English Premier League 2013-14: Should we bother playing, or just see who can open their wallet widest?

Twenty teams kicked off in the English Premier League’s 22nd season last weekend, but only a handful of them have a realistic chance of finishing on top of the pile next May. The reason? In a league without a salary cap, some clubs have piles of Russian / American / Emarati cash to spend on players. Others get headlines like this.

In the race to keep up with the foreign big spenders, smaller clubs made some risky choices and ended up trying to overcome their debts by taking leftover merchandise to Cash Converters. The upshot of it all is a whole range of new restrictions on club spending.

These mechanisms appear intended to prevent teams from going out of business rather than produce competitive parity; if they end up doing a little of both, that would be just fine with UEFA – and many might share UEFA’s feelings, given the strong correlation between wage spending and accumulation of premiership points in the EPL.

The Financial Fair Play blog represents 2012-13 EPL club performance and total wages on two vertical scales. Here’s a few more ways to represent the data. Firstly, a table showing all the clubs’ wages (in millions of pounds), points, their wages and points as a percentage of all EPL wages and points, how their wages percentage compares to their points percentage, and how many millions spent per win (for these purposes, three points = a win). By these measures, Swansea, Norwich, Southampton, and West Bromich – none of which had spectacular seasons – were, pound sterling for pound sterling, the most efficient in the league. Everton matched them, whilst finishing much further up in the premiership.

wages table 2

This though, is a little harsh on the richer clubs. After all, there’s not much use in getting efficiently thrashed all season. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United each spent over 10% of the total EPL wages bill; no matter how well they play, they can’t all be expected to collect 103 points – 10% of the points on offer. 95 is the best total in the last 10 years, by Chelsea in 2004-05.

The effect of spending on wages surely diminishes as the amounts get higher – a boost from zero to 50 million turns your pub team into pros. 50 to 100 million moves you from mid-EPL to near the top; 100 to 150 and you are a premiership favourite; 150 to 200 million and your best eleven doesn’t improve, but you have two superstar elevens now; anything more is possibly wasted. So, the following chart graphs the square root of the wage spend against the total points – the resulting plot has a line of best fit with the equation y = 5.669x + 1.991 (or premiership points = √(wages in millions) x 5.669 + 1.991).

wages graph

So, if the formula above the graph represents a “par” performance – the number of points that should be won by a club, given a nominated “input” of wages, who performed best?

wages table

Everton and Tottenham – take a bow. QPR and Reading – maybe download MYOB?

2 thoughts on “English Premier League 2013-14: Should we bother playing, or just see who can open their wallet widest?

  1. I would never have guessed that Tottenham had spent so little relative to their rivals! Not surprised at all about QPR, though.

    • The FFP blog has an asterix for their figures: “The 2010/11 and 2011/12 charts are based on the figures reported in the club accounts. We will not know the actual wages for the 2012/13 season for another 9 months so the figures are therefore based on the previous season’s figures, adjusted for known events (eg QPR’s increased 2012/13 spending). The actual figures are unlikely to be too far adrift from the 2012/13 chart.”

      I didn’t spend too much energy pursuing updated figures – if Tottenham’s wage bill ended up being different I’d certainly be interested to hear about it.

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