Football faces a harsh reality

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Let’s not pretend that greed isn’t a driving force for all top-flight football clubs in England. It is – and it always has been.

And, while we’re at it, lets not over-inflate the importance of fans to the big clubs. For the avoidance of doubt, they are the least of the big clubs’ concerns. Indeed, many regard supporters as a nuisance and irritation rather than their life-blood.

If these are inflammatory comments, then I apologise. But I speak with some knowledge.

I was once a member of the senior management team that ran a yo-yo Premier League and Championship club, and someone who sat down with officials from the Football Association, Football League and Premier League to discuss the commercial future of the game.

A decade ago, when I was active, the game was about making as much money out of TV revenues and merchandise as it possibly could. It was about squeezing every penny out of the loyal supporter. That’s why match days are now all-day ‘experiences’, with opportunities galore to spend money. Sadly, the football – the 90 minutes all fans are really concerned about – is the one thing clubs want to avoid. For it’s where their control ends.

Unlikely to succeed

Yesterday’s announcement of a European Super League, involving the ‘Big Six’ in England has caused outrage in the ranks of supporters up and down the land. It has even seen the Prime Minister and Prince William wade in on the act, voicing their opposition to the move.

But it is one of the few opportunities the clubs concerned still have to exercise some semblance of control, albeit the venture is unlikely to succeed.

The clubs involved know it – but they are desperate to exert their influence and not be the equal players they are forced to be in the Premier League structure.

In the current system, English clubs are unable to broker individual TV rights deals with broadcasters like Sky. This means the likes of Manchester United are forced to forego fortunes in the interests of ‘unity’. Instead, the deals are negotiated centrally – by Premier League officials – and funds distributed equally, with a ‘bonus’ awarded the teams at the end of the season, when their end-of-season league position has been ratified.

A decade ago, virtually the same cabal were meeting secretly and hatching plans for a carve-up of the game. So the Super League is nothing new; far from it.

What the last few days represent, however, is the first public showing of the clubs’ intentions – and their utter disregard for everyone other than the small caucus they belong to.

And it also demonstrates how flawed their strategy is – for even they will have been shocked at the way in which the world has become united against them. They would have factored in some opposition to the move, but not the tidal wave of adverse opinion that now confronts them.

And I believe the opposition to this move will stay resolute until the participants are eventually pacified by the improved terms that will surely flow their way from their domestic leagues and European cup competitions.

Fleeting moment

When the dust settles – and it will – the game will be in a better place. But I have no doubts it will be nothing more than a fleeting moment.

Rather than the ‘greedy six’ making the headlines, it will be the ‘greedy 20’ – for you can be sure the other Premier League clubs will also use the situation to their advantage. And that will mean demands for more money in their coffers – and the true fan being required to shell-out more to preserve the status quo.

I truly hope I am wrong. But having been on the inside of the game; having sat down with other commercial directors from the top clubs and got to know what their real motivations are; having looked into the eyes of the game’s decision-makers and seen what their true intentions are, I don’t think the future looks too rosy, regardless of how the current crisis is concluded.

Football lost its soul a long time ago. From the moment Rupert Murdoch and Sky were able to buy the game lock, stock and barrel it was doomed and unsustainable.

That was clear yesterday when the Super League news broke. As to what the future holds for the beautiful game, I have learned to expect the worst but hope for the best!

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