The English Premier League is a league of haves and have-nots.
At the top there are a handful of globally branded teams (Chelsea, Manchester United, etc.) that make and spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year. B etween those teams and everyone else is an enormous financial gap.
In 2011-12, the six highest-spending teams paid their players ~$1.3 billion in wages, and the other 14 teams in the league combined paid their players ~$1.1 billion in wages.
Some of these teams (Chelsea, Manchester City) are run by eccentric billionaires who treat them as toys, not businesses. There is no salary cap, and no limit on how much debt a team can pile up.
It's basically a lightly regulated free market system, and there's rampant inequality as a result.
This inequality illustrates itself different ways. Arsenal plays in a gleaming new $500+ million stadium while Fulham plays right down the road in a 100-year-old arena that only has 27,000 seats, for example.
But today we saw EPL inequality illustrated in a place we'd never expect: the promotional uniform photos for the upcoming 2013-14 season.
This morning, we did a quick slideshow of all the new uniforms for next year.
What we found is that the top-tier teams unveiled their new kits with global press releases and professional ad campaigns while everyone else put up fuzzy, difficult-to-find photos on their websites.
As a basic principle, the crappier your promotional uniform photos are, the crappier and therefore poorer your team is.
Here's how Chelsea introduced their new away uniform:
You have inexplicable paint splatters, Fernando Torres mean-mugging, and advanced Photoshopping.
The photos were accompanied by a press release that referred to something called "the innovative 'It's blue, what else matters' campaign."
On the other end of the spectrum, here's the only promotional photo of Crystal Palace's new kits that we could find:
We aren't trying to make fun of Crystal Palace here.
We're pointing out that the contrast between these two photos says a lot about the economics of the EPL right now. At the top you a have buzzwords, branding, and expensive graphics, and on the bottom you have a picture of a shirt.
It's not just Chelsea. The three rich EPL teams sponsored by Nike (Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal) all got fancy photoshoots to announce their uniforms.
There are also entire galleries of these uniforms on the Nike website.
In contrast, we could barely find promotional photos for a number of small EPL clubs. What we did find were typically low-resolution and less professional.
This would never happen in American sports. When the NFL released its new Nike uniforms last year, there was an event where the jerseys for all 32 teams were unveiled. The promotional photos for all 32 teams were exactly the same.
In American sports, teams are structured as "franchises" — outposts of a centralized organization — the same way your local McDonald's is a franchise. Power is centralized, and every NFL team exists only within the structure of the NFL.
That's not how it is in the EPL. Teams are structured as clubs, not franchises. They are all stand-alone, individual entities that agree to play each other in a league under certain negotiated rules. There is a central authority (the Football Association), but power resides in the clubs, and they have the autonomy to spend as little or as much as they'd like.
The quality disparity in promotional uniform photos is a small thing, but it really tells you everything you need to know.
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