By Tony Attwood
“I totally respect the Premier League as a successful business that generates an enormous amount of income and brings some of the best players in the world to these shores,” said the shadow sports minister in the UK, Clive Efford, recently.
“But the way the finances are sucked in perpetuates a culture of greed and far too little of it filters down to develop sport at the grassroots. I think that is something the Premier League needs to consider.”
And the greed is the greed of… well he doesn’t say, but the implication is, the players who simply sell themselves to the highest bidding clubs.
So with such a vague statement we can be sure that nothing new will happen and the debate this week will explode on all the usual fronts:
1. “Arsenal is the most expensive football club in the world to watch” without any explanation as to the source of their income, their self-sufficiency, the £10 tickets for league cup matches (all the way up to league cup semi-finals), the fact that the majority of clubs’ away support find that going to Islington to watch Arsenal involves a cheaper entry fee than going to watch their own club at home.
2. “Football clubs are greedy” except that there will be no talk about the involvement of the funds behind Manchester City and Chelsea, the need for others to keep up if they wish to compete, and no recognition of the (admittedly admirable) way in which Man U has sold itself as a worldwide brand for fifty years, and the impossibility of catching up with that.
3. “We should have more English players in the Premier League” which has nothing to do with the debate but always finds its way in, as a way of stopping any proper debate over the failure of the FA to build proper pitches for youngsters, or why the FA accepts sponsorships from Macdonalds, and how the FA spent a fortune on Wembley and is still trying to manage the debt.
4. Britain is fighting an obesity crisis which an interest in football could help counter, but doesn’t, because, oh, there are hardly any pitches for grassroots football and the money comes from a burger chain that doesn’t actually welcome discussion on heathy eating and activity.
5. Players wages should be capped – without any debate on how this might be achieved. (Debate is now no longer good, because it confuses the readers of the mass media – so best not to get involved).
It is true that the Premier League has consulted a number of supporters’ groups across the country to discuss ticket pricing, and of course the media will bring back pictures of Manchester City’s protest against Arsenal prices, while ignoring the fact that Arsenal supporters were delighted to pick up the unwanted tickets at the same price once they became available.
Certainly the Premier League 4 Sport and allied programmes is doing far more than the morally, politically and financially bankrupt FA to promote grassroots sport and engage with communities. But even so much more could be done.
The FA lost its Sport England funding after failing to use it to build artificial turf pitches for the communities it is supposed to serve (it blamed the weather and spent the money on its mortgage of Wembley), and has since spent its time talking about various grandiose schemes for more community pitches while hiding in the small print the fact that it has no idea how any of them are going to be funded. And so none of them are.
The Football Supporters’ Federation has been running a Twenty’s Plenty campaign to suggest that £20 should be the admission price for away fans. Arsenal is close to this already with the majority of its matches, but for goodness sake don’t let anyone tell the press. They already have the headlines written.
Efford also said, “All the indications are that the total income will go up. If all that does is feed huge wages for players, makes more money for agents there is something seriously wrong. There are all sorts of things we could do in conjunction with the Premier League if they were less greedy.”
Except we live in a capitalist state and capitalism is built primarily on greed. Many people in the UK would agree that what we have is a government of the rich by the rich for the rich. Perhaps not a majority share that view but quite a few do, which is why there is such an upturn in support for the Green Party in England, the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales – the nearest things we have now to left wing parties. If that group came to power the Premier League and FA would quickly learn what was required of it.
Currently the Premier League takes a sixth of its overall income and redistributes it beyond the clubs in the Premier League. Which is nice, except that the bulk of this goes to the relegated clubs.
And in considering this you also have to remember that the Premier League has abjectly failed to take up the mantle of the Championship’s efforts to curb insane expenditure. Clubs that break the FFP rules in the Championship get fined. But if those clubs get promoted to the Premier League the Premier League wants nothing to do with the system – and refuses to do anything about such clubs. So the fines are not going to be collected.
So we have the insanity of clubs like QPR knowing that relegation back to the Championship will now mean that the Football League wants nothing to do with them, and they will have to apply for membership of the Conference.
In 1999 the Premier League agreed to give 5% of its broadcasting income to the support of grass roots football. In return the government agreed to allow the collective selling of TV rights. The Premier League has never once honoured that deal. The government has done what is commonly known as “sweet FA” (or in politer circles, nothing) over this point.
The regulator Ofcom which is supposed to regulate such matters has said that it will take action against the Premier League if it is ever ruled that the collected auction of TV rights restricts competition.
But I suspect holding one’s breath on this one might result in an early demise.
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