Does spending a lot save newly promoted Premier League teams from relegation?

The English Football League Championship playoff final is often referred to as the “the richest game in football” due to the substantial windfall its winner receives from joining the Premier League. Through a combination of guaranteed shareholder returns and streaming money, newly promoted teams can make hundreds of millions more per season in the Premier League than they would in the Championship. Not a bad incentive for clubs struggling at the second level of the English pyramid, possibly the the most physically demanding league in the world — especially since most of them operate on razor-thin margins, even in the best of times. (And these are certainly not the best of times.)

Last season, the Championship playoff final was won by Nottingham Forest, a former giant of European football. Forest was a dominant force in the late 1970s and into the 1980s; it was the champion of England for the 1977-78 season and won back-to-back Champions League titles (yes, that Champions League) in 1978-79 and 1979-80. But the last three decades haven’t been so kind to the Tricky Trees, who have mostly languid in the second or third division of English football. Before this season, the players who wore the iconic red Forest shirts last kicked a ball in the Premier League in 1999.

Now that Forest are finally back in the Premier League, they will benefit from the cash injection that comes with their recovered status, and they are already looking to use that to stay at the top tier of the sport. But will it work?

Due to the riches associated with Premier League football, clubs that manage to rise to the big boys would do almost anything to stay there, which mainly means spending eye-popping sums in the transfer market on better players. In that sense, Forest is no different than his newly promoted predecessors. Since the summer transfer window opened in June, Forest has spent a net amount north of $155 million to strengthen his squad, the second-biggest payout in Premier League history for a newly promoted team after adjusting for inflation. And there are signs that you may not have finished shopping yet. (Forest has until September 1 to buy more players. The next window opens in 2023 for the entire month of January.)

Forest went on a spree after being promoted

Highest net transfer outlay for newly promoted English Premier League clubs in a season, 1992–2022

Club Season Raw adjusted for inflation
Aston-Villa 2019-20 $172.2 $199.5
nottingham forest 2022-23 155.2 155.2
Fulham 2018-19 122.3 144.3
Leeds United 2020-21 117.5 134.5
Wolverhampton Wanderers 2018-19 98.4 116.1
watford 2015-16 80.4 100.5
Sunderland 2007-08 67.2 96.1
Fulham 2001-02 54.5 91.3
sheffield united 2019-20 77.2 89.4
Brighton and Hove Albion 2017-18 72.7 87.9

Inflation-adjusted figures are stated in 2022 US dollars.


This is part of a steady trend of rising spending for newly promoted clubs. Since the dawn of the Premier League era, they have spent, on average, approximately $32 million (all figures adjusted for inflation) on the transfer market to prepare for the post-promotion season. But that figure rose sharply, to an average of more than $47 million, in the second half of this period, from the 2007-08 season onward. There were only three instances of newly promoted clubs spending $40 million or more on transfers from 1992-93 to 2006-07; there have been 21 cases since then, including 13 from a team that spent at least $60 million. Forest may be an outlier – they are only the second newly promoted club in league history to eclipse the $150m mark – but given the trend of things, it might not be for long.

To be fair to Forest, he actually had no choice but to spend a lot. Four of the club’s 11 starters from the EFL Championship final they were at the club on loan deals and left after the season ended. Roster depth is key to success in the Premier League, especially now that clubs can make five substitutions per game. Also, Forest might still be traumatized by the 1998-99 seasonwhen they entered the Premier League with a negative net spend, meaning they actually sold more on the transfer market than they bought, and quickly slipped back down again after finishing last.

It could also fuel that fear that 45 per cent of newly promoted teams have been relegated by the end of their first Premier League season. But the good news for Forest is that spending a lot seems to protect newly promoted clubs. Of the seven newly promoted teams that spent $90m or more on the transfer market, only one – Fulham in 2018-19 – were relegated after their first season in the EPL. And 82 percent of newly promoted teams that spent more than $50 million also stayed in Year 1.

Still, just as money can’t buy history, it doesn’t guarantee success either. Forest’s illustrious past means he’s not worried about the former. The latter remains to be seen, although it cannot be said that he is not trying.

Take a look at our latest football predictions.

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