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Premier League’s new TV deal shows slowing economic growth

The bottomless pit seems to maybe have a bottom after all.

Sony Trinitron colour television receiver, c 1970. Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

In 2015, the Premier League sold its most current round of TV rights packages, the details of which are a bit confusing. As near as I can tell, the league offers up a total of 200 live matches in bundles, and they let TV companies bid on each bundle individually, as a way to get around fears of one broadcaster monopolizing everything. Anyway, those six packages sold for an astounding sum - just over £5.1 billion, which was 71% more than the total of the TV deal that preceded it.

This, of course, was a big factor in the acceleration of, well, everything financial in the English game - salaries, transfer fees, prize money, it all skyrocketed in the last couple seasons, to the point where Sunderland, the 20th place finisher in the Premier League last year, got nearly £100 million in prize money for getting relegated (Champions Chelsea got £146M). Compare that to the £53ish-million the last place finisher in La Liga got last year and you can see how bloated the Premier League has become.

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a “bubble”, but it was pretty unrealistic to think that the next TV deal would see a similarly quantum leap in rights fees, and today seems to have borne that out. It was announced that English broadcasters have paid a combined £4.47 billion for four of the six bundles of games available for bidding. While it’s not a direct comparison to 2015 yet, because the award process is not complete, it’s definitely a sign that the explosive growth of money in the Premier League is slowing and the game’s economic growth will probably also slow.

I don’t think this means things are going to collapse, or that all of a sudden transfer fees will crater; it’s more like this contract is more reflective of reality, if that’s even a thing in elite-level sports finance, than the last one, and I would think that future deals would increase in this slower, more incremental fashion rather than at a 70% rate every three seasons.

The winners of last two bundles available for bidding are expected to be announced this week.