The English Premier League is perhaps the game’s most globalised division in many ways, including in terms of who owns its clubs, with just five teams not in the hands of foreign investors.
The league has worked hard at promoting its brand overseas, catering to a global audience of en estimated 1.35 billion viewers across 188 countries.
The globalisation of the English game can also be seen on the pitch, as well as in the boardroom, with just 36.1 percent of its players being English. This is a similar figure to the number of local players used in the Portuguese league, but below all of the other top six European leagues.
Serie A‘s domestic player percentage standa at 39.3 percent, while in the Bundesliga it is 45.2 percent, Ligue 1 boasts 47 percent and LaLiga Santander leads the way with 58.3 percent.
Curiously, the two nations topping this list are competing in the final of the Nations League on Sunday. It could be a coincidence, but there is something to be said for players being able to compete in their national league, especially when it is one of the best around, in terms of benefitting the national side.
These numbers are despite attempts to change this in England with the Homegrown Player Rule stipulating that Premier League teams must have at least 12 players trained in England in their 25-man squads.
It is a similar situation on the touchline, too, with just four of the 20 Premier League coaches being English and none of those coach one of the Big Six.
Newcastle United‘s purchase by the Public Investment Fund of the Saudi Arabian state has raised this issue again, along with questions about ownership rules as many wonder how such a deal can have been allowed, despite the similar situation over at Manchester City.
US majority in the Premier League
Tottenham are the only Big Six side with a British owner, as backers from the USA are in the majority in the Premier League.
Arsenal, Burnley, Liverpool and Manchester United are all in American hands, while Aston Villa are 50 percent American owned (the other half being Egyptian) and West Ham 10 percent (English majority).
Elsewhere, the Premier League is also home to an array of international owners: Everton (Iranian), Southampton and Wolves (Chinese), Leicester (Thai), Watford and Leeds (Italian) and others.
Chelsea’s takeover by Russian Roman Abramovich was a watershed moment for English football and the game hasn’t been the same since.
Meanwhile, Manchester City being bankrolled by the United Arab Emirates was another gamechanger. Newcastle’s Saudi ownership now means that two Premier League clubs are in the hands foreign states, with all the potential implications.
How do you buy a Premier League club?
Newcastle’s new owners have been in negotiations for 18 months but finally have what they want, despite criticisms of their country’s human rights record, including from Amnesty International.
There are few legal obstacles to owning a Premier League club as long as you have the money and a clean business and criminal record.
Why have foreign investors focused on the Premier League?
Perhaps because they can is one answer, but also because of the global reach of the division and the value of its audiovisual rights.
Money attracts money and a great deal of wealth has concentrated in the Premier League, making it a playground for some of the world’s biggest fortunes and bringing an array of top and high-earning talent to England.
The economic muscle of the Premier League means that six of its clubs have a spending power that would put them on the level of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
What happens in other countries?
Some leagues have stricter ownership rules which make such scenarios impossible. In the Bungesliga, oft-cited as the model league for sustainable growth, sensible finances and organic fan-involvement, 51 percent of the club must be in the hands of the fans, so no external owner can have majority control.
Ligue 1, meanwhile, has a body which evaluates potential sales, but like in the Premier League, this did not prevent many foreign investments, some with questionable intentions, taking over French clubs. Paris Saint-Germain, in a similar situation to City and Newcastle, are backed by the Qatari state.
Bordeaux, Marseille (USA), Lille (Luxembourg), Nice (UK), Monaco (Russia) and Nantes (Poland) are all foreign-owned in France.
There is a heavy US presence in Serie A too (Genoa, Fiorentina, Milan, Spezia, Roma, Venezia), while Bologna (Canadian) and Inter (Chinese) are also foreign owned.
LaLiga is not immune to this phenomenon either: Elche (Argentine), Espanyol (Chinese), Granada (Chinese), Valencia (Singaporean) and Mallorca (US) all have foreign owners.
Globalisation is here to stay, but the question is how to regulate it in order to ensure sustainability while not allowing football to be used for ulterior motives or taken (further) away from those who make it what it is: the fans.