THE English Premier League (EPL) is not only the most popular football league in the world, but it is also the richest and most profitable by some distance. Collectively, the 20 EPL clubs generated record revenues of £3.26 billion (S$6.74 billion) in the 2013-14 season, according to a new annual report on football finances published by business advisory firm Deloitte on Thursday.
This amount, largely due to the start of a new three-year domestic television deal, is 29 per cent more than the previous season and outstrips the second-richest league, Germany's Bundesliga, by a staggering £1.4 billion.
To put the EPL figure into context, what England's top professional league generated last season is more than Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A leagues combined.
Manchester United, English football's most successful team with 20 EPL championships to date, topped the table with revenues of £433 million and operating profit of £117 million.
The strong performance of the Old Trafford club came despite a terrible season under former manager David Moyes, who was sacked after guiding the Red Devils to a lowly seventh-placed finish in the standings.
In terms of profits, the EPL leapfrogged the Bundesliga to post record operating profits of £614 million, nearly thrice the previous record set by Germany's highest league in the 2012-13 season.
Fifteen of the EPL's 20 clubs turned in a profit in 2013-14, and the league recorded an overall pre-tax profit of £187 million. Deloitte said that this could mark a turning point in football finance and "a new age" of significant profitability for top clubs.
This is the EPL clubs' first overall profit since the 1998-99 season, which analysts attribute to the restraint in the rise of players' wages and the effects of the Financial Fair Play regulations.
"The transformation of Premier League club profitability will fuel even greater global investor interest in EPL clubs," said Dan Jones, head of Deloitte's sports business group.
The EPL's new broadcast cycle, which began with the 2013-14 season, resulted in the league's broadcast revenue increasing by £569 million, a 48 per cent jump year on year. This accounted for 78 per cent of the overall growth in revenue in the EPL.
Mr Jones noted that even the EPL team receiving the least from domestic league broadcast distributions earned more from this source than all but five other European clubs. "On a continental level, it is difficult to see any of the other 'Big Five' European leagues (Germany, Spain, Italy and France) closing the gap in the near term, let alone catching up with them," he added.
Mr Jones went so far as to predict that the EPL would also overtake the Bundesliga in commercial revenue terms starting with the 2014-15 season, which just ended last month.
It doesn't look likely that the EPL's position on top of the money tree is going to be under threat anytime soon. A new three-year broadcast deal worth a combined £5.3 billion is due to start in August 2016, a 70 per cent rise on the current one.
Another consequence of the significantly larger TV revenue was that it pushed down the wages-to-turnover ratio at England's top division clubs. The Deloitte report disclosed that this ratio plunged to 58 per cent in 2013-14, down from 71 per cent the season before, with combined net debts falling 6 per cent.
The EPL may be in the pink of financial health, but the teams below them in the second-tier Championship are struggling as they continue to splash the cash in their bid to gain promotion to the top flight.
The 24 Championship clubs saw their combined revenue increase by £54 million, or 12 per cent, to a record £491 million. The downside is that they paid more in wages, £518 million, than they earned in revenue.
The wages to revenue ratio in the Championship was 105 per cent in 2013-14 with almost half the clubs having wage costs greater than their revenue. Overall, the clubs posted operating losses of £222 million and a combined pre-tax loss of £247 million.