If you were ever stuck for something to watch, and I mean really stuck, your last channel of choice would almost certainly be something on Parliament Live TV. The merest hint of anything to do with the House of Commons is typically a massive ‘no’ at the thought!
However, if ever you’re feeling brave, delving into a Commons Select Committee debate, you’ll discover it’s where the grown-ups do Parliamentary business. They are, typically, cross-party committees, where all political allegiances are put aside to debate key issues.
Yesterday, was the turn of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, hearing the latest updates in relation to the Fan-Led Review and the subsequent Government white paper.
Its witnesses included Tracey Crouch, together with Debbie Hewitt, chair of the FA, Rick Parry, chair of the English Football League, and, finally, but not least, Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League.
As you’d expect, one of the hottest topics of conversation and questioning centred around the protection of the English football pyramid and, more importantly, the distribution of TV monies throughout the wider game, including down to grassroots levels.
To most fans, even those supporting the elite teams at the top of the Premier League, protecting the fabric of the game is seen as paramount.
However, there’s a conflict with that assertion, because, irrespective of which team you support, everyone, from club owners and directors, through to the fans, all of them want their team to have more money. And, despite assertions to the contrary that claim football isn’t an ordinary business, money drives everything in the game.
And, therein lies the next problem, because, whatever personal view you have of the Premier League, it’s a hugely successful business operation – commercially. It’s the most successful league in the world and its combined media deals, both domestically and internationally, generate in excess of £3bn each year.
By contrast, the EFL’s deal generates a more modest £150m per annum. For context, that’s less than 4 percent of the annual equivalent of the Premier League.
The Premier League does, of course, make solitary payments to the EFL, which actually pays more to Championship clubs than the EFL’s own media deals. However, the biggest beef for the EFL is that a significant proportion of the monies received are in the form of parachute payments.
These are well-known arguments to all fans and are not really worth repeating here. It’s easy to make an argument to support either side and, I’d suggest, any particular point of view is likely to be influenced by whether your particular club receives them, or not.
Personally, I think that it’s a relatively lazy argument to focus just on the revenue differences between clubs with parachute payments and those without, as it’s just one side of the equation. Wages still have to be paid and it remains a fact that revenues from media deals fall far quicker than players’ wages, even with the existence of relegation clauses in contracts.
Additionally, players with Premier League experience generally tend to be of greater quality than those regularly employed by Championship clubs. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that recently relegated clubs tend to be towards the top end of the Championship the following season.
But back to the main point – how best to preserve the pyramid and achieve a better distribution throughout the game. It’s a tough question to answer, as seemed to be the case for Richard Masters when pressed on the issue by the select committee. The gap is almost so wide that an increase is likely to be insufficient to bridge the gap. That may suit the well-established Premier League clubs, but every year, three teams are relegated and, irrespective of the wealth of their owners, are going to be financially challenged upon demotion.
As things presently stand, the Premier League has indicated that it is willing to increase its distribution to the EFL, but they see the preservation of parachute payments as sacrosanct, even if any revised distribution also sees the introduction of some form of merit payments to Championship clubs – the higher you finish, the more money you receive.
Unfortunately, the Premier League holds all the power, and any concessions from them seem to come with strings attached. They are adamant that the game should be run more sustainably, which is ironic, given that a number of Premier League clubs aren’t exactly run on that same basis.
Something has to give, otherwise the most likely outcome is something imposed upon football by the proposed independent regulator. And that could be at least a couple of years away from happening.