Premier League TV deals casting fans and smaller clubs aside
A new television deal on the way for the top flight but not everyone will see the benefit
The Premier Legaue are set to introduce Saturday night fixtures as part of the next television deal. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP
The people who bring us Formula One racing do a hot line in end of season statistics that each year tends to include a cumulative global audience figure for all of that year’s races; the only indication that it was cumulative being that it was some farfetched multiple of the earth’s population.
Ahead of the weekend’s Manchester derby, the Premier League were bragging along vaguely the same lines with multiple media outlets reproducing their claim that the match would be carried live in 189 of the 193 territories officially recognised by the UN. We can doubtless take it that the guys at Gloucester Place have their best people working on how Cuba, Moldova and St Nevis and Kitts all slipped through the net although with North Korea, one suspects, they might leave well enough alone; that, or dispatch some graduate trainee particularly keen to prove their worth.
Back at home, the Premier League have unveiled their new mix of packages for the next round of TV rights which kick-off in 2019-20. Not for the first time the backbone of their plan to further expand revenues is to make more games available and widen the range of times at which they can be shown.
The news that there will be eight Saturday evening slots will have met with a by now familiar sense of resignation on this side of the Irish Sea.
When live games started on Sunday afternoons all those years ago, there were “solidarity payments” to clubs here that allowed them to install floodlights. Despite all the shirt sales, TV revenues, fans who travel from Ireland and so on, there has been next to nothing since.
These days, there are now routinely televised games either side of the 3.0 slot on Saturday as well as Monday evenings. The current deal allows for Friday night games but the viewing figures appear to be so poor for them that Sky did not take up the full allocation of 10 last season. It will be quite a while before we know whether 7.45 on Saturday evenings will go any better but there has already been a bit of a backlash amongst the supporters who actually travel to see their club play with representative groups raising the issue of how their members are supposed to get from one end of England to another in an age when the football special is a distant memory.
What the Premier League clubs have long since shown, though, is that they simply don’t care.
The organisation’s current foreign rights deals are worth more than €5.5 billion over three years and games, or entire league programmes, in many of those 189 countries routinely have to be shifted about so as to avoid clashing with the likes of a Manchester derby. It is par for the course here as it is across Africa which has the misfortune to share much the same time zone. Just 12-15 clubs across that entire continent have average attendances of more than 10,000.
Few have the resources to invest in proper youth development programmes and many are by-passed as private schools and academies step in to profit from the situation where they can. There are a few projects scattered about the place that are backed, sometimes the by-product of a regional sponsorship deal but for the most part the Premier League, along with a couple of others, sucks both talent and cash out of these countries while giving next to nothing back.
It is not just abroad, though, that they seek to take maximum advantage. Championship clubs but more particularly those in Leagues One and Two are completely exploited under a system by which, in return, once again, for “solidarity payments,” the young prospects they develop in their academies must be made available to top flight clubs for set fees.
These start at barely €3,000 for a young kid of nine or 10 and extend up a maximum of around €1.5 million, although for the lower league club to get that the player would have to go on to make 100 Premier League appearances. A majority of the clubs from the lowest two leagues are said to have been against the arrangement as they considered taking their chances with tribunals preferable to the annual payments of €735,000 and €487,000 to members of League One and Two respectively that were on the table. But the Championship clubs, who receive € 4.87 million each, had the votes to push the whole thing through with the rest told to like it or lump it.
A handful have since closed their academies down completely, arguing that the chance of obtaining even the sort of very occasional star that would pay for the entire operation is now gone.
What is left is a system where there is certainly precious little solidarity. Clubs in England get the bare minimum the big boys can get away with giving them, and clubs abroad get nothing. Counting the entire league here as a Championship club would go some way towards providing the capital investment that is required in youth development now that the Premier League academies are increasingly closed off to any but the very best of Irish prospects. It would also help provide a safety net within the game for the near 99 per cent of young players who enter the system but don’t become a star.
The same could be said for countless other countries but it won’t make any difference. There are suggestions from analysts that some of the packages up for grabs in the next round of rights auctions could go for 45 per cent more than they did this time around. Roughly 70 per cent of that is likely to be passed straight on to existing players, the lucky few who make it.
Games like Sunday’s might well make for a compelling afternoon on the couch but the Premier League is a monster whose economics are largely immoral and mad.