The Premier League is widely donned as one of the biggest and most exciting leagues in the world. It commands a huge following not just in the UK, but around the world and with comes staggering investment and spend.
Like all professional leagues, there are teams that are bigger and have larger fan bases than others. This is usually based on the success of that team. This brings in royalties and opportunities that wouldn’t usually be available to other teams in the league that aren’t quite as popular.
The “Big Six” is a term used for the best the Premier League has to offer. These teams are:
These are the six teams that have dominated the top positions in the Premier League since around 2010. But it hasn’t always been the case that the group included six teams.
Originally from the around the turn of the Millennium, the term was the “Big Four” and with it this included Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. It was these four teams that were pretty much nailed on for the top 4 spots in the Premier League and had dominated over the course of the next decade or so.
Ironically, even though we now refer to this as six teams, only five of these teams have ever won the Premier League, with Tottenham still unable to get over the line. That being said, they have seen a remarkable improvement in recent years and have moved into a new stadium so are as strong as any of the “big six”.
Why Have These Six Teams Been So Dominant?
The main reason as to the team’s domination is the money they earn and then the money that they are willing spend. You see, the Premier League is very much a numbers game. The more money that you can invest on higher quality players, the stronger your team is going to be.
This makes sense, right? Well, it’s also worth noting that these teams will look to buy players just so their rivals and other teams can’t have them and this improves the clubs squad, without really improving the team’s first eleven.
Since 2011, it’s been reported that the Premier League makes more money as a whole than any other league in Europe. In 2020 it was reported that Premier League revenue had hit over €4.4 billion, with a huge percentage of this coming from the Big Six. The breakdowns were as follows:
As you can see, the Premier League has a huge hold across Europe, with 13 teams of the league in total within the 30 teams reported on around Europe. The big Six has a total revenue of around €3.4 billion, which is roughly 78% of the league’s total revenue from just these six teams.
It’s worth noting that the next highest for the Premier League is West Ham on €216 million. This is around half that of Tottenham and a third of what Man United generate to give you an idea of the sheer scale of the Big Six’s revenue streams.
The revenue that they generate means that they are able to flex their muscles more in the transfer market that other teams. It will probably come as little surprise to hear that the Big Six dominate the spending in the Premier League over the last 5 years.
Below figures are all Net Spend, meaning that this takes into account the money they make back from selling players and work it more as a net win/loss. All 6 teams have made a loss on transfer net spend.
- Manchester City – €625 million loss/net spend
- Manchester United – €538 million loss/net spend
- Arsenal – €289 million loss/net spend
- Chelsea – €228 million loss/net spend
- Liverpool – €215 million loss/net spend
- Tottenham – €31 million loss/net spend
Man City’s net spend is significantly higher than pretty much all of the Big Six, but this highlighted by the fact they have been the most successful team in the league over the last decade or so and look set to continue to dominate as long as they can keep on spending.
What is probably most interesting from these figures is the fact that Tottenham have only had a net spend of 31million over the last 5 years. This number is way down on their competitors so their success, you could argue, has been most impressive given that they have been able to balance the books better than the other teams.
Regardless, the fact that they have over 75% of total revenue in the league between the six teams means the money will continue to be spent and invested into new players and better facilities.
Who’s At The Top Of The Big Six?
We are going to run our numbers from 2009/10 as this is commonly regarded as the time the Big Four shifted to the Big Six, with both Tottenham and Man City starting to get into those illusive top four spots.
Big Six Premier League Finishes: 2009/10 to 2019/20
|Team||League Titles||Top 4 Finishes||Top Six Finishes|
In terms of winners, only Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool have won the league. Manchester City have won it four times, Chelsea have won it three times, United have won it twice and Liverpool once. The other winner comes in the form of Leicester City, who we talk about in more depth later in this article.
As you can see, this means that Tottenham and Arsenal and have failed to win the league in this time period. In fact, only Arsenal from those two have ever won it. So, whilst the Big Four has expanded to the Big Six, you could argue that there is still a large gap between being able to break into the Big Six and then winning the league.
If we were to not just look league titles and instead we look at consistency in getting into the Big Six, then the teams would change again. The constant is that of Man City who have been in the top six spots in the Premier every year since 2009/10 and the top four since 2010/11. No other team has been in the top four every season within that period.
Of the big six teams, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham have all spent one season each outside of the top six positions and Liverpool four seasons since 2009/10.
The Premier League ‘Without The Big Six’
Lots of people talk about leagues within a league when they refer to the Premier League. The fact of the matter is that only one team has infiltrated them since 2010, which makes it tough for the rest of the league to really get any standing.
So, whilst the Big Six scrap for honours such as league winners, Champions League sports and Europa League spots, the rest work to get as high a position as possible in order to gain more money in bonuses from finishing positions within the league.
Below you can see a chart that shows which club outside of the Big 6 finished in the highest league position between the 2009/10 season and the 2019/20 season.
This shows that the most successful non-big six team is Everton, however, their best league finish in that time was fifth, whereas Leicester City have been Champions.
Outside of Everton and Leicester, five other clubs have been the best of the rest when it comes to their final league position but none of these clubs have sustained pressure on the established major six teams.
If we were to take the results against the Big 6 teams also out of the equation, essentially having a 14 team division, does it change who the most successful team outside of the Big 6 is?
Premier League Winners W/O Big Six: 2009/10 – 2019/20
|Season||Winner W/O Big 6||Highest League Position|
|2009/10||Aston Villa||Aston Villa (6th)|
|2011/12||Newcastle United||Newcastle United (5th)|
|2015/16||Leicester City||Leicester City (1st)|
|2019/20||Leicester City||Leicester City (5th)|
As the table above shows, generally the team that finished highest in the league was also the team that won without games against the Big 6, however there are some exceptions.
In 2010/11, Everton finished in 7th behind all of the Big 6, but without results against the elite teams, Fulham would have been champions. In 2018/19, even though Wolves finished 7th, it was 11th placed Watford who would have won a 14-team Premier League.
Everton are still the most successful side with 3 wins, Leicester City are next best again with 2 wins.
This underlines our point about a league within a league and you could argue that all a lot of these teams are equally as capable as finishing top of this league as they would be to finishing the relegation spots.
Does this make it more exiting like this? Possibly. The financial spending power just from the revenue alone means that for any of these teams to compete is going to be very unlikely. Most fans appreciate that and realise that it won’t happen, so fighting within this league is as good as you will find for most.
Leicester City – Bucking The Trend
You may have noticed that we’ve not really spoken about the amazing feat that Leicester City achieved in 2015/16 season. It was so amazing that we wanted them to have their own segment.
We want to backtrack to the 2014/15 season to put their success in some context. At one point in that season, Leicester failed to win a Premier League game from the 21st September to the 28th December. This spanned for 13 games and they were bottom of the league.
They then had a couple of decent results, before again going on a baron spell of 8 games without a win. But, somehow with just 9 games left, they dragged themselves off the bottom of the league and won 7 from 9 league games in a remarkable turnaround.
This form was carried through to the 2015/16 season where they were listed as 500/1 to win the league. Of course, we all know what happened next. They amazingly went on to win the league and became the first winner outside of the “Big 4/6” to win the league since Blackburn Rovers in 1992/93 season.
Whilst the result of Leicester winning the league was truly amazing and a great story to tell the grandkids, the fact of the matter is that all it’s done is spark the Big Six into life to make sure that this never happens again.
How? By spending more money. Since the 2015/16 season Man City have a negative neg spend of over €400million, Man United over €300million, Liverpool over €150milllion and Chelsea over €200million.
They are making sure that they are at worst fighting for places in their own league of the Big six and almost make it a closed-door competition.
Can someone do “a Leicester” again? Probably not. At least, not from where Leicester have come from. There are clubs on the peripheral to this Big Six such as Everton, Newcastle United, West Ham and Wolves that could get wealthy owners and start to compete, but even this takes time.
But, as has been noted many times, the financial wealth of individuals almost isn’t enough these days. Clubs like Manchester City have the financial backing of Royalty from the UAE in the form of Mansour bin Zayed Al Anain. His net worth is reported for be around $40billion. So, when you think of £100million transfers fees being extortionate amounts of money, to him, they arent.
Is The Premier League “Boring” As A Result Of The Big Six?
A common argument that you hear from people is that the Premier League is boring given that the same teams win every year. Whilst it could be argued that the league isn’t as exciting as it once was, the dominance of the Big Six can’t be used as an excuse.
You see, it’s very common for a handful of teams win any of the major leagues around Europe. Since 2009/10 the Premier League has had 4 different winners. In the same period La Liga in Spain has had just 3 different winners. You can go back another 10 years in La Liga to 2000/01 where there have been just 4 winners in total.
The Germany the Bundesliga has an even smaller pool of winners with just two from 2009/10. In fact, Bayern Munich have won eight league titles in a row between 2012/13 and 2019/20.
Serie A in Italy has had 3 winners since 2009/10. Juventus have had a winning streak of nine league title in a row stretching from the 2011/12 season to 2019/20.
So, the argument that Premier League is not competitive enough compared to the top leagues across Europe is simply not true. In fact, you would be able to argue that is more competitive than any of the top leagues and therefore, more exciting.
The Rich Get Richer
TV money that is one of the main incomes for most Premier League clubs has topped the £5billion mark in 2019. As per previous seasons, the UK-based deals with the likes of Sky Sports and BT Sport were set out on a performance basis. Basically, the higher you finished in the league, the more money that you got.
But the way that overseas TV money was set up worked differently. This money was instead distributed to clubs evenly, regardless of where they finished in the league. So, if it was £200million total, each team would get £10million each regardless of their position.
The Big six argued that this was unfair. They stated that they were shown on TV more often and as a result commanded bigger audiences. The smaller teams were making money on the back of the success and performances for the bigger teams.
Representatives from Manchester City and Liverpool first put together a proposal in 2018 to see the money be distributed based on league position. This proposal was backed by the remaining four “members” of the Big Six; Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea.
The deal was eventually passed in June 2018 and from the 2019 season onwards the TV money would be distributed based on the position they finish in the league. Whilst initially rejected by other teams within the league, it was eventually passed with all teams on board and a stop-loss in place to allow the discrepancy between the highest earner and lowest be just 1.8x the difference.
The Future Of The Big Six
The goal for pretty much every team within the league is break into the Big Six, or at least it is for those outside. The reality of this happening is going to be very tough.
The history of the Premier League winners shows just how hard it is for teams to break the mould. Heck, there are even two teams that are major parts of the Big Six that have never won the Premier League!
It all comes down to money at the end of the day. Ten years ago, few would have predicated Manchester City’s upswing in success and now sees them as one of the biggest and richest clubs in the worlds. The only way that this will happen again is if someone comes in with vast sums of money to splash at a club.
The thing is, we aren’t just talking about a few hundred million here, we are talking billions. All clubs have millionaire owners these days, but it’s just not enough.
If a team is going to break into the Big Six or even create a “Big Seven” or “Big Eight” then they are going to need money, and lots of it!
In 2021, plans were unveiled for the Premier League’s Big Six to become founder members of a European Super League alongside Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan. Whatever happens to this concept in the future, it seems the Big 6 will only become more powerful.