Michael Bailey: A financially healthy Premier League, Football League, unsustainable Championship and Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The numbers game in football has for several years been a tortuous place to exist – but there are signs that is starting to change.
And it's not just for the Premier League either, with the suggestion English football's top table is managing to filter some of its wealth down through the divisions.
However, none of that is going to help out Norwich City and their latest readjustment from Premier League rich list and an income of £66.7m last term, to plugging the gaping hole left by the Championship.
With the third and final season of the top flight's previously eye-watering television rights deal now at an end, there can be some proper reflection on its apparent effects – especially given that the next three campaigns will usher in its successor, worth almost double to each club.
Receiving a virtually guaranteed income of £60m-plus each of the last three seasons, Premier League clubs by default became among the richest in Europe and according to the 25th annual review of football finance from Deloitte, that is helping England's elite clubs to enter 'a new era of sustained financial performance'.
The 2014-15 season saw Premier League clubs generate a collective profit of £3.3bn – a 3pc rise in 12 months – plus successive pre-tax profits for the first time since 1999.
Player fees and wages continue to increase but it doesn't take much of a walk around the country's Premier League stadia and training grounds to see the investment in infrastructure that has also been going on – something evident at the Canaries' Colney training base too, off the back of a fourth season out of five in the big time.
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Of course, the buffet gets bigger from here. The guaranteed payout is now estimated at £99m per campaign for the new three-year rights deal from next season, following Sky and BT Sport's £5.136bn outlay for live Premier League TV rights until the summer of 2019.
'What we are seeing is a continuation of club profitability, it is certainly not a one-off,' Dan Jones from the consultancy's Sport Business Group, told BBC Sport.
'We feel Premier League clubs have turned the corner and are entering a new era of sustained profitability. Clubs are now attractive propositions to investors, and not merely as vanity projects.
'The pace of football's financial growth in two and a half decades is staggering. By half-time of the second televised Premier League game next year, more broadcast revenue will have been generated than during the whole of the First Division season 25 years ago (the Premier League began in August 1992).
'The impact of the Premier League's broadcast deal is clear to see. For the first time, the Premier League leads the football world in all three key revenue categories – commercial, match day and broadcast – and this is driving sustainable profitability.
'Wage costs grew at a faster rate than revenues in 2014-15…however it still represents the second lowest level since 2004-05. In fact, in the last two years only 30pc of revenue increases have been consumed by wage growth. Five years to 2012-13, this figure was 99pc.'
The effects are being felt lower down the pyramid too according to corporate recovery experts Begbies Traynor, who believe TV money – along with good housekeeping forced by the Football League and the UK tax office – has all but eliminated business distress in English football.
Of 72 clubs in the Football League, only two in the lower divisions (3pc) now show any signs of distress – that figure had sat at 18pc when they analysis was first carried out in 2012, since when Portsmouth, Port Vale and Coventry have entered administration as wage costs, poor management and falling attendances took their toll.
'To say that we have seen the end of football clubs going under is a step too far as relegation impacts clubs harder than ever before, but it's certainly less likely now,' said football finance expert Gerald Krasner, a former director at Leeds.
'The football industry has never been fitter and while many might think that it is down to the influx of big money foreign club owners, it is as much to do with the Football Fair Play (FFP) rules and the HMRC's (tougher) stance on arrears, which have forced good housekeeping.'
The spanner in the works is the one Norwich City are now coming to terms with – relegation.
Parachute payments from the Premier League cushion a drop in television revenue that totalled 60pc or just shy of £40m, following City's previous relegation in 2014.
But they are entering waters where everyone else is willing to gamble their fortunes for a taste of what City have been eating in recent years.
According to Deloitte, the 2014-15 season saw Championship clubs' wage bill (£541m) finally drop below revenue (£548m) – but it doesn't take a genius to realise that situation cannot continue indefinitely.
'This remains an unsustainable level of spending without the support of owner funding,' added Deloitte's report.
The Championship still has a long way to go before it can be considered a financially healthy place – and any prolonged spell in the second tier would be a difficult environment for the Canaries to inhabit.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey