RPT-Soccer-Premier League set to rein in runaway spending
(Repeats for screen clients)
By Keith Weir
LONDON Feb 7 (Reuters) - England's Premier League clubs are expected to agree rules on Thursday to ensure that a 5 billion pound ($7.8 billion) television cash windfall is not frittered away in higher pay for players.
Featuring clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, the 20-team Premier League is the richest in the world for revenues. However, clubs spend around 70 percent of their income on lavish player wages, leaving little over for profit.
Alarmed by the state of clubs' finances across the continent, European soccer's governing body (UEFA) has introduced rules that will force leading teams to move towards breakeven or face exclusion from its competitions.
Top leagues in Germany and Spain have already adopted financial controls for their clubs and the pressure is now on the Premier League to act.
"It's very positive. We can only encourage the Premier League," UEFA General-Secretary Gianni Infantino said this week when asked about proposed curbs.
Most clubs agree that something needs to be done but the exact details of cost control have been the subject of hard bargaining over the last few months. The agreement of 14 of the 20 clubs is needed for proposals to advance.
Arsenal and Manchester United are among top clubs who have cast aside long-standing rivalries to push for full adoption of UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) breakeven rules.
Chelsea, owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and winners of the Champions League last season, want club owners to have more freedom to spend to build a team.
Chelsea, who in any case say they are on course to meet UEFA's rules, are expected to back a compromise on Thursday which would place a ceiling on owner investment and cap annual increases in a club's spending on player wages.
Critics of FFP argue that it will reinforce the balance of power in the Premier League and prevent clubs from emulating the rapid ascent enjoyed by Chelsea and Premier League champions Manchester City in recent years. City's rise has been underwritten by cash from Abu Dhabi.
Premier League clubs stand to benefit from enhanced three-year TV contracts in August, having secured a 70 percent hike in the value of the domestic deal. Overseas rights with broadcasters including NBC in the United States are expected to push the total value of TV rights over 5 billion pounds.
The need to make best use of that bounty is focusing minds among club executives and adding to the impetus to reach an agreement on Thursday.
($1 = 0.6382 British pounds) (Writing by Keith Weir, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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