Sports today serve as much more than just a source of entertainment. Athletes are touted as role models, global sporting events like the Olympics exemplify a spirit of togetherness that the world seldom sees, and astronomical sums of money are poured into athletics as an industry. The Barclays Premier League is no different. Widely considered to be the world’s most popular domestic soccer club competition, more than 4.6 billion fans from 156 different countries tune in on weekends to watch England’s 20 best teams go head-to-head. The Premier League is home to some of the world’s wealthiest and most historic franchises including Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea to name a few. With a projected total revenue of around 5.65 billion euros for the 2018/19 season the league can boast success as a commercial institution, as well.
In 2015, however, Premier League clubs made a commitment aimed at demonstrating their influence in a different manner as they pledged to pay all of their permanent staff a living wage. The announcement of this commitment came after the Premier League announced a newly negotiated TV rights deal with Sky Sports. This deal would see the British network pay 5.36 billion pounds to broadcast league content over 3 years starting in 2016. Premier League officials and British politicians moved to provide staff a living wage in order to make sure that the spoils of the league’s success were shared amongst all those who worked to make it possible. Moreover, league officials hoped that this distribution of wealth within the league would serve as an example for other industries in England like finance and banking.
Following through on this commitment hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing though. Many clubs have gotten around the pledge by outsourcing their match-day services to sub-contractors who do not provide a living wage for their workers. Similar disputes about outsourcing have recently garnered media attention in the United States, as third party employment is a commonly cited reason for many National Football League teams paying their cheerleaders below minimum wage. The Premier League has left the decision to hold sub-contractors to the same wage standards as the clubs themselves in the hands of club officials. Britain’s Living Wage Foundation, the organization that determines the living wage across the UK, has called for clubs to extend the living wage policy to all of their workers. Thus far only three clubs (Chelsea FC, Everton FC and West Han United FC) have received accreditation by the Living Wage Foundation for paying all of their staff a living wage. Liverpool FC have recently announced intentions to seek similar accreditation. Members of the Living Wage Foundation are still working to get the other 16 Premier League clubs to step up to the plate, but have also begun to put pressure of lower leagues in England to make similar statements. Advocates for this movement see the important role that athletics as an institution can play in society and hope that these efforts will have a knock-on effect to further fair employment practices in other sectors as well.