Mark Brophy

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Who Will Watch A European Super League?

In a week in which Liverpool’s chief executive Ian Ayres expressed a wish for his club to negotiate their own overseas tv deal, and LMA Chief Executive Richard Bevan suggested that increasing numbers of Premier League owners favoured a franchising model which would end promotion and relegation to and from the top division, those affiliated to clubs outside of the gilded few might be well advised not to think too much of the consequences. Liverpool and no doubt others negotiating their own TV deals would see a graph of the income of the others fall off a cliff. Ending Premier League promotion and relegation would cut off 72 clubs forever from the chance to improve their finances through improvement on the pitch. Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for English football.

It’s hard sometimes in this kind of context to sympathise with clubs at the lower end of the Premier League. After all, they are the beneficiaries of the current TV rights deal which maximises their own income and leaves clubs in the lower divisions to sink or swim. Then there’s the 11 founding clubs of the Premier League now playing in those lower divisions. They voted for the breakaway from the Football League, the change which cut them off from a responsibility for the rest of football in pursuit of a bigger purse for themselves. Should we feel sympathy for clubs who felt none for others when they were in the driving seat?

Still, the effects would be so great that squabbles over history don’t really come into it. The combined effect of the two measures would be a marked loss of competitiveness. With more money going to 5 or 6 Premier League clubs and less to the rest, there could be no other outcome than to cement the position of those top clubs and widen the gap between them and the others. Reduced competition in a league necessarily reduces interest in it, not least by broadcasters. The inevitable consequence of falling standards amongst the also-rans would be to push the few at the top into a European Super League as people stopped watching domestic football on TV.

Who exactly though, do the broadcasters and brand clubs think will watch this fare? Clubs in this country regularly see hugely reduced gates for Champions League football. Is it because everyone’s watching at home or because fewer people are interested? Even novelty doesn’t help. There were noticeable numbers of empty seats at Manchester City for their 2nd ever home CL game tonight. The reason clubs are so desperate to qualify for European football is for the guaranteed income streams, not because it excites their fans. In addition, the market for TV rights for Champions League football is inflated in this country by SkyTV’s dominance of domestic rights. Other broadcasters looking for meaningful football to show are restricted to European competitions, internationals, or domestic cup games. That means they are prepared to pay more for these competitions than they would ordinarily based on levels of interest, because if they don’t they end up with no football to show at all. Should SkyTV lose interest in the domestic game, bidding less or not at all, that could have a knock-on effect on the bidding for European football rights. Would, say, ITV bid so much if domestic football was available for a pittance, uncompetitive or not? Reproduced in other countries, that would result in the guaranteed income streams from European competition, so valued by the brand clubs, being severely reduced. That in turn would make a European Super League pointless, and by extension the selfish choices pushing clubs inexorably towards it counter-productive themselves.

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