Opportunity, uncertainty await Premier League champions Leicester

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London (AFP)

As Leicester City's supporters awoke on Tuesday, fuzzy of head and bleary of eye after celebrating their fairytale Premier League triumph, the club were already entering a new sporting and financial dimension.

It is estimated that Leicester's 5,000-1 success could be worth around £155 million ($227.5 million, 196.4 million euros) in revenue to the modest east Midlands club, up from £104.4 million for last year.

The title, the first in Leicester's 132-year history, means Champions League football next season and access to lucrative global sports markets, but it also brings with it a dizzying change of status.

"This is going to really elevate them, at least for one season, to the next level commercially and you would expect that they'll be able to attract commercial sponsors that previously weren't available to them," Tim Bridge from financial consultants Deloitte's Sports Business Group told AFP.

"But there is a financial cost -- they'll have to invest in players in order to compete in the Champions League, they're going to pay out financial bonuses for winning the league -- so it isn't just upsides."

The improbability of Leicester's achievement in winning the world's most popular domestic football championship, a year after narrowly avoiding relegation, is laid bare by the financial statistics.

At around £57 million, their squad cost an eighth of Manchester City's -- the most expensive in the division -- and their estimated wage bill of £48.5 million ranks 17th out of the Premier League's 20 clubs.

Their ticket prices are concordantly low, with a BBC study last year revealing that Leicester's lowest-priced £22 match-day ticket was the cheapest in the division.

They were already guaranteed a slice of the Premier League's eye-watering new £8 billion television rights deal and Champions League participation will bring in up to £35 million, rising to around £50 million if they reach the knockout phase.

Leicester's surge to the Premier League summit saw their Facebook page grow by 540 percent, according to sports data and marketing firm Repucom, which made it one of the fastest-growing accounts in global sport.

Worldwide television audiences have grown by an estimated 23 percent.

- Vultures -

Leicester are unsurprisingly popular in Thailand, home of owners King Power, and are now well placed to exploit the Premier League's expansion into new commercial realms such as the United States and, in particular, China.

Claudio Ranieri's men will get their first taste of international exposure when they tackle Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain during the star-studded International Champions Cup friendly tournament in July and August.

But keeping their team intact will depend on the club's success in fending off interest in players such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, both of whom recently signed new contracts.

"Not only do we have more money coming into the game from broadcast contracts next season, so Premier League clubs will have more money at their disposal than ever before, but you've also got the influence of a major tournament in the summer (Euro 2016)," said Bridge.

"Transfer activity is likely to be the highest in value terms that it has ever been. The challenge for Leicester is, how do we keep hold of those players and how do we plan for the future in a sustainable manner?"

Club vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, known as Top, is adamant that Leicester will not cede their stars, telling Channel 3 television in Thailand that they are "not the team that will sell players".

Leicester may need to tweak the shrewd recruitment model that saw Vardy and Mahrez acquired for a combined fee of just £1.4 million, but Top said that the club had already contacted transfer targets.

England's last first-time title-winners, Brian Clough's feted 1977-78 Nottingham Forest side, famously went on to lift the European Cup in the following two seasons.

But the last unfancied team to win the title, Blackburn Rovers in 1995, collapsed to seventh in the league the following season, crashed and burned in the Champions League and were relegated four years later.

Leicester's ability to manage the flood of commercial opportunities coming their way and resist the vultures circling above their players will go a long way towards determining which example they follow.