By Tony Attwood
Although the Premier League plays its games in England, there is little that is English about it. The number of players per club who start a match and who are qualified to play for England is 33% – but not all of these are “English” in the normal sense of the word, since “being qualified for England” can happen if one’s grandmother was English.
As for the people who own the Premier League clubs, when we look at the dominant shareholders in each club we have the ownership of the 20 clubs spread around nine countries.
The dominant ownership country is still the UK, with seven clubs (35% of the league clubs) owned by British people, although we have stretched this a little as Everton is owned by a British Iranian living in Monaco while the dominant shareholder in Tottenham lives in the USA. But they are British, so we count them.
The second most common ownership is the USA (four clubs, thus 20%) and then China (3 clubs, 15%). And throughout of course we are looking at the individual mega-wealthy owners. Here is the list…
- Abu Dhabi: Manchester City
- China: Southampton, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Egypt: Aston Villa
- Italy: Leeds United
- Israel: Chelsea. The owner also has Russian citizenship.
- Saudi Arabia: Sheffield United
- Thailand: Leicester City
- UK: Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United
- USA: Arsenal, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester United
All of which makes the point that there isn’t anything particularly English about the Premier League other than the fact that it is played in England.
Of course being played in England means the League is subject to English law and has to pay English tax, but given that it is an independent organisation, beyond the fact that it has to obey English legislation, that’s about it in terms of Englishness. The League doesn’t have an owner as such – the clubs that are playing in the league are in fact the owners. Put another way, the league is a corporation in which the member clubs act as shareholders.
Now that of course can be problematic as we have recently seen, where a small group of clubs can come up with an idea for a change in the way the league is run – a change which of course will benefit themselves and be to the detriment of others. Indeed, given the way the thinking has been going, it is possible that one day the League might announce that it is now a closed shop, with no relegation from now on.
The fans might not like it, and the Championship clubs would not like it, but the PL clubs could do it, since there are no owners of the league other than themselves.
This is not an issue the media generally concerns itself with, but it was interesting to see that the Athletic (a publication of which I am often critical) have decided to look at the issue, and I am delighted that they have.
In their recent piece they write about a PL shareholders’ meeting in November 2016 in which “by far the biggest issue at stake that day was the need to find a new broadcast partner in China.”
This deal has in fact since broken down, because of the deterioration of international relationships between the UK and China over developments in Hong Kong, but at the time everything there was looking promising for the most lucrative TV deal ever.
At this meeting, the Athletic tell us, there was a move from the “big six” to postpone a decision so the clubs could consider the merits of various proposals, but the league’s executive chairman Richard Scudmore refused the idea and said they had to resolve the matters there and then.
At which point, according to the Athletic, “a remarkable scene unfolded. There, in full view of their counterparts from the other 14 clubs, the executives from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur formed their own huddle in a corner of the room and proceeded to debate among themselves, in hushed tones, before reaching a consensus that they then took back to the table when the full meeting resumed.”
The 14 clubs outside the “Big Six” had already discovered that the six were from time to time having their own secret meetings to which the other 14 were not invited. Now they were openly doing that in front of the rest of the League, and it seems quite reasonably it outraged the rest of the League.
In the end the whole of the Premier League accepted the deal that the Big Six wanted, but this turned out to be a disaster, when following direction from the Chinese government, the broadcasters walked away from the arrangement and stopped paying the huge sums they had previously agreed.
That left a bit hole in the PL’s income, which of course was most unwelcome given the chaos caused by the virus, but it also meant that now the six clubs had become open and brazen about their “league within a league”.
And now that group of six has become a group of two with Liverpool and Manchester United coming up with their own plans for the future. The eruption at this previous meeting when the six met in their own huddle, and presented their unified plan, shows why the rest of the PL is so angry with the “big six”, and also how unwise it would be for Arsenal to throw in their lot with the six – as they could very easily be marginalised in the next move by Liverpool and Manchester United.
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