$7.8 billion TV deal doesn’t mean the Premier League needs to pay its employees a living wage

We’ve talked about the living wage before. It’s a hobby horse. Particularly in a place like London, where self-appointed living wage hero Chelsea lies, it’s a depressingly low standard. It trumpets a mark that promotes mere poverty compared to outright destitution.

In the context of the English Premier League’s new $7.8 billion domestic television contract, however, the term “living wage” has a certain power. Will the latest windfall help ensure the other 19 clubs in the league start guaranteeing its employees the ability to make rent and pay or food a living wage, or will that income go into the same money pits as the previous TV deals?

The league’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore, offered this less-than-encouraging response in the face of that question today:

“At the end of the day there’s a thing called the living wage but there’s also a minimum wage, and politicians do have the power to up that minimum wage. That’s entirely for the politicians to do, that’s not for us to do.”

You’re talking about two different things there, Mr. Scudamore, though I can see how it is helps if you confound the living and minimum wages. The latter, as you point out, is a legal distinction. The former is more of a minimum moral one.

Now that we know where you lie on the spectrum, please, go on.

“The reality is, just like in the film industry, in the pop industry, the talent, the absolute talent, gets paid a disproportionately high amount. That is the reality in any talent industry … The stars that grace the field in the Premier League are world stars, it’s a world market. I don’t set the market rate, it’s set by the world market.”

Ah, the market: That great theoretical exercise that tends to work so well … until you get to the extremes. And an industry that can sell television rights in one market for $8 billion? That’s extreme. It’s not too much to ask that it hold itself to a different standard (or, at least, different rhetoric), particularly when that standard would compromise such a small sliver of its proverbial pie.

There are a bunch of problems here. First, the league’s stance, which amounts to moral abdication. The second is expecting Scudamore, essentially a representative of the clubs’ interests, to say otherwise. The third is this whole living wage garbage. Holding any implied solution against that low standard merely creates a second conversation about people being underpaid, just to a slightly lesser extent.

Of course, the bigger problem is the world spending so much money on soccer, but getting the Premier League to change its tone or the general conversation to shift away from the living wage will be easier than convincing fans to contextualize their fandom.

Perhaps the most unfortunate evidence of that: This post. If spending on soccer were at all reasonable, we wouldn’t be writing about this. And you’d have to deal with a lot less crap from Richards Farley and Scudamore.


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