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How and Why do Professional Sport Clubs Succeed? The Strategy and Performance of Premier League Football Clubs

Stevens, A. (2019) How and Why do Professional Sport Clubs Succeed? The Strategy and Performance of Premier League Football Clubs. DBA thesis, Henley Business School, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00105692


Since 1992, the Premier League has experienced considerable growth and, in 2015/16, had transformed into an industry – albeit one comprising just 20 firms – that generated revenue of £5.3 billion (Deloitte, 2017a). The business models of the clubs has evolved so that they now generate over half of their income from broadcast revenue, compared to less than one-tenth in the inaugural Premier League season in 1992/93. Much of the growth in broadcast revenue has been from overseas markets, while, contemporaneously, owners, players, team managers and business executives have also become globalised. The Premier League and its member clubs have been transformed into global brands. 18 of the 50 most valuable football club brands are members of the Premier League (Brand Finance, 2018), with Manchester United's brand alone valued at £1.4 billion. Clubs in England and Wales have been able to generate and appropriate considerable revenue by commercialising their resources and performance. Despite the dominance of Spanish clubs in the Champions League and Europa League, 12 of the 20 clubs that generate the most revenue are members of the Premier League (Deloitte, 2017b). For example, in 2015/16 Manchester United generated more revenue from finishing in fifth place in the Premier League than Real Madrid's earnings from winning the Champions League. Clubs in England and Wales no longer require a large stadium or a large local market to enter or maintain membership of the Premier League. Bournemouth sell as many tickets in an entire season at their 11,000-seat Vitality Stadium as Manchester United in just three matches at Old Trafford, which seats 76,000. This is further typified by a new generation of clubs with new venues, such as Brighton and Hove Albion, Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City, gaining promotion to the Premier League, while concurrently clubs with larger stadiums and larger local markets, such as Aston Villa and Newcastle United, were relegated in 2015/16. Instead, Premier League clubs are committing more capital and operating expenditure to team resources (Deloitte, 2017a), comprising transfer fees (£1.5 billion) and player wages (£2.3 billion) in 2016/17. These performance and resource trends indicate that the necessary resource and capability endowments of successful clubs are evolving, with team resources becoming more valuable than stadium resources. The relationship between team resources, sporting performance and financial performance has been theoretically and empirically established (Szymanski, 2015): Fundamentally, the best team usually wins, and the clubs that win usually make more money, as exemplified by Manchester United. However, clubs are not homogenous and there have been examples of over- and under-performance, most notably when Leicester City won the Premier League in 2015/16. Furthermore, much sport management research separates sporting and financial performance, and infers that club owners and business executives are either win- or profit-maximisers, with only a few models incorporating sporting and financial performance (Dobson and Goddard, 1998; Gerrard, 2005; Baroncelli and Lago, 2006; Pinnuck and Potter, 2006; Galariotis et al, 2017). Many models of professional sport club performance are static, not dynamic. They do not consider the changing competitive environment of the Premier League, such as increased commercialisation and globalisation, nor the growth of Swansea City, who attained promotion through four divisions from the Football League to the Premier League in seven years, nor the sporting and financial failure of Portsmouth, who conversely suffered relegation through all four divisions and two administration events in just four years. Sport management research generally ignores over- and under-performing clubs, emergent clubs that have experienced growth, and failed clubs that have declined. Such clubs are treated as outliers but, conceptually and empirically, are the most interesting cases. Empirical research is therefore conducted to explain how and why some clubs generate and sustain superior sporting, business and financial performance advantage from their team, stadium and other resources. It utilises a panel that comprises a sample of 46 clubs that are or have been member of the Premier League in the 24-year observation period since its formation in 1992/93 to the end of 2016/17 season and financial year. Data is collected from the Premier League, Football League, UEFA, League Managers Association, the Annual Review of Football Finance and the Football Yearbook, with findings and conclusions drawn from statistical analysis using panel regression models and visual analysis of cross-case time-series data displays. Sport management theory is extended and tested using confirmatory and exploratory research. A series of models confirm the predicted relationships between team resources, sporting performance and business performance. More complexity is introduced by exploring competitive and dynamic dimensions, encompassing the multiple relationships between sporting, business and financial performance and the clubs' team and stadium resources, as well as the required capabilities that are associated with these resources. Further analysis of outliers, which represent over- and underperforming (or under- and over-resourced) clubs, is proposed as being essential for explaining performance. Club owners and business executives formulate and implement unique resource and resource management strategies that result in divergent and equifinal paths. Premier League clubs are demonstrably resilient and adaptable to change, especially in bridging the gap between and within divisions and to commercialising the growth, globalisation and commercialisation of the Premier League and Champions League. The management of most Premier League clubs is, for most of the time, prudent. The concept of fit between resources and contingency factors is introduced to ascertain the appropriateness of a club's strategy to its competitive environment. Instances of misfit are always promptly resolved, usually by compensating for any under- or over-performance (or over- or under-resourcing), although there is limited evidence of a predictive relationship between fit and performance. The competitive environment of professional team sport is complex as the outcomes generated from club owners and business executives' decision-making are confounded by change in the league and competitive environment, and by the consequent change to the club's performance and resources. The performance of a club is therefore conditional on both internal and external contingency factors. Furthermore, strategic decision-making depends on perceptions of change by owners and business executives, and not just on the observed change to clubs, the league and competitive environment. Clubs strategies can be divergent or equifinal paths whereby similar strategies are evident for clubs with different outcomes but, conversely, do not always generate the same or similar performance outcomes. The findings and methodologies can be applied to inform strategic decision-making by club owners and business executives in the formation, implementation and evaluation of their resource strategies. The research methodology can be adopted by executives of leagues, governing bodies and federations to monitor and control the relative and changing performance of clubs, leagues and divisions. However, the application of the methods and findings for predicting or forecasting performance is limited as professional team sport requires at least some unpredictability and uncertainty of outcome in order for it to be competitive and viable.

Item Type:Thesis (DBA)
Thesis Supervisor:Bell, A. and Miskell, P.
Thesis/Report Department:Henley Business School
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Henley Business School > ICMA Centre
ID Code:105692
Date on Title Page:21 December 2018


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