- English Premier League club Sunderland sack Uruguayan manager Gus Poyet
- Heavy home defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday final straw for U.S. owner Ellis Short
- Relegation from English top flight could cost clubs hundreds of millions of dollars
- New EPL television deal due to begin in 2016 worth a seismic $7.8 billion
(CNN)Its a high stakes game of stick or twist with billions of dollars at stake.
Traditionally at this time of year, a clutch of nervous owners in charge of struggling clubs in England's top flight grapple with the prospect of relegation, and the enormous hole it threatens to blow in their finances.
Do they stick by a floundering manager hoping he can regroup and lead his team out of the mire, or do they get rid and hope the appointment of new coach can transform its fortunes?
On Monday, Sunderland's American owner Ellis Short elected to twist and fired the club's Uruguayan manager Gus Poyet, confirmed by a statement on its official website.
Less than a year ago Poyet masterminded a miraculous run of form that saw the north east outfit triumph at Chelsea and Manchester United in order to stave off the threat of demotion.
Now that task is for someone else as Short and Sunderland try to protect the cool $106m it pocketed last season, with one eye on the new television deal in 2016 that's worth over $7.8 billion to the Premier League's 20 clubs.
"It's inevitable Sunderland will have been thinking about money," Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University, told CNN.
"Particularly television money, because it now accounts for over 50% of most, if not all, Premier League clubs' turnover.
"It'd be very easy to say they are thinking long term about money and long term about the next television contract but in reality, very often it is short term thinking.
"Whilst I'm sure Sunderland are mindful of what's going to happen in 2016, they'll be even more mindful of what's going to happen in the summer of 2015 if they go down."
The tipping point came Saturday when fellow strugglers Aston Villa fired in four unanswered first-half goals against Sunderland, having scored four away goals in its previous 14 Premier League matches.
Some fans streamed out of the Stadium of Light before halftime while one group tried to storm the home dugout to confront Poyet.
It left Sunderland just one point away from the drop zone and was enough to convince billionaire Short to swing the axe, the financial implications no doubt rattling round his mind.
Even though Cardiff City, which finished bottom of the Premier League last season, still banked $92.1m for its efforts, the disparity between tiers one and two in England is vast.
"Most obviously, the TV revenues from the Premier League deal," Chadwick answered when asked what Sunderland stands to lose if it does fall through the trapdoor.
"Also attendances tend to diminish rapidly so your two biggest sources of revenue are almost instantaneously undermined.
"I wouldn't want to put a figure on it but you're talking tens of millions heading up towards potentially hundreds of millions."
Ironically, Aston Villa were marshaled to victory on Saturday by its new manager Tim Sherwood, installed in the wake of Paul Lambert's sacking in February.
Villa's American owner Randy Lerner, who is in the process of trying to sell the club, decided to act after a miserable run of form that saw them score just 12 goals in its opening 25 EPL matches.
After Saturday's win, the Birmingham club is now three points clear of the relegation places and Short will be hoping for a similar bounce when he appoints a new man.
According to Chadwick, research shows a change of manager at this late stage of the campaign can provide all-important impetus, but he argues there are few "impact managers" available at present.
And he suggests the approach of Short and Lerner proves American owners still don't fully understand the dynamic of English football as well as they perhaps should.
"It's easy to succumb to fan pressure and results but there's a particular culture in football generally -- obviously inside clubs as well -- and I'm not sure American owners are in tune with that," he said.
"We've seen it with Aston Villa -- this is probably a prime example of an owner that many people speak highly of even now but I don't think they understand local communities or the somewhat parochial nature sometimes of English football still.
"So they are making decisions that are not entirely culturally consistent with their experiences and the experiences of English football clubs."
Chadwick also says the bumper television revenue afforded to clubs in modern football has created a tiered Premier League in which few teams outside the established giants can realistically expect to compete at the top end.
"In one sense, it's always been like this," he said. "You go back to the 1980s when Liverpool were dominant -- some teams knew they weren't going to be champions.
"I think the television revenues have cemented that position of the dominant teams.
"Whilst the Premier League would argue it's a progressive system in the sense that the collective deal does allocate finances to clubs that perhaps those in Spain don't have, even so, such is the magnitude of the payments made to the achieving clubs its almost inevitable you will get the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and the rest dominating.
"For the likes of the north east clubs Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough it is great if they can get there, even better if they can stay there."