Does the ‘big six’ still exist? If so, is it now merely a construct based on financial strength? How much does history matter and how many years must pass before its membership can change?
There was a fascinating piece published on Sky Sports’ website yesterday about Leicester City that touched on whether they should be now considered part of the exclusive club.
Theirs is a persuasive argument: in a ‘big seven’ mini-league of Brendan Rodgers’ team plus the traditional half dozen they would be top thanks to five wins and a draw from seven meetings.
Only Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool have won the title more recently and Leicester’s current squad is arguably better than the one which finished 10 points clear of second-placed Arsenal to win the 2015-16 title.
But if the ‘big six’ are not open for expansion and one must have their membership revoked to allow Leicester in, which team goes? Liverpool and the Manchester clubs are undoubtedly safe, while few can argue against Chelsea’s presence.
Which brings us to the north London clubs. About two-thirds of the way into the season, Tottenham Hotspur are ninth and Arsenal are 11th and it would be simplistic to blame their current woes solely on the pandemic.
Last season Arsenal were eighth with Leicester six points better off in fifth; the current gap after 25 games is 15 points.
Spurs are 13 behind with a game in hand but the evidence aside from on-field struggles under Jose Mourinho is that they are a club on the rise, helped by their new stadium and a long-term deal with the NFL.
The writing has been on the wall at the Emirates Stadium for some time; that second-place in 15/16 their last time qualifying for the Champions League. Focusing solely on the football there can be little arguing against them being the weakest link and Sunday’s hosts being a far more cohesive unit.
Yet Leicester still lag far behind when it comes to off-field presence. According to Deloitte’s Money League the ‘big six’ remain some way ahead of the rest, with Everton next best followed by the Foxes.
The opening of a new training ground to rival any across the country will help close the gap but the auditors’ latest annual report says that their revenue last year totalled £170million, less than half of Arsenal’s £388million.
The Gunners remain the 11th biggest club in terms of revenue but with each passing season outside of the Premier League they fall further behind the top 10. Their income has fallen by almost a quarter since 2017, when they were the sixth most valuable in Europe.
Deloitte’s Money League
|Club||Ranking||Revenue (£ million)|
Should Leicester finish in the top four this season they will make significant strides thanks to the increase in broadcast revenue and prize money, nevermind increased merchandise sales and wider global attention.
That last point is an important one, too, in an era where clubs use digital footprint as a performance metric in discussions with stakeholders and suits behind the scenes view the Premier League as a global product.
All big six clubs have greater numbers in social media followers. Using Arsenal again as a comparison point seeing as they must be accepted as the most borderline ‘big six’ member in terms of recent on-pitch performance, they have 17.1million compared to Leicester’s 1.8million. On Facebook the gulf in page likes is more than 30million, and Instagram’s gap is about 14million.
Stadium size is often suggested as another indicator of club size and, with the exception of Chelsea, the ‘big six’ are also able to put more bums on seats.
Then there is history. Arsenal have 13 league titles on top of a record 14 FA Cups. Aside from 15/16 Leicester have only one second-placed finish, pre-war, to toast and have never won an FA Cup. On that basis they are closer to Spurs, who have been champions of England twice but most recently 1960/61. Even then they have won the Cup on eight occasions.
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Cynics may suggest, with some justification, that the ‘big six’ is a marketing tool designed for broadcasters and, yes, the written media to hype up games between the teams. But it clearly matters to the clubs, aware of the added attention and financial benefits.
Maybe Sunday’s visit of Mikel Arteta’s side to the King Power can have membership riding on it?
Either way Leicester’s rise should be considered a warning to owner Stan Kroenke following years of deterioration.