Tag Archives: governance

Football after Covid-19

While nothing much is happening with Birmingham City, I have been reading some discussions on how football should change after Covid-19. An article by Mark Palios, the chairman of Tranmere Rovers, said, “The professional game cannot survive without fundamental reform in respect of its major cost: player wages.” Darragh MacAnthony, the owner of Peterborough, suggested factoring that would allow money due for the Sky TV rights to be paid to clubs earlier in exchange for paying a penalty. Parachute payments have also been mentioned. Over half of the money that the Premier League gave to the English Football League (EFL), £260m out of £400m,  went to the nine clubs that were relegated in the previous three years.  

For me, the main question is whether it is possible to get the richer clubs to share what they have. The Premier League was formed in 1992 so that it could do a deal with BskyB and get a bigger share of the TV money instead of having to share it out between all 92 clubs in the League. The raison d’être of the Premier League was to get more money so I don’t expect the top clubs to want to give any away.

I don’t understand football finance but it seems clear that something has got to change.  Players at Premier League Chelsea have not yet managed to reach an agreement on pay cuts.  Colchester United, in League 2, have released four first-team players due to financial pressure, including their club captain. There is a tremendous gulf between top and bottom Leagues.

In the early days of professional football there was some sharing of gate money so that the teams with big crowds didn’t have too great an advantage and the game remained competitive. Match gate receipts were shared between the home team and away team with the away side being guaranteed £15 a match in 1888. From 1919 to 1983 the away team was given 20% of the gate money.  Now the home team gets all the money in League games so teams with big stadiums and large crowds have an advantage. The gate receipts from FA Cup games are still shared, with each team getting 45% and 10% going to a central pot.

I think that the game is getting less competitive at the top. In the 27 years since the start of the Premier League, 6 different teams have won it and 4 of those were in the top 6 for matchday income per match in 2018-19. In the previous 27 years, there were 9 different champions. My personal preference would be for the game to be as competitive as possible. I think the way to do that would be to reverse some of the changes made so that income from gate receipts and TV is shared more equally.  I’m afraid that seems rather unlikely to happen.

Read more

Inadequate owners

Fan explaining Blackpool situation

Blackpool fans are rejoicing because their club has been put into receivership and that means the era of Oyston ownership is over. Blackpool’s game against Southend next Saturday will be the first home game since this happened and the Guardian reports that:

“Supporters are planning a party, starting with a celebration march from the promenade, and perhaps in some small way it can be a reminder for every other club that has inadequate or reviled owners, that things can change for the better, that it won’t always be one crisis after another, and that one of the reasons why this sport pulls us in, why it is so damn addictive, is that the bad times always make the good ones seem so much better.”

The same article includes accounts of other owners who have endangered the futures of their football clubs. Charlton’s owner has suggested that the Football League buy the club.  There are reports of Bolton not paying staff and players. Notts County is at the bottom of League 2 and HMRC has issued a winding-up petition against it. If Coventry City can’t find a place to play next season it could be expelled from the league.

Not all owners are inadequate or bad but there have been enough problems to suggest that the system needs changing.  There needs to be a better way of ensuring that people who buy football clubs are fit and proper and also know something about the football business. When problems occur there needs to be a way of sorting them out quicker.

Blackpool is one example of how long it can take to get rid of a problem owner.  Owen Oyston bought the club in 1988. His wife and then his son took over after he was convicted of rape in 1996. Valeri Belokon bought a 20 per cent stake in 2006 and became chairman. Owen and Karl Oyston began suing fans who criticised their ownership on internet forums. Five managers came and went in the space of two years and 27 players left before the start of the 2014-15 season. In 2016 some fans started to boycott games and pledged never to return until the Oystons had left. Valeri Belokon instigated court proceedings against the Oystons. On November 6, 2017 the Oystons were defeated in the High Court and ordered to buy out Valeri Belokon’s shares for £31.27m after it was found they had “illegitimately stripped” the club. You can read the timeline  yourself if you want all the gory details.

As a Birmingham City supporter, I know what it feels like to have an owner convicted of money laundering. I can sympathise with other fans whose clubs have inadequate owners. That is why I believe that there needs to be an independent regulator for English football. Let the English Football League concentrate on organising the leagues and let someone else regulate the business of football.

Read more