English soccer clubs have historically been heavily associated with the working class. In the 20th century, soccer grew rapidly in factory and mill towns in northern England where local workers used the sport as their main social hub. Weekend matches were seen as the primary way for working people to destress after an arduous week and catch up with their neighbors.
Yet, as the game has become more globalized, many clubs have begun to distance themselves from these working-class individuals who were so integral to their past. This trend is evident not only in the astronomically rising ticket prices, but also in the fact that most Premier League clubs do not pay their match day employees the real living wage, despite their ability to do so. These employees include match day stewards, cleaners, caterers, security and merchandisers.
The living wage in the U.K. is slightly above the legal minimum wage and accounts for the age of the worker along with the costs of providing basic necessities for working families. London Living Wage, a charitable foundation, calculated the living wage to be £9.75 per hour in London, and £8.45 per hour elsewhere in England.
These hourly wages pale in comparison to the wages that Premier League clubs pay their players on a weekly basis, which can exceed £200,000 according to Citizens U.K., a community-organizing group that champions the fight for the real living wage. Yet, the Living Wage Foundation, an organization seeking wages to be set based on an individual’s cost of living, has recognized only three Premier League clubs — Chelsea, Everton and West Ham — for paying their employees London’s “real” living wage. The foundation confirmed that these clubs pay each person they employ, both directly and through third parties, the “real” living wage.
Premier League clubs Manchester City, Brighton and Hove Albion, Leicester City, Swansea City and Arsenal have all explicitly denied directly paying their employees less than the real living wage. Yet, these clubs all use third-party contractors to help staff their stadium on match days; many of these third parties pay their employees below the real living wage.
Citizens U.K. released a statement last August saying it is outrageous to pay players millions while staff barely earns enough to survive.
“It’s obscene that while some footballers and agents are earning millions every year, these low-paid staff in the very same workplace are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families,” the statement read.
Manchester United, arguably the biggest club in England, perfectly exemplifies the problem that Citizens U.K. is trying to illustrate.
Toward the end of the January transfer window, Manchester United completed a massive transfer deal with Arsenal to sign star forward Alexis Sanchez. At Manchester United, Sanchez will be paid £350,000 per week, the highest weekly wage in the Premier League. He will join David de Gea, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku as the fifth Manchester United player to be paid over £200,000 per week.
Overall, Manchester United earned £615 million in revenue in 2017 and spent £232 million on players’ wages that year. Yet, despite paying their players astronomical wages averaging £110,961 per week, the team still has not committed to paying their match day employees real living wages. Fully meeting the living wage requirements for all of the team’s match day employees would only cost Manchester United around £1 million, an absolutely minuscule amount when compared to the club’s total budget.
Failing to meet such basic human requirements is an embarrassment for English soccer’s top league and illustrates the problem with modern soccer. Although they earn more revenue than ever before, many clubs have forgotten the working-class people around which they grew. These clubs could not function on a day-to-day basis without the hard work of these stadium staffers; yet, those workers’ needs are being disregarded.
Still, if any silver lining exists in this situation, it is the fact that many clubs are beginning to recognize the errors of their ways. Liverpool has promised to increase the wages of all their employees starting in June 2018 to meet the real living wage requirements. Increased wages will benefit over 1,000 part-time employees at Liverpool. Likewise, Tottenham Hotspur has promised to meet the real living wage requirements as soon as construction of their new stadium is completed in the upcoming year.
Still, with around £8.3 billion coming into Premier League clubs collectively in the upcoming years as a result of a recently agreed upon television deal, there is no excuse for any club to pay its employees less than the real living wage requirements.