How much is the Championship play-off final worth? Coventry and Luton battle for ‘biggest financial prize in football’

The Athletic

Coventry City will play Luton Town in this season’s Championship play-off final on Saturday.

The two teams meet knowing a place in the Premier League is up for grabs, with a spot in England’s top flight holding the potential to dramatically change either club’s fortunes both on and off the pitch.

Promotion via the play-off final earns you a trophy but also a much more sought after prize with the financial boost that comes for the team that goes up.

“This weekend’s contest at Wembley offers the biggest financial prize in world football and will be a great advertisement for the Championship after another thrilling season,” Zal Udwadia, assistant director in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, says.

“With both sides eyeing a return to the top flight for the first time in over two decades, the stakes are high. Both Coventry City and Luton Town were competing against each other in League Two just five seasons ago – a testament to the strength, opportunity and competition in the English Football League pyramid.

“This weekend’s prize will play a crucial role in helping to recruit playing talent, as well as investing in infrastructure and fan experience to give the promoted side the best chance of remaining amongst the best teams in England.”

But how much do you get for winning the Championship play-off final and what impact can it have on the losing team? The Athletic explains…

How much is winning the Championship play-off final really worth? 

According to Deloitte Sports Business Group, reaching the top flight via the Championship play-off final in 2022-23 will earn the winner an increase in revenue of at least £170million across the next three seasons.

This figure could rise to more than £290m if the club avoids relegation after their first season in the Premier League.

Deloitte, the accounting firm, estimates one season in the Premier League will bring additional revenues of at least £90m.

Add on two years of guaranteed parachute payments (the extra financial support that the Premier League gives to relegated clubs), worth close to £80m, and the play-off final will likely yield approximately £170m across three years to its winners, even if their stay in the top flight only lasts 12 months.


Parachute payments? They are more like rocket boosters – why EFL clubs want them scrapped

Parachute payments ensure relegated clubs get 55 per cent of the central distribution that every Premier League club receive in their first season in the EFL, and 45 per cent in year two. Clubs that had been in the Premier League for more than one season qualify for a final payment in year three at 20 per cent.

Nottingham Forest, who won promotion to the Premier League last season after beating Huddersfield Town in the Championship play-off final, secured a third year of parachute payments if they go down after managing to stay up following their win against Arsenal. They will also receive some sort of merit payment, like all Premier League teams, when financial records for payments to clubs are eventually published for the 2022-23 season. 

Forest won promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs last season (Photo: Getty Images)

Brentford, who secured a 13th place finish during their debut Premier League season, secured merit payments of close to £15m in 2021-22. Avoiding relegation in their first season also secured a third year of parachute payments if they eventually go down. 

There is therefore a chance that one of Coventry or Luton receives nearly £300m between now and 2028. 

“Spent wisely, it’s genuinely transformational money,” Tim Bridge, a director in the Sports Business Group at Deloitte, told The Athletic in 2021. “Maintaining your position in the Premier League is the biggest prize. That’s how you can create a fully sustainable football club.”

What can happen to teams that do not win the Championship play-off final? 

A lot of this depends on the financial stability of clubs and how much they are impacted. 

To begin with, the winners of the play-off final usually pay the losing team a share of their gate receipts. This is a traditional gentlemen’s agreement, which is usually in the region of £2m. 

Huddersfield went one further than that six years ago, though.

Former owner Dean Hoyle has previously revealed that £4m was given to Reading following their penalty shootout victory, which was settled when defender Christopher Schindler knocked the ball past goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, because an agreement had been struck between the two clubs in advance of the final that would see a consolation prize created.

But we have also seen the dark side of losing a Championship play-off final in recent seasons, with clubs gambling so much on earning promotion. 

Derby County lost the Championship play-off final 2-1 to Aston Villa in 2019 and ended up in administration, stacked up with debts and now in League One, having just missed out on the play-offs this season. 

Reading lost to Huddersfield in the 2016-17 Championship play-off final on penalties and have suffered recent financial troubles and relegation to League One. They were deducted six points in April this year following a breach of the EFL’s financial rules. 



The list of losers in the Championship play-off final shows why it is the ultimate game of jeopardy

Sheffield Wednesday lost 1-0 in the Championship play-off final in 2016 and were eventually relegated from the second tier in 2021 following a turbulent period under owner Dejphon Chansiri. 

All of those three clubs came so close to earning promotion and their lives would have been so different if they had won those games. 

How can the money change the fortunes of clubs? 

A lot of this is down to how clubs spend their money. 

For example, salary increases typically kick in for a promoted clubs’ existing players, as do bonuses.

Forest spent over £150m on new signings in the summer transfer window and have managed to stay up, with the club also paying out £21m in “promotion-related payments.”

There has, however, been examples of clubs failing to control their budgets properly. 

Huddersfield are an example of this. No money was saved from their time spent in the Premier League, with former chairman Phil Hodgkinson telling The Athletic in 2021 that they “received £197m in prize money but spent £230m on playing wages and transfer fees.”

Huddersfield won promotion to the Premier League in 2017 but were relegated in 2019 (Photo: Getty Images)

“It’s very easy to sit there and say that a club is going to receive £170m and everything suddenly looks rosy,” Deloitte’s Bridge said to The Athletic in 2021.

“The reality is often different.

“How you use that £170m is equally important to the long-term future of the club as the on-pitch performance. Careful planning and adept transfer spending are absolutely essential to make the most of that financial prize on offer.

“We’ve seen lots of examples where clubs will spend heavily in the transfer window following promotion and it just burdens them for a number of seasons post-relegation. It ultimately means the £170m is essentially a little bit worthless.”

How did Coventry and Luton make the Championship play-off final?

Coventry, who finished fifth in the Championship, reached the play-off final after overcoming Middlesbrough 1-0 across two legs.

Mark Robins’ side outlasted Middlesbrough in the second semi-final, with Gustavo Hamer’s second-half goal enough to leave them one game from the Premier League.

Luton, meanwhile, beat Sunderland 3-2 on aggregate over two legs in the other semi.

It is quite the story for the two clubs, with both having been together in League Two as recently as 2017-18 season.

When and where is the Championship play-off final? 

This season’s Championship play-off final between Coventry and Luton takes place on Saturday, May 27 at Wembley Stadium. 

The match will kick off at 4.45pm BST (11.45am ET/8.45am PT) and will be live to UK viewers on Sky Sports.

(Photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

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