Last updated : 14 June 2007 By Editor

From The Times:

More and more English clubs are up for sale. What is going on? It's like the Klondike

Too right. There has been more buying and selling of clubs in the past five years than in the previous 20. Roman Abramovich's £140 million acquisition of Chelsea in 2003 was the first of the high-profile sales, but, since then there has been a flood, with the Glazer family buying Manchester United; Randy Lerner, the American entrepreneur, snapping up Aston Villa and Liverpool falling to the American billionaires George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks - three of England's top four clubs.

Who triggered the Gold Rush?

A mild-mannered chap called Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the FA Premier League, who proved astonishingly able at turning English football's worldwide popularity into gold. The latest round of television rights deals netted £2.7 billion, a 70 per cent increase, which makes the Barclays Premier League by far the richest league in the world.

So how much is all this television money worth to each club?

Under present proposals, the Premier League champions will win an astonishing £50 million next season before they sell a ticket or replica shirt, a huge increase from the £30.4 million paid to Manchester United for winning last season. The bottom club's payments will leap from £16.8 million to £26.8 million.

Is that so different from the rest of the world?

Yes. The Premier League's brand of cut-and-thrust football and its cast list of global superstars outshines anything else. Top foreign clubs, such as Real Madrid and AC Milan, are also big earners, but other clubs in their leagues are not. Contrast that with England: the Sports Business Group at Deloitte, the City accountants, calculates that at least ten of the clubs in Europe's Top 20 Rich List will come from the Premier League next season and it already contains eight: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United.

So it's not just television money driving things

No, the Premier League is a fast-moving gravy train. Nigel Currie at brandRapport, the the sponsorship company, says that the three promoted Coca-Cola Championship clubs can expect their ticket sales to double to about £22 million next season, while sponsorship packages will harden to £2 million or so each, from as little as £250,000. Even the cost of perimeter advertising doubles, to about £1.5 million a season, while merchandising income should triple, to as much as £1.5 million.

With their huge fan base, most clubs, run properly and even with present debts, could be goldmines. And if they do not have sparkling new grounds, many are sitting on prime development land worth tens of millions. That all adds up, as the Americans would say, to a very strong franchise.

So who is still up for grabs, and who is waiting to do the grabbing?

Manchester City's revolving doors continue to spin with prospective buyers and Birmingham City are in the line of fire, with Lakshmi Mittal, Britain's richest man, said to be interested. Blackburn Rovers could be next, while the two North London clubs, Tottenham and Arsenal, are never far from speculation. Tottenham seem to be secure since Enic strengthened its grip on the shareholding last week, but Arsenal are being stalked by Stan Kroenke, the American billionaire.

All this means there must be winners and losers. Who wins?

Freddy Shepherd, the Newcastle chairman, who picked up £37 million selling his shareholding to Mike Ashley, the billionaire sports tycoon, a week ago, while the Hall family, the majority shareholders, sold for £55 million. They were among the football stalwarts, many simply millionaire fans, who bought early in the life of the Premier League - or even before it was started - and who are reaping the financial rewards.

David Sullivan and David and Ralph Gold, majority shareholders at Birmingham, have seen their club's value more than double in a year to £70 million.

They could join the chairmen and owners walking away with huge profits: Martin Edwards made £93 million leaving Manchester United, David Moores at Liverpool an estimated £80 million; Terence Brown at West Ham £33.4 million; Doug Ellis at Villa £24 million, while Ken Bates, who paid £1 for Chelsea, earned £17 million by selling to Abramovich.

David Dein is another spectacular example of the fan who could become a buyout super-millionaire. In 1983 he spent £290,250 buying 1,161 shares in Arsenal; today that stake is worth nearly £60 million.

Lots of winners. But lots of losers?

Shepherd. He might be Mr Loadsamoney on Tyneside, but he loves being Newcastle chairman, even though his £553,000 salary is dwarfed by his share winnings. Now Ashley is in control, Shepherd is probably on a short piece of string.

Control in every boardroom shifts from the old to the new, and not without problems. There are reports of rifts at Liverpool, while fans are still not convinced that the Glazers' takeover in Manchester is healthy for United.

But the biggest question surrounds the loyalty of the new owners. Football's old money came from rich fans, but the new owners are buying "franchises" and making investments. While their teams are successful, they enjoy the glory - and the money that flows in. But if their clubs are relegated, does the club simply become a commodity to be bought and sold on the market with no regard to the feelings or fears of the fans? We shall see.