Battle of the budget: Coventry and Luton compete for the prize of the English Premier League
Coventry City and Luton Town form an unlikely pair as they battle it out for one of the biggest prizes in world sport on Saturday afternoon. The two football clubs have given themselves a chance with a tight budget to secure the last promotion to the English Premier League next season.
The winner of the sold-out play-off final at London’s 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium will join Burnley and Sheffield United in progressing from the Championship, England’s second tier, to 20 teams. in the richest football league.
It was a remarkable trip on the cheap, with both sides defying the odds against richer rivals. Even in 2018, the two clubs faced each other in League Two, the bottom rung of the English professional game. As recently as 2014, Luton were not playing league football.
The financial rewards for the winner are impressive. A single season in the Premier League would generate at least £170m in revenue over three seasons, roughly ten times what Luton generated last year.
“This is the greatest day of our lives,” Luton chief executive Gary Sweet told the Financial Times. “It’s possible,” he added quickly, acknowledging that there was no prize for the loss.
If Luton win, it would be the first time the club from the Bedfordshire town of 225,000, north of London, have made their debut in the Premier League – they were relegated from the old Division One last season before the top flight of English football was replaced -from. in the Premier League in 1992.
After that, the club struggled in the lower divisions; He survived governance in 2007, but that slipped into non-league football two years later.
Coventry have been in the Premier League before, losing their status in 2001 after 34 consecutive years in top-flight football and, like Luton, entering Wembley on a shoestring budget.
While there are no hard financial figures for this season, Kieran Maguire, a football finance academic at the University of Liverpool, said that none of the clubs expected to report significant spending this season.
“Both clubs have spent relatively modestly in terms of the transfer market,” Maguire said.
According to the latest available financial figures for the 2021/22 season, Coventry’s revenue from matchday revenue, broadcasting and advertising totaled £18m, ahead of Luton’s £17.7m, while wage costs were £16m and They cost £18 million.
In contrast, Fulham, who are at the top of the league in 2021/22, have an income of £71m and a wage bill of £90m.
Moreover, according to Transfermarkt, neither club has spent heavily to bring in new players this season, with recruitment largely based on free transfers or loans.
And unlike Burnley and Sheffield United, who were automatically promoted back to the Premier League after only recently losing their top-flight status, Luton and Coventry did not benefit from so-called parachute payments. According to Deloitte, the payments, worth £40m in the first year after relegation from the Premier League, are aimed at easing the blow.
The league is increasingly attracting a wave of big-spending owners risking their fortunes to win a place in the Premier League. It is not uncommon for clubs to spend 125 per cent of their income on player wages, with owners collectively spending most of the £400m a year on losses from the promotion hunt.
Rick Parry, chairman of the English Football League, which governs the league, described the behavior of many owners as if they were buying “the most expensive lottery ticket on the planet”.
When Derby County lost the play-off final in 2019, for example, it set off a chain of events that included administration and then owner Mel Morris losing control of the club.
“The one thing I like about Saturday’s final is that, against all odds, there are two relatively low-spending football clubs trying to do it the right way,” Sweet said.
Coventry City owner Doug King, who only bought the club in January, said he wanted to forget the potential contingencies of winning promotion and focus on the match. “I don’t really think about money. And I don’t think anyone should. It’s a soccer game. And we have to be fully focused, we have to seize the opportunity and not be afraid of it,” he said.
The winner will have little time to celebrate. Getting into the Premier League is just one step towards a tougher battle to stay up. Even more enticing is the money on offer for any promoted club to survive their first season in the top flight. Deloitte estimates that staying in the Premier League beyond a single season would increase revenue by £290m over three seasons.
“I’ll take it any day of the week.” . . getting out of the league is a huge moment,” King said. “It’s a bit pointless to get promoted to the Premier League and then get yourself into trouble.”
Unusually, all three teams that were promoted last season managed to avoid relegation this season. But it came at a price. Nottingham Forest, for example, have spent more than £180m on new players this year, according to Transfermarkt.
In contrast, the most successful team of the last decade is struggling to survive: Leicester City were relegated in 2014 and, against all odds, won the Premier League title two years later. On Sunday, the club will be relegated unless they win and the result of the Everton game goes in their favour.
A day earlier, Sweet will be urging his Luton players to claim a historic first for the club, but whatever result he hopes for, the winner will go on to prove that success is not just about big budgets.
“It’s going to be a massive day and I think what we want to do is prove that football clubs who do things the right way without just spending money can achieve it. They can get to the top and stay there.”