the EPL, but that is a large enough carrot to tempt some of the richest men in the world to gamble millions, hundreds of millions on what is considered a vanity project. Despite the vast sums on offer in the EPL, few teams make money. In fact, a report by financial analysis firm Vysyble found that in the last eight seasons, of all the promoted sides, only Crystal Palace (in 2012-2013) made a profit.
The wealth of some of the owners in the league — the old second division that is — is eye-watering. QPR has over $16.5 billion behind them, the Wolves’ Chinese owner is worth almost $10 billion and the new owners at Oakwell have a combined net worth of over $9 billion. Shahid Khan at Fulham has only a few million to his name. Of the 22 owners in the division, at least eight count their money in billions of dollars, not millions, with half a dozen more not far behind. The problem today is that there are so many wealthy owners in the Championship that they have to invest vast sums just to stand still.
Just having a multi-millionaire owner isn’t the silver bullet many fans believe it is. Look at Ipswich, owned by Marcus Evans (worth an estimated $825 million), the definition of midtable mediocrity for more than a decade. The league is so competitive and it’s so hard to be successful over 10 months that it is almost impossible to predict or plan for in the way you would a “normal” business. You would have to believe that bookmakers have a better idea about what is going on in the game than some foreign banker, but they rarely have a clue what’s going to happen in this league in June. Don’t forget Leeds were 2/1 to win the title in the summer when the fixtures were announced. Hull, by the way, were 14/1, and just to give those figures some context, that is the same odds as England to win the World Cup. Hull are currently languishing in 19th.
Things do appear to be moving in a more positive direction at Leeds, but it is going to take a lot more than just flashing the cash to achieve success. Looking like a competitive, consistent Leeds team would be a good start for most fans, and from there, we can see where it takes us. Of course, if the place it takes us is the EPL, then a whole new set of problems await.