Money talking for English football as top-flight clubs enjoy new riches

“A WHOLE new ball game,” was the pledge that accompanied the glitzy launch of the Premier League and it is one that even those who decry the explosion of wages and ticket prices over the past two decades struggle to argue has not been delivered on.

Okay, the rules of football may not have changed much since the Football League came into being in 1888 but, in terms of the top flight, very little has stayed the same since the 22 teams broke away from the rest 20 years ago this summer.

Crumbling terraces have given way to gleaming all-seater stadia, blue chip companies now fall over themselves to be associated with a game whose followers were once considered pariahs and television pours money into club coffers in a fashion totally unimaginable in 1992.

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Many of the best players in the world also flock to these shores, something that is in stark contrast to the days when Paul Gascoigne and David Platt felt they had to tread the same path as Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law, John Charles et al and head abroad to not only further their careers but also receive a wage more befitting their talent. English football, certainly at the top level, is very much Alive and Kicking, the title of the Simple Minds song that was used to launch Sky’s coverage of the fledgling competition, and showing no sign of wilting any time soon.

Many of these strides have, of course, been made possible by the influx of cash that has come from television for the rights to screen live games.

As recently as 1985, the 92 Football League clubs shared just £1.3m in return for allowing the BBC and ITV to show a handful of live matches and broadcast highlights. Last month, the Premier League was able to announce a new domestic deal for the three years from 2013 that vividly illustrated just how attractive the competition has become with Sky and BT forking out a combined £3.018bn to show 154 matches per season.

It is a staggering amount at a time when the world’s economy is struggling, not least because the current agreement – which is about to enter its third and final year – is worth ‘just’ £1.782bn.

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Once the very first deal – Sky paid £190m to screen 60 games per season – is taken into account then the new contract for 2013-16 takes on an even more impressive sheen, especially when broken down into how much each match is worth. In 1992, the money paid to the Premier League equated to £633,000 for every game Sky screened – a sum that has since soared to £4.3m under the existing deal and will rise even further – to £6.53m – when the 2013-14 season gets under way. Once the overseas rights and highlights packages are thrown into the pot, clearly the top-flight clubs have never had it so good.

This influx of cash has, of course, had a tremendous impact on English football. Most changes have been positive, not least a massive improvement in the standard of the on-pitch fare. Not for nothing have seven of the last eight Champions League finals featured at least one Premier League club, Chelsea winning the most recent final, pictured. A hike in wages has made this possible, something that can stick in the craw of fans being asked to hand over more and more cash at the turnstiles. As, it has to be said, is 20 years of the Premier League not having led – as the breakaway faction suggested at the very beginning – to turning the England national team into one genuinely capable of challenging for the top honours.

Euro 2012 has shown we are as far away from the cream of world football as we were in 1992 when Graham Taylor’s side failed miserably in Sweden. But, overall, surely there can be no debate as to whether the Premier League has delivered on its promise to provide a whole new ball game for the nation to enjoy. Now, all we need is some long-overdue Yorkshire recognition back among the elite and we can reflect on the football world looking a lot more pleasurable.