A Football League SWOT Analysis: The Strengths
As the three divisions of the Football League steel themselves for life without npower and this website prepares for a month long summer break, we thought it would be appropriate to give the competition as a whole a health check, minus thermometers, but deploying that now established method of the SWOT analysis — beloved of the world of Business but pretty much applicable for any large organisation.
So the next four mornings will see us devote a post a piece to the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that beset the Football League as 2013-14 approaches. These factors are considered in relation to the competition for the League’s buck, with financial matters naturally to the fore, but with a longer term aim to measure sustainability and the likelihood of popularity and prosperity in the years to come. In time honoured fashion, we start today with the strengths:
For a supposedly second rate affair, crowds continue to be astonishingly buoyant with Brighton & Hove Albion’s average gate of 26,236 leading the way in 2012-13, closely followed by those posted by midlands duo Derby County (23,228) and Nottingham Forest (23,082) while champions Cardiff City were left agonisingly one person short of a neat 23,000 average.
To put things in perspective, the Seagulls’ appeal is better than 13 La Liga sides including Champions League quarter finalists Malaga while 4 Premier League teams have also enjoyed less of a following this year.
The situation is also impressive lower down the pyramid with Sheffield United averaging 18,612 fans (low for them historically but understandable given their League 1 status) and our team of the year, Bradford City attracting a typical 10,322 supporters through the gates of Valley Parade. The Blades’ total is higher than six French Ligue 1 teams while overall, the seventy two clubs attracted in excess of 16 million customers for a second season in a row.
Only the Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga post higher figures than that.
The Championship and its relatives may not match the Premier League for global appeal but this past nine months saw a twice European Cup winner in Nottingham Forest, a one-time finalist and semi-finalist each from the same competition in Leeds United and Derby County, Premiership Champions Blackburn Rovers and one of England’s most famous teams from the 1950s, Wolverhampton Wanderers, competing for honours alongside other giants such as Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough — UEFA Cup finalists as recently as 2006.
That grouping feature against a back cloth of stadia which, even if sanitised modernity isn’t your thing, allow fans to watch the sport in high tech comfort; the aftermath of Hillsborough calling an end to the piss soaked terraces and wooden sheds of former years. Down the leagues, modernisation has also continued apace and where it hasn’t taken place — at Carlisle United for instance — traditional values provide a nice counterpoint.
In a recent post for The Two Unfortunates, Chris Lines cited the rising quality of League 2 as a reason for AFC Wimbledon’s struggle to maintain their League status in 2012-13 and the days of players tucking into steak and chips come 1pm on a Saturday are long past. Fitness regimes have improved with greater professionalism and training, equipment, diet and nutrition have transformed the overall standard.
Very few teams rely on the long ball as the norm has become to keep the ball on the floor — the likes of Watford and Brighton have been most devoted to the passing gospel but even a relegated side such as Barnet attempted to mimic Swansea.
Smaller squads and the foreign influx have forced better players down the divisions — not just Edgar Davids, but players who previously would have slotted into the lower reaches of the top flight are now operating a level or two down and in recent seasons, England have called upon Jay Bothroyd, Jack Butland, Wilfried Zaha and Alex McCarthy. Indeed, our annual awards have highlighted how bursting with talent even the lower reaches of the npower set has been — we cite Nakhi Wells, Marlon Pack, Tom Pope and last year’s wunderkind Nick Powell as premium products.
Brentford v Doncaster. Watford v Leeds. Watford v Leicester. This year’s climaxes were almost unbearably entertaining and the general evenness of the competition — even if ‘anyone can beat anyone’ is a tiresome clichà© — has added to the overall enjoyment.
As a fan of a Premier League club that proved to be wholly out of its depth from the first kick of the season, I’m relishing the return to Championship waters — losing 7-5 to Arsenal in 2012 was no more consoling than going down by the same score line to Donny Rovers in 1982 while the 46 game schedule races along at a pace that allows you not to draw breath, drunk on the relentless nature of it all.
Upward and downward mobility in the League is incredibly fluid (just ask Wolves or Southampton) while the two-up, two-down relegation has helped — it’s proved to no longer be a death sentence for the likes of Newport County and Mansfield Town — and has created a living, breathing organism and a freshness that the comparatively closed circles of county cricket and the Scottish Football League lack.
It’s a more genuine national league too and instead of the London and Northwest clustering of the EPL, the geographic outposts of England and Wales are fulsomely represented — from Carlisle to Gillingham; from Hartlepool to Plymouth.
A measure of any going concern and while in no way approaching the Croesus-like wealth of its snooty betters, this is big business — as evidenced by npower and Coca-Cola’s willingness to put their names to it all.
The now completed npower deal was worth £21 million while the 2009-12 TV agreement saw £264 million spread out among the clubs a 135% increase on the previous one and leading to revenues of £35 million for Leeds in 2010-11 and £23 million for Norwich.
Controversial though they may be — and we’ll naturally be returning to them in parts 2 to 4 of this analysis — the parachute payments are eye watering too at £60 million for each team over 4 seasons – while match day revenue and player sales in particular also swell the coffers of many clubs.
That’s revenue of course. We’ll examine profitability in the coming days.