Deep Dive: An analysis of the size of Premier League clubs, and why Spurs and Aston Villa show bigger isn’t always better

Because I am a nerd, and because I am interested in the business of football, I recently found myself reading through Manchester United’s financial statements in search of information. I came across a startling statistic: The club employs 91 people in its media division alone.

While Manchester United have an in-house television station to run, that nevertheless struck me as a large number, particular given that in the previous year the figure was 69. United employ more media types than they do football players (79). In total, the club employs 869 people. This may be low for a global business with annual revenue of £395.2 million*, but it felt on the high side for a football club.

This set me off on a train of thought — how do Spurs, and indeed other Premier League clubs, stack up?

This research (I’m sure I’m not the first to look at this, and it was a deviation from what I had been originally looking for) threw up some interesting findings. The disparity in number of people on the payroll from club to club was high. Manchester United, the biggest employer, had more than six times as many as the smallest employer, Watford.

The “my club is bigger than yours” debate is deeply subjective, and normally becomes very silly, but at least here, in terms of pure headcount,  we can put a solid number on it, much like with revenue or stadium size.

Bigger doesn’t mean better — it just means bigger. But certainly, it felt that in certain instances these very basic numbers told a story.

I was expecting the headcount to closely mirror revenue — with Manchester United at the top, the traditional big five including Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, Spurs in sixth as always, and the promoted clubs down the bottom.

But interestingly, there were a number of clear deviations from this. Sunderland, say, employ nearly 200 more people than Newcastle, while Aston Villa have 100 or so more people on the payroll than Spurs.

Just to warn you, if this sort of football minutiae doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then stop reading right here. But it is interesting to me, and the research raised a number of questions I’d welcome further information on. The backdrop to this all is the TV money pouring in — one can only imagine how this will further transform the way Premier League clubs are structured and operate, for good and for bad.

I’ll go through the clubs in order of size of headcount, with the basic figures and some notes. All information (bar United, which is US-listed) is from the most recent club accounts posted on Companies House, and the standard method of calculation is the average number of people employed on a monthly basis (rather than, say, a headcount chosen on one random date during the accounting year). As you will see, every club breaks down the figures in a different way, with varying degrees of clarity. Revenue is via Swiss Ramble (it is the same as in the accounts, but I added this in late and didn’t want to go through every set again…).


1 Manchester United

Revenue £395.2 million

Capacity: 75.653

Football players — 79

Technical and Coaches — 92

Commercial — 138

Media — 91

Admin and other — 469

Total (or rather, as stated above, the average total) — 869

With its league-leading revenue and stadium, it is no surprise to see Man Utd with the highest headcount. But the margin it quite considerable — it has 188 more people than the closest challenger. MUTV has 100,000 subscribers in the UK, which seems quite impressive if true, and United bought out Sky’s stake in the venture in January 2013 — this may or may not have resulted in more people being added to the United payroll (the figure climbed from 69 in the previous year). But either way, 91 media types and 469 administrative staff: this feels a lot. It was reported recently, albeit in the Express, that the Glazers were seeking efficiencies that could result in as much as a 15 percent reduction in headcount in off-pitch departments. This will no doubt go down like a bucket of hot sick, especially while the absentee owners continue to shamelessly milk money from a club they never even put up the money to buy. But it would be hard to argue against the logic of reducing costs if United miss out on Champions League lucre for the second time in three seasons.

2 Chelsea

Revenue: £314.3 million

Capacity: 41,799

Playing staff, managers and coaches — 92

Admin and commercial — 589

Total — 681

Chelsea are second, and quite comfortably so. Chelsea’s commercial revenue soared the year before last, and is expected to climb again as the club has started to crank up its sponsorship effort. Also, you don’t typically associate efficiency with oligarch plaything, even if Chelsea have recently sought to be run profitably after the initial decade-long Roman Abramovich splurge.

But I found Chelsea’s numbers a head scratcher for a different reason: where is the army of loan players on its balance sheet?

The club lists just 92 playing staff, managers and coaches — far below Man Utd (171), Arsenal (147) and Liverpool (138). We know that Chelsea have more than 80 players registered, per the official Premier League list. Are there really just 12 coaches, at all levels and of all specialisms, at Chelsea? Currently, Chelsea have 34 players out on loan — and while it may be reasonable to expect the loan club to contribute to their wages, you’d surely expect them to remain on Chelsea’s books as Chelsea still hold their registrations. Furthermore, in many cases, Chelsea surely subsidize the arrangements in the name of development. I’m not suggesting anything fishy, I’m just genuinely curious about what has happened to them — are they shifted into the “admin and commercial” group if they go out on long-term loan? I’d welcome any thoughts.

3 Manchester City

Revenue: £351.8 million

Capacity: 55,097

Football staff — 249

Commercial/admin — 338

Total — 587

When looking at City, I first plugged “Manchester City” into Companies House beta search and “Manchester City Limited” came up. The numbers seemed rather modest — a total headcount of 314 (comprising 112 football staff, and 202 commercial and admin staff). I then checked “City Football Group”, and lo, a different set of numbers appeared. I’m guessing the higher number is a more accurate reflection of City’s transformation from popular if underachieving northwest football club to vacuous global sporting mega brand. Manchester City have built a vast new training complex, which must have increased headcount, but as they are technically tenants of the Etihad Stadium, they may not have quite as many ground staff on the books.

4 Liverpool

Revenue: £255.6 million

Capacity: 44,742

Players, managers and coaches — 138

Ground and maintenance staff — 51

Admin, commercial and other — 378

Total — 567

Sneaking into the top four are Liverpool. I found the name “Liverpool Football Club and Athletic Grounds Limited”, trading since 1892, rather endearing. But then I saw “UKSV Holdings Company”, which was much less endearing. Weirdly, these two sets of accounts are just a tiny bit different — there is a disparity of £156,000 in revenue (UKSV was higher), and the average total of employees was slightly different (UKSV had 570). I’d welcome an explanation for this — I’m sure it is straightforward. Probably not the biggest issue for Liverpool fans at the moment, I’ll admit.

5 Arsenal

Revenue: £329.3 million

Capacity: 60,260

Playing staff — 67

Training staff — 80

Admin — 304

Ground staff — 97

Total — 548

Arsenal have a very clear breakdown of their staff. Interesting is the number of ground staff — I imagine this is something that will increase at Spurs once the new stadium is up. Arsenal have traditionally lagged a little in commercial revenue compared to clubs higher on this list — their admin and commercial team is slightly smaller than Manchester City (who don’t have all that much work to do given where their so-called sponsorship money is coming from), and way smaller than Chelsea. There is probably a calculation that could be done, using revenue, stadium capacity and headcount, that would give a sensible number for “efficiency”. I’d imagine Arsenal, and Spurs, would score highly on this. As for Stan Kroenke, I’m just going to leave this here.

6 Aston Villa

Revenue: £116.9 million

Capacity: 42,660

Directors, players, football management and coaches — 173

Commercial, merchandising and operational — 232

Maintenance and admin — 91

Total — 496

When all those new managers say “Aston Villa is a big club” — presumably it is because they have just walked through the club offices and seen the army of personnel at their disposal. What on earth do these 496 people all do? Villa has a weird structure — it is essentially split in three. Showcasing all the imagination that has gotten the club into the position it is, these parts are called “Aston Villa Limited”, “Aston Villa FC Limited” and “Aston Villa Football Club Limited”. It gets a bit confusing, especially trying to account for the directors. With relegation looking a racing certainty, things will surely change at Villa in the near future. There’s no pleasure in this — I’ve been laid off before and it sucks beyond belief — but the revenue drop-off after relegation is brutal and ultimately a business, no matter how deeply tied to the community, has to live within its means.

7 Sunderland

Revenue: £104.4 million

Capacity: 48,707

Admin/Operation — 391

Football — 89

Total — 480

Another club that would appear “bloated”. Is it just a coincidence that two of the most underachieving clubs are so high on this list? Sunderland and Villa have been so similar in how they have flirted with the abyss for several years, that sense of institutional drift afflicting both performances on the pitch, and the feelings of the fans looking on. There is not much that is good about being relegated, as you can be stuck down there an awfully long time. But if Sunderland and Villa are able to regain upward momentum, and bounce back quickly, they could at least emerge from the experience leaner and more efficient clubs.

8 Bournemouth

Revenue (figures before promotion): £10.1 million

Capacity: 11,464

Playing staff and admin — 96

School of excellence — 53

Match day and hospitality — 240*

Total — 389

Bournemouth are way out of position here, as they alone include what predominantly will be part-time match day staff among their total headcount. Excluding these and Bournemouth are near the bottom as you’d expect of a club with the smallest ground in the league, playing in the top flight for the first time. There are 96 playing and admin staff, with a further 53 players and staff in the academy. I’ll keep Bournemouth here as rules are rules, but they should really be lower. While I’m on the subject, there’s no better time to say this: I love what Eddie Howe is doing there, and desperately hope they stay up.

9 Spurs

Revenue: £180.5 million

Capacity: 36,284

Players and football admin — 188

Admin — 125

Retail and distribution – 67

Total — 380

Much like in terms of revenues, and awesomeness, Spurs are in a league of their own when it comes to headcount. Spurs have 100 fewer staff than the club above (excluding Bournemouth), and 70 more than the club below. Daniel Levy runs a tight ship: this is known. But, I would note, this feels a good illustration of this relatively tight management, even if it is less clickbaity than stories of low-ball transfer offers and never-ending contract talks.

While the club has been in a holding pattern from a matchday and commercial revenue standpoint in recent years, awaiting the stadium project to progress, the number of people on the payroll doesn’t appear to have crept up off the pitch to quite such an extent as it may have done elsewhere. In 2006, the club had revenues of  £74.1 million and 222 staff. In 2011, revenues were £163.5 million and there were 315 staff. Where have those 65 extra come from in the past four years? There are 16 more in retail, 20 more in administrative roles, but 29 more on the football side — subjective, but that feels like a decent balance in terms of allocating resources with on-field performance the priority.

I’d add though, Spurs are one of the more complicated clubs in terms of structure. It’s sort of a Russian, or rather Bahamian, Doll, where one thing contains another. So I may have missed a few people.

10 Swansea

Revenue: £103.9 million

Capacity: 20,909

Football — 222

Admin — 17

Commercial — 59

Media — 9

Total — 307

I was surprised to see Swansea so high — I thought they would be lower down as a club that, until five years ago, wasn’t a top-flight operator and has a very small stadium. But they have clearly fattened out — not that they appear to be benefitting this season with relegation a real risk. You just sense a loss of momentum at Swansea in the last 18 months. Once they were whiter-than-white with their attractive footballing philosophy, their climb up from League Two and their fan-ownership model. But now it is like they have been corrupted by the excesses of the Premier League: losing identity through the acquisition of “mercenary” players with little connection to the club, curious decisions over managers, and failure to build on success such as through expanding the stadium or improving the production line of young players. Meanwhile, the “bright young thing” mantle has been taken by Bournemouth. I hope Swansea find a way to turn it around as it is still a great story, even if it has faltered.

11 Newcastle

Revenue: £129.7 million

Capacity: 52,338

Playing squad, Academy, team management and support — 133

Commercial — 54

Administration — 42

Ground, facility and maintenance — 59

Total — 288

12 Norwich City

Revenue (before promotion): £52.2 million

Capacity: 27,010

Directors — 7

Football — 119

Other — 149

Total — 275

13 Everton

Revenue: £125.6 million

Capacity: 39,571

Playing, trading and management — 98

Youth Academy — 38

Marketing and media — 32

Management and admin — 71

Maintenance, Security, Pitch and Ground Safety — 35

Total — 274

14 Stoke City

Revenue: £99.6 million

Capacity: 27,740

Players (incl scholars) — 69

Other — 203

Total — 272

15 Southampton

Revenue: £113.7 million

Capacity: 32,505

Admin — 79

Football — 191

Total — 270

16 West Ham

Revenue: £120.7 million

Capacity: 33,345

Players, team management and training — 93

Commercial and admin — 164

Total — 258

For the positions 11 to 16, there is a very tight spread of just 30 employees, so the order is quite unimportant. A few points:

  • Newcastle’s headcount is low given size of stadium, in particular. This may in large part be a legacy of the club’s previous relegation in 2009, when 150 staff, or a third of the “off-pitch” workforce, were laid off. Newcastle haven’t increased headcount considerably since returning to the top flight. Should it really require 192 more people to run Sunderland than Newcastle? 
  • Everton are also quite lean, with a nice specific breakdown that helps fans see where the money goes. Everton are about to get stripped for parts in the transfer market, and you sense some tough years are ahead unless they can pull some rabbits out of the hat in terms of academy products, transfer bargains or new investment. It sounds like new money may well be coming in, with reports (I may actually have heard it on commentary the other day) that surveyors have been busy around Goodison Park seeing if they can somehow add capacity or more revenue-tastic facilities. I’ve always considered Everton a fellow Premier League “traveller” along with Spurs, and I’ll be sad if they start looking downwards, like Newcastle and Villa have been doing, rather than up.
  • Stoke and Southampton “seem” very similar size clubs, although you can see Southampton outstrip Stoke in revenue and stadium size. Not much else to say — this is the middle of the Premier League mid-table.
  • Presumably West Ham are due for an expansion in headcount with all the Olympic Stadium money rolling in, particularly in commercial departments. As they are just tenants, they won’t have have to worry about ground staff and such like (Manchester City are also tenants at the Etihad). As an occasional UK taxpayer, I think the arrangement stinks — but you can’t deny that West Ham have struck an incredible deal for themselves and are upwardly mobile.
  • Norwich seem a bit flabby here in comparison to the others, given their status as a “yo-yo” club. Presumably new chairman Ed Balls will apply his economic nouss to streamline things — though his record in his political career doesn’t necessarily bode well, depending on your view of things.

17 Leicester City

Revenue (last accounts were before promotion): £31.2 million

Capacity: 32,312

Players — 42

Administration — 146

Total — 188

18 WBA

Revenue: £86.8 million

Capacity: 26,856

First team players and coaching — 40

Scholars — 22

Youth coaching — 21

Admin and Commercial — 49

Ground Staff 17

Total — 159

19 Crystal Palace

Revenue: £102.5 million

Capacity: 25,073

Players, managers and coaches — 88

Admin and commercial — 54

Total — 142

20 Watford

Revenue (before promotion): £18.39 million

Capacity: 21,909

Players — 52

Coaching — 46

Commercial — 24

Admin — 9

Ground staff — 7

Total — 138

A few notes on these bottom four

  • Leicester’s last published accounts are for the season ending in their promotion, so things are going to be very different in the upcoming set, and next year’s. Boy oh boy. They had just 42 players on professional contracts, including professional youth teamers — one imagines this figure will increase greatly. Leicester have hit the jackpot, so it will be fascinating to see how they go about spending it in the coming years. “We spent a lot of money on Brazilian strikers, massive bonuses and agents. We wasted the rest.”  
  • West Brom and Crystal Palace both appear to be quite tightly run. In part, West Brom’s books will be looking shiny as Jeremy Peace tries to sell the club — it’ll be interesting to see who escapes The Hawthorns first, him or Saido Berahino. Meanwhile, Palace are just five years out of administration. Some US money is being pumped into the club, so things may be changing there. I don’t know if Emmanuel Adebayor will count as one person, or if his entourage will be included on the payroll too.
  • Watford….meh.


In conclusion

So, that’s the list. Certainly, from a Spurs perspective, it will be interesting to see how the headcount creeps up as the stadium project proceeds. And it really will — there will be full time staff required with the stadium being a 365 day per year venue for things like conferences and events, let alone NFL matches. Likewise, the club will need to keep expanding its commercial team to try to bring in the deals to help it compete.

But size isn’t everything — I’d hate Spurs to become a flabby, inefficient organisation. As the old saying goes, when you need something done, ask a busy person. Certainly, it will be all hands to the pump through a critical phase of stadium construction and some financial constraints on the playing side. These are incredibly exciting times to be a Spurs fan.

I found this research interesting, and instructive, but I’m cautious not to draw too many conclusions. You just have to look at the Premier League table right now to see that, in terms of the most important performance indicator of them all — the league table — there are many different ways to build a successful club.

Thanks for reading. I welcome any comments or suggestions, particular on the areas outlined above where I would like more information. Please don’t hesitate to comment, send me an email or hit me up on Twitter.


* United earn about £455,000 per employee. Three randomly chosen comparisons: shirt sponsor GM (Chevrolet) earns about £496,000, kit supplier Adidas £187,000, training gear sponsor Deutsche Post (DHL) is £80,000

6 thoughts on “Deep Dive: An analysis of the size of Premier League clubs, and why Spurs and Aston Villa show bigger isn’t always better

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