I’ve frequently made the point on this website and elsewhere how player wages are the biggest challenge that Blues face; indeed, it’s the answer to the perennial question “where’s the money gone?”.
However, I have got the impression when saying this that many people don’t actually understand how the club pays so much money out in wages.
It’s not hard to understand why. The amount of misinformation I’ve seen online about how much players get paid is huge with whole websites devoted to it just making the numbers up.
With this in mind I’ve put together this article to try to give people a better understanding.
It’s actually quite hard to find out how Blues compare to other teams in the Championship for a number of reasons.
The main reason for this is the lack of actual official data out there. The only place that we can get accurate wage data for clubs playing in the Championship is from Companies House – and as clubs don’t have to file their accounts until nine months after the period the accounts are for, the most recent data for many is the season ending 2021.
It doesn’t help that there is also a shortage of people who collate this data into anything that is meaningful.
I’m absolutely indebted to Kieran Maguire for his tweets about football finance as it was the only place I could find reliable data and graphs to illustrate where Blues are.
As of March 5, 2023 Blues were about mid-table for wage costs according to this graph tweeted by Maguire.
It’s worth noting that the top three paying clubs on that graph were all relegated from the Premier League the prior season, and that two of them (Norwich and Watford) were promoted back to the Premier League at the first attempt in the 2021-22 season.
The average wage cost graph (which dates from April 20 and includes the latest Blues figures) shows that Blues have the eighth highest average wage in the division.
This if nothing else should show the issues that Blues have had with the squad in the last couple of years.
As a matter of curiosity, I also took a look at the Birmingham Sports Holdings accounts to understand what proportion of the whole BSH group’s wages were just Blues.
In the year ending June 30, 2022 BSH paid out HK$377,001,000 in wages – about £38.5m.
This means that BCFC made up around 81% of the total wage bill of BSH last season. That actually surprised me as there isn’t much to BSH outside of Blues and I’m almost curious how much people in Hong Kong and Cambodia are being paid.
As I’ve said before in this piece, understanding how player wages work is difficult due to the lack of data out there.
The reason for this is confidentiality. As with nearly all jobs in the UK, wages are very much a confidential matter between an employer and employee. This means that while newspapers and websites report figures, there is no guarantee that they bear any resemblance to reality.
I’m probably in a minority here, but I actually don’t think this confidentiality is a good thing. As a fan of American sports like baseball I’m used to being able to see publicly how much baseball players are being paid, and accurate figures of how payroll stacks up for each team.
This means websites like Fangraphs are accurate resources for understanding how much teams are spending on players, and how that tallies up in relation to FFP-style regulations like luxury taxes.
It’s not even like baseball players aren’t paid much.
For example, outfielder Aaron Judge was one of the main free agent players this year in Major League Baseball. His new contract with the Yankees was widely reported as $360M over nine years; an average of $40M per year or around $770,000 per week.
If it’s possible for sports franchises in a society as litigious as America to be completely open and transparent about wages, I can’t see why the same couldn’t happen in league football here.
For me, transparency with respect to player wages would be beneficial to the game. I think it would help to make financial fair play rules easier to understand and maybe force change to make rules more equitable.
Respecting confidentiality also has consequences for me with regards to writing this article.
While I am using actual player wage data I have in my possession courtesy of the infamous “Dong Box”, for the purposes of this article I have used historic wage data from contracts which are no longer in force and where the player has left the club.
From reading messageboards and social media I think there is a lot of confusion about just how much players get paid for playing football.
I think part of it is that for most of us, the whole idea is abstract. When we’re told a player an average wage of a player at Birmingham City is £14,922 a week I don’t think it registers with some people how much money that is.
A wage of £14,922 a week equates to £775,994 a year – a lot of money for a club that only takes in £17.55M in revenues.
Just 22 players on that average wage wipes out every penny that the club brings in a year, which should go some way to explaining why the club is constantly in need of money from its owners.
However, player wages aren’t quite as simple as a fixed wage per week. There are both player and team bonuses to take into account, as well as signing on fees and sometimes even accommodation and travel allowances.
For example, let’s look at Example Player A – a standard first team player in the 2019/20 season.
This player’s contract entitled him to:
• £12,000 per week in the Championship
• A pay rise to £16,000 per week if the club was promoted to the Premier League
• A pay cut to £5,000 per week in League One
• An appearance fee of £1,000 every time he started a Championship game, or £500 if he came on as a sub before the 75th minute
• This appearance fee would be £4,000 per start / £2000 per sub appearance in the Premier League, and
• £500 per start / £250 per sub appearance in League One.
As contracts go, it’s not too bad. £600,000 per year basic for a player in the Championship isn’t very expensive, and a maximum payout of £46,000 in appearance fees if they start every game isn’t incredibly expensive either.
In comparison, Example Player B who was a first team player in the 2018/9 season was on a lot more money:
• £35,000 per week in the Championship
• A pay rise to £52,500 per week in the Premier League (as long as he started at least 60% of the matches in the promotion season)
• A pay cut to £17,500 per week if Blues were relegated to League One or League Two
• A Goal / Assist Bonus if the player scored / assisted 15 goals in total of £125,000
• A further Goal / Assist bonus if the player scored / assisted 20 goals in total of another £125,000
• £8,000 relocation expenses
• £2,800 accomodation expenses
This means that player earned £1.82M for a season in the Championship before any bonuses or other fees. This is an incredible amount of money really for Blues which thankfully is no longer on the books.
Example Player C was a young player in the 2019/20 season, and his wages show the gulf between first team pros and young professionals.
His contract entitled him to:
• £550 per week in the first year of his deal
• £700 per week in the second year of his deal
• £2,000 appearance fee if he played in the starting eleven, with a fee of £1,000 if he was a playing sub and £250 if he was an unused substitute
• Bonuses of £150 for every appearance in his national u19 squad, £150 for every u20 squad appearance, £250 for every u21 squad appearance and a £2,000 bonus if he made his debut for the u21 team.
• He also received an accommodation allowance of £190 per week in the first year of his deal and £115 per week in the second year of his deal
The basic salary for this young player for a year was just £28,600 – which I think isn’t much more about the average wage in the UK for all employees. However, the incentives to push on and make the first team are clear.
A common bonus these contracts lack is a signing bonus, which I have seen on a few of the contract details I have for Blues players. This can range from anything from a few thousand pounds to over £400,000 per year in one case.
The other thing that all of these players had was the “Team Bonus Schedule”. This was a list of bonuses that every player in the team had unless specified otherwise.
The team bonus schedule has team bonuses for wins and draws in both the league and cup, which can increase in value for consecutive wins. The team bonus also includes incentives for reaching the playoffs and for getting promoted, with a huge bonus to be shared on a pro rata basis among the team based on the number of matches each player has played.
As you can see, there is a lot of things the club needs to consider when offering contracts to players.
With little wiggle room available this summer it’s going to be tough for Craig Gardner and the recruitment team to put together deals to bring in players and keep everyone happy.
From the information I’ve seen I think it’s fair to say the club have done a good job keeping everything on something of an even keel the last year or so since the departure of Ren Xuandong.
One of my hopes for new ownership is that whoever comes in, they understand the absolute need for financial responsibility when it comes to player contracts.
Computer games like Football Manager makes recruitment of players look easy. The reality is far from that.