By Tony Attwood
When football got its first whiff of the money Sky could offer Alan Sugar apparently made a statement to the effect that the League should put aside some of the new money into a fund, the purpose of which could be determined later. “Otherwise,” he said (at least according to a much later report of his) “we’ll just piss all that money up against the wall in higher salaries.”
Lord Sugar has told that story a few times since leaving football, perhaps as a way of showing how clever he was at the time. Although I think those of us around at the time also remember that he was the only representative of what was then known at the time as the “Big Five” (Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Man U, Tottenham) to support Sky’s takeover of televised football. But then his firm were making Sky dishes so maybe they had a vested interest.
But the ex-Tottenham owner was right – the money has all gone on ever higher salaries. Clubs earn more and then spend more on salaries. Sometimes we get better stadia and very rarely a wonderful youth system and fantastic training ground, but mostly it is salaries.
The next big leap in TV money is next year and again there is some talk about stopping all of it going into salaries. This time it is not Lord Sugar who is doing the business, but Richard Scudamore who fancies a cap on earnings.
This is presented as the alternative to an English version of the financial fair play rules, and if you have followed the debate on both topics you’ll know some people do argue that this won’t ever come because of EU regulations about freedom of negotiation of salaries, and anti-competitive behaviour.
But, as the correspondence here has pointed out several times, the EU already recognises sport in general and football in particular as a special case and thus works its ways around these matters, which would be illegal in other areas.
£3bn has been offered by Sky for the rights to show live football in the UK from next season. But to confirm another point that came up recently – if 14 of the 20 clubs have to say yes to any change then Premier League football could become something quite different from that which we know today.
With the issue of clubs spending more than they earn, again it is 14 out of 20 votes needed to get reform, and we might guess from a distance that the big loss making clubs of recent years such as Chelsea and Man City might vote against. All it needs is for them to find three other loss makers. The problem is that they might find such clubs who are also supported by benefactors, even if they are not operating at the level that Chelsea and Man C are.
Manchester United and Arsenal seem likely to support any such change – Man U after all does make a profit before Glazer out-takes, and could easily make more if only the Glazers didn’t keep loading them with debt. Liverpool look to be heading that way although painfully. Everton however have made losses much of the time recently, and I am not sure if they are ready to go down that route – but they remain a possible convert.
Newcastle made a profit too and might support the move, but the fact is only 8 out of 20 actually did deliver a profit last time around and would presumably support Arsène Wenger’s comment that, “You should just get the resources you generate, that will determine the real size of the club.”
There is also something of an inward looking feeling in some clubs where big time owners are not used to being subjected to group controlled regulations. Reports looking at this issue suggest that Newcastle might not support the change after all. Fulham also might not support the change. The West Ham, Stoke City, Sunderland and Wigan owners however have spoken in favour, although obviously there are significant differences in the detail.
In 2001/02, clubs spent £1.1bn of their total income in the Premier League on players. That was 62%. A bit high but not utterly insane. By 2010/11, income had more than doubled to £2.5bn but players’ wages went up to 70% of’ turnover. One thing is for sure, we can’t go on like this unless every club finds itself a billionaire.
The issue comes up again in the Premier League later this month, and then we’ll see if there is any way forwards. As I make it we now have a reformist camp and a conservative camp: the reformists are in the majority, but I suspect not a big enough majority to stop five voting against.
I must admit I was utterly surprised when the clubs voted for the “25″ rule – and that did benefit clubs which had a number of up and coming under 21 year olds on their books. Could it happen again? I suspect there are too many vested interests this time around, simply because a salary cap or a limit on losses is just too big a step. But…
In the reform camp we have (I think), Arsenal, Tottenham, Man U, West Ham, Stoke, Sunderland, Wigan, Liverpool, Southampton, Swansea, Aston Villa, Norwich City. That’s 12, and we need four more. West Brom seem to be talking against such changes, for reason’s I can’t understand, but QPR’s latest regime might just be with reform. That’s 13. Everton might, at a pinch. 14.
Man C and Chelsea I take as obvious antis. Reading have a powerful new foreign owner and I guess he is against but I don’t know. Newcastle, as I say could go either way also. West Brom again, as I said, have spoken against. It could be very tight.
But we can live in hope.
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- Ref Review: Martin Atkinson. Not good if you are Everton.
- What exactly is the thinking behind the transfer policy of Futbol Club Barcelona?
- REF REVIEW 2012: Andre Marriner – competent but liable to the occasional bad day
- Man U and Liverpool prepare to out-manoeuvre Chelsea and Man C in a dramatic rule change