The role of soft budgets and regulations in the performance of English Premier League Football Clubs 2004 to 2015

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Since the English Premier League (EPL) commenced in 1992 top flight clubs have seen rapid and sustained growth in revenue driven primarily by broadcasting contracts negotiated collectively by the EPL. The most successful clubs also saw a rise in commercial revenue and generated additional income from regular participation in European club competitions.Growth in revenue and the global audience for EPL matches attracted foreign investors and by 2015, 55% of clubs were under foreign ownership.

Analysis showed that several foreign owners focused on sporting success and provided their clubs with a soft budget constraint that allowed significant expenditure on players’ costs. This meant where expenditure exceeded revenue owners made available additional funds to cover deficits. Despite growth in revenue, excessive spending meant in aggregate terms the EPL reported losses in every year from 2004-13, and several clubs became reliant on additional funds provided by owners and related parties. A similar situation was evident in football leagues across Europe and led to stricter financial regulation by UEFA and the EPL.

This study makes use of mixed-methods research to examine how the provision of a soft budget constraint impacted on the performance of clubs in the EPL, and whether this supported the introduction of stronger financial regulation. Initial quantitative research examined published financial statements for every club that played in the EPL during the 2003/4-2014/15 seasons, and enabled analysis of financial performance before and following increased regulation. Qualitative research in the form of structured interviews with nine elite informants provided valuable information about attitudes to both poor financial performance and increased regulation. Difficulty accessing elite informants has limited the use of structured interviews in research into the football sector.

This thesis finds that during the period under review, the poor financial performance of clubs in the EPL was driven by wealthy owners who provided their clubs with a soft budget constraint to assist attainment of playing success. The threat of relegation forced other clubs to spend greater amounts just to remain competitive and meant growth in revenue was usually accompanied by a corresponding rise in players’ wages. It was only following significant growth in broadcasting revenue accompanied by stricter regulation after 2013 that financial performance improved.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorBenoit Senaux (Supervisor), Simon Chadwick (Supervisor) & Andrew Jones (Supervisor)

Cite this