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.
Dan Rear says
What’s that old cliche ; there are few problems in life that can’t be made worse by well-meaning political interference.
Gary Field says
Ha! It’s a fair observation. To be honest, football has had plenty of opportunities to get its own act together and self-regulation is generally considered to have failed.
That said, the EFL does seem further along the track on FFP than the Premier League.
Well said Dan.
FIFA and UEFA in the not-so-distant past have fought again governmental interest in football affairs. How does this differ from those?
Outspoken multi-millionaire ex-footballers are pushing for this with ministers with very little experience in running a football club jumping on the bandwagon.
Businesses that are run badly and disappear from the high street every day and are just as much a community asset as a football club, but we don’t see someone appointed to oversee the failing of small businesses.
The government see all this money coming in and will be more interested to see how much they can take in taxes to cover overspending in other areas. Yes, the EPL and the EFL should work more closely on a financial package.
The successful clubs are run by successful businessmen and they will not hang around long if the government imposes regulations against good business practices.
Will an ombudsman for football be a good thing? I don’t know, the EPL needs to help the pyramid – that I agree – but bailing poorly run clubs isn’t going to help said clubs in the long run. They will just keep going back to the begging bowl for handouts.
Gary Field says
The FIFA and UEFA examples were completely different compared to what’s proposed here. The involvement of the independent regulator would, ultimately, be somewhat limited, but is likely to be far better than the current “free market, self regulation approach that we have at the moment.
I think the successful clubs tend to be run by billionaires who have no interest in financial return from football. Very few clubs make a profit
There are only four English majority-owned clubs in the Premiership out of the twenty clubs.
There are only ten English majority-owned clubs in the Championship – NCFC included although MWJ is actually Welsh – no disrespect to our Welsh cousins.
Thirteen and sixteen English majority-owned in Leagues One and Two respectively. Easy to see where football is seen as… sexiest!
What comes first for the Fan-led adjudicators, ownership, globality or national interest? Is it all to be decided from an egalitarian perspective? Is English football still an all-round national treasure? The latter, maybe yes given the effects relegation, receivership and point-loss has on communities.
Whether we like it or not we have to accept the Premiership and TV interests will continue to hold the high ground, although I wonder what would happen if one of the UK TV interests televised a selected Championship game live, early evening on a Saturday or Sunday, going big with all the additional opportunities for tv coverage and analysis – would it be a shooting-star moment, or a financial flop in comparison to the current status quo.
Pretty sure the Premiership will carry on conducting it’s affairs ‘as-is’, for then, poor EFL clubs will always need to sell their talent to hungry EPL clubs!
The last time I watched Parliament on tv was a defence debate, I think the government actually achieved complete polarity by saying (1) the Armed Forces were safe, and (2), they were planning more defence cuts. – That was at least 20,000 squaddies ago, and still politicians dance around their handbags over the great need for renewed National Service in the UK!
Also vaguely recall watching some of the Brexit stuff.
If politics was something conducted by ‘grown-ups’ Gary, the entire globe would not be afire and abounding with stupidity!
Tim Ball says
Very interesting piece Gary.
One thing that must change is the balance of wages to income in the EFL. Particularly the in the Championship.
So many Championship clubs, ourselves included, have been reported to spend 107%, 135%, 161% and get this…. 226%* of their total income on wages. It was Reading* by the way. Who is their recruitment chief ? Mr Magoo ?
This is absolute madness.
We are presently 3rd in the list of the biggest wage bills in the championship. But Sunderland, Millwall, Coventry and Luton all have a wage bills a quarter of ours or less. And to my mind they are performing way in excess of their income, we all know that we are not.
I have a feeling that next year without any help from our American cousins it won’t be anywhere near £23 million.
I agree with you Gary, that the parachute payment debate sits on where your team are in the league, but the teams that will get promoted to the EPL in the future and the parachute payments are stopped and shared more equably in the Championship, won’t spend once they go up as without it as the risk financially will be too great.
So it will be even less competitive. So make that 3 Norwich City’s struggling to 20 points, or even worse. Derby County ???
The trouble is once you are on the gravy train you will do anything to stay there. Look at Crystal Palace who have gone back to Roy Hodgson. I like and admire Roy, but he is not the future, Patrick Viera was going through a rough time but needed support from his chairman. His fixtures were a nightmare but were in most of those games. They just couldn’t score, we know that feeling.
I am 100% sure he would have turned it around, but panic takes over.
With all these new competitions coming in my opinion it will be a farce as the top teams will basically have two squads. Squad one for Europe and Squad two for the EPL.
Who thought the UEFA Nations League was a good idea? The greedy buggars at UEFA that’s who.
It is all about money. Manchester United are now £500 million in debt but their owners the Glasers have taken out of the club £25 million a year. The stand is way out of date as is their training ground.
The new Fit and Proper test for EPL ownership is a load of codswallop. You are only penalised for human rights violations and WORSE as long as they are present crimes, from a few years ago… nah that’s fine, just be good boys from now on.