Ipswich Town's changing fortunes: Q&A with football finance expert Kieran Maguire

Ipswich town celebrate promotion to the Premier League with a bus parade. Credit: PA
Ipswich town celebrate promotion to the Premier League with a bus parade. Credit: PA

Ipswich Town's promotion to the Premier League opens up huge financial opportunities for the club which last played top-flight football 22 years ago, but there are many pitfalls too, according to a leading football finance expert.

As well as being able to tap into the global appeal of the Premier League, and the millions that come from broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals, the club will also face a higher wage bill and a more expensive transfer market.

Football finance expert Kieran Maguire, from the University of Liverpool, has been answering some important questions about Ipswich's spectacular back-to-back promotions and what it could mean for the club's fortunes.

  • What impact could promotion to the Premier League have on the club and the town?

Kieran Maguire: As far as the town of Ipswich is concerned, it could be quite transformational because all of a sudden Ipswich Town are in a competition which is being broadcast to 197 different countries around the world.

Brighton, which is probably around the same size as Ipswich, were promoted a few years ago. They commissioned an economic impact report which said that last year being in the Premier League was worth around £600 million to the city.

Also there's the impact from tourism, especially if you've got overseas players, or if you are hosting a club like Spurs who have got Son Heung-min, the South Korean captain. South Korean camera crews follow him everywhere, so there is a significant impact that can be made to the local economy, not just the football club itself.

  • How important is it to have Ed Sheeran as a shirt sponsor for the club's merchandising and commercial opportunities?

KM: You’ve only got to see what has happened at Wrexham with Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney in turning Wrexham into a global brand. It’s got the TV programme to support it, of course, which is going out on streaming services.

That can be replicated as far as Ipswich's position in the Premier League is concerned. Ed Sheeran is fantastic in his own profession, but he is also an extremely likeable individual on a personal level and that will help because of his close connections to Ipswich Town FC.

It will allow [chief executive] Mark Ashton and the rest of the club's commercial team to go out to potential sponsors and commercial partners and say 'You’re not just buying into the football that’s taking place once or twice a week, you’re buying into the local community and Ed's part of that. He is globally popular and you can use it as a twin pronged attack in terms of generating higher revenues.'

  • What other commercial opportunities will be available to Ipswich Town now they are in the Premier League?

KM: If you’re looking at a front-of-shirt deal in the EFL, for what you might call a mid-tier club, you're looking at hundreds of thousands of pounds, perhaps maybe half a million if they’re a big club like Leeds United.

You could easily add another zero once you hit the Premier League. The average deals that are going through are probably in the region of £6m or £7m a year, as far as front-of-shirt is concerned.

You've then got the boost in terms of the kit manufacturing deal and that clearly has been boosted by the affiliation with Ed Sheeran, so those are significant.

In terms of the other main incomes streams, the TV deal can be very transformational. Ipswich will probably have earned around £8m this year from being in the EFL Championship.

The side that finished bottom of the Premier League 2022/23, which was Southampton, earned around £103m, so that’s to look forward to.

The worst case scenario, if Ipswich don’t manage to stay up, they’ll get two years of parachute payments which are worth a further £75m, should the club return to the Championship straight away.

Ipswich manager Kieran McKenna has helped the club to back-to-back promotions. Credit: PA
  • Do Ipswich have to invest heavily in order to survive in the Premier League?

KM: I don’t think speculation [in investment] is necessarily the right approach to take, because as we saw in the case of Nottingham Forest and Fulham, if you have a scattergun approach to recruitment that can come back to haunt you.

Tailored investment is absolutely essential. Look at what we've seen this season with Sheffield United after they were promoted. They have then sold their two best players to other clubs, they invested hardly anything and they’re going back very much with their tail between the legs, as far as their Premier League experience is concerned.

If you take a look at the clubs Ipswich will try to model themselves on, like Brentford and Brighton, those clubs bought with precision.

Ipswich will have the advantage of direct promotion, rather than going up to the play-offs, which gives the recruitment team an extra two to three weeks to start those negotiations with players, even though the transfer window doesn’t open until 1 June.

I can assure you that contact will already have been made with those players who are being targeted and their representatives and the clubs they play for.

So expect to see record transfer fees over the course of the summer. It’s a very, very competitive league, the Premier League, just as is the Championship, but you’ve got to spend substantial sums if you want to have a fair attempt at staying there.

That will be Ipswich's first objective. The ambition of the club, clearly, is unlimited, but if they finish 17th next season I would imagine that everybody would be delighted because that means the four or five players you've recruited for your first season for the Premier League, you can then recruit a further group of players of that standard in your second season.

It’s not cheap, the wages are substantially higher. The average wage in the EFL Championship is £12-14,000 a week. In the Premier League it’s in the region of £70-80,000 a week.

There is no reason why Ipswich will want to spend that level of cost in terms of wages. When Brentford first went up they were averaging £30,000 a week, but in their second season that increased to £45,000, so it is a gradual process.

  • Can money distort the team ethic that has delivered so much success in the Championship.

KM: I suspect that every player in the squad will have a step-up clause in his contract which will substantially increase their weekly remuneration.

Football is a passion project, as we all know. You’ve got to have players who are not just physically able to play Premier League standard, but have the right mental mindset as well. So you don't want unhappy players that have not been suitably rewarded for bringing Ipswich Town to the Premier League.

All of the players in the squad will be getting some significant pay rises. There are indications that having superstars coming in can be a distorting impact, because Ipswich's fantastic achievement this season is on a collegiate basis, is on a team ethos basis and you don’t want bad apples disrupting the environment.

I would imagine Ipswich will be targeting those players that would be considered a 'good egg' and appropriate for the club, and indeed with suitable talents on the pitch to make it an enjoyable season for the club.

  • With the significant American investment in Ipswich Town, what difference will this have on the club's approach to competing in the Premier League?

KM: What the owners will have done is they would’ve looked at clubs that have managed to get to the Premier League and stay there and they will be asking what have those clubs done that sets them apart.

Clubs like Brighton and Brentford have adopted 'buy smarter rather than a buy bigger' approach.

[They do that] by doing background checks, and you’ll be amazed at the depth - far beyond the YouTube reel that you might have looked at when in League One or League Two when recruiting a player.

This is a multi-million pound investment that you’ve got on the shoulders of a young man who may or may not speak English as a first or even second language, might have to acclimatise to the environment, the economy, the weather and so on.

The club would’ve been doing many background checks in regards to those. They will be making sure that if he was a Spanish speaker they’ve got Spanish-speaking staff so the player doesn’t feel left out.

Clubs really do the homework these days in order to make the transition a successful one because it’s in their interest for that to be the case. The evidence points out that the clubs who are taking a forensic approach tend to be more successful.

  • How much has the Premier League changed since 2002 when Ipswich were last promoted?

KM: If we took a take a look at Ipswich his last season in the Premier League, the total revenue generated by the club for that season was £37m. I would expect it to be £150m in 2024-25.

We have had the commercialisation of the game. I think Ipswich Town fans will have to become acclimatised to 3pm kick-offs becoming the exception rather than the norm.

Their pre-match routine will be impacted by that, but for most fans that’s an irritating price, but a price to be worth paying overall.

On the pitch you’ll be punished that much quicker by the big teams. You’ll be amazed by the speed of the Premier League compared to the Championship in terms of turnovers and breakaways. So it will be an exciting experience and it will be very different, but, as a fan, you have to enjoy every moment of it because you don't know how long it will last.

The Premier League is effectively three divisions. We've got the big six, and we know who they are. We've got the established middle class who are aspirational, the likes of Newcastle and Aston Villa, and then realistically you've got six or seven clubs at the bottom who are fighting not to be relegated.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know