You may have seen the headline figure: Premier League clubs spent around £1.9 billion ($2.23bn, €2.24bn) in the 2022 summer transfer window, pulverising the previous mark of £1.4bn, set in 2017. Put another way, the 20 English top-flight clubs spent more than all clubs in Spain's LaLiga, Italy's Serie A and Germany's Bundesliga combined.
Well, put those numbers aside because they really don't mean very much, no matter how often they're bandied about in the media.
It only takes a primary school education to understand that if I sell you a bike for $50 and you sell me a scooter for $50, then presto! -- our total spend is $100, but we've both actually broken even. All total spend tells you is how much volume there is, and why the commentariat continues to pay attention to that figure remains a mystery.
A far more relevant figure here is net spend: how much money you fork out in transfer fees to acquire players, minus how much you get back for transferring players to other clubs. If anything, it goes even further to underscore the economic muscle of Premier League clubs relative to the rest of the continent.
We'll use euros the rest of the way because that's the currency used in four of Europe's Big Five leagues and that's the currency Premier League clubs use most of the time to acquire players from abroad. (Note that I'm using Transfermarkt figures here; they're not gospel, relying as they do on media reports and public information, but they're as accurate a count as exists in the public sphere.)
The figures are staggering.
The Premier League's combined net spend this summer was €1.355bn, up from €486m last summer. It's the third time the Premier League has passed the €1bn mark in the last five summer transfer window. The highest net spend any other league has reached in that period was the €351.6m Serie A shelled out in 2019.
Where the total gets even more stark is when you compare the English top flight to Europe's other major leagues. LaLiga had the second-highest net spend at €52.4m (made possible by Joan Laporta's "economic levers" that enabled Barcelona's €115m net spend spree). Serie A essentially broke even with a net spend of €3.9m, while the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 actually had a positive net spend of €44.6m and €40.6m respectively.
Rank the 15 biggest net-spending clubs in Europe and you'll note that 11 of them -- including the top six, Chelsea, Manchester United, West Ham United, Nottingham Forest, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur -- are from the Premier League.
It's not hard to figure out why.
The Premier League benefits from a massive domestic TV rights deal -- worth around €2bn a year, substantially more than LaLiga's €1.5bn, the Bundesliga's €1.1bn and Serie A's €930m -- but the real difference lies in the value of overseas rights, where the Premier League expects to get some €2bn a season for the next three years, whereas the other leagues will get a fraction of that. Then there's the fact that the Premier League has Europe's second-highest average attendances and the highest average ticket prices in the continent's top five leagues, as well as the fact that the league's global reach ensures global sponsorships and commercial revenue beyond what the competition can muster.
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All of which prompted one observer at last week's UEFA Champions League draw in Istanbul to comment: "We already have a Super League -- it's called the Premier League." That's how you end up with a situation where Brentford (who play in a 17,250-seat shoebox in West London and are only in their second top-flight season) have a net spend that is nearly one-and-a-half times as high as Bayern Munich, winners of 10 consecutive league titles and Champions League winners just three years ago (who sell out their 75,000-seat stadium every week).
Of course, transfer fees only tell one part of the story when it comes to financial dominance: wages matter too, as do the commissions paid to intermediaries to make a deal happen (especially when it comes to free agency). And there is definitely a cyclical element to all this. Most would have Premier League champions Manchester City, European champions Real Madrid and Champions League runners-up Liverpool as three of the top sides in the world, yet the first two actually made a profit in their transfer spending this summer, while Liverpool's net spend was a comparatively puny €9.6m.
There were other exceptional circumstances that drove this summer's massive net spending spree. Manchester United embarked on a rebuild with a new manager, Chelsea and Newcastle are under new ownership, while Tottenham loosened the purse strings like never before for manager Antonio Conte -- all of this contributed, as did the pound/euro exchange rate (the pound gained some 15% over the euro since 2015).
That said, when it comes to spending, particularly as it pertains to mid-to-small sized clubs, there is no comparison: The Premier League dwarfs the rest of Europe's top flights.