The Money Wars

The English Premier League raked in roughly £1.8 billion in revenues in the 2007-2008 season. In comparison, UEFA earned €1.3 billion (£1 billion) in revenues from Euro 2008, and FIFA earned €2.6 billion (£2 billion) in revenues from World Cup 2006.

The catch, of course, is that while UEFA’s and FIFA’s most lucrative tournaments are held every four years, 20 clubs from one country are making the same amount of money every year.

The Premier League revenue is distributed between the clubs, much like UEFA’s club competitions (the Champions League and the UEFA Cup Europa League earn less than £1 billion every year) and other international competitions organised by FIFA / UEFA (nowhere near as lucrative).

When you look at the world of football, you have FIFA, UEFA and the Barclays Premier League as the three most powerful organisations. The Premier League is the only football organisation with enough global appeal and financial muscle to defy FIFA and UEFA as a collective (as opposed to the Spanish, Italian and German leagues which have a couple of big clubs each but not a strong collective like the EPL).

Seen in this light, the constant attacks on English football by UEFA and FIFA members makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t you try to destabilise, demonise and restrict the one potential rival staking a legitimate claim to the football money tree?

Like it or not, the Premier League is an insanely popular brand and this appeal will only grow, seeing as how they have barely scratched the surface in terms of mobile and web media and have yet to penetrate certain markets where TV audiences are concerned.

What’s more, they have the potential, thanks to their increasing global popularity and the fact that it’s on every weekend (as opposed to international competitions that occur every four years), to make much more money in the future than UEFA and FIFA can from their events (and for this alone Richard Scudamore deserves credit).

This poses a problem for many people. The FA, UEFA, FIFA and let’s face it, football fans themselves are all critical of the money in the game and how it has changed the way the game is being played.

Just this week we’ve had Sepp Blatter talking about Premier League clubs being bought as easily as football jerseys, Lord Triesman and Richard Scudamore go head to head talking about the debt owed by Premier League clubs, and UEFA’s General Secretary commenting on the debt certain Premier League clubs owe and vowing to make the game ‘financially fair’.

The Premier League is bearing the brunt of the criticism and it’s about the money but not exactly about footballing debt – the issues are far simpler and much more selfish.

Let’s look at each dispute detail and see what the real issues are.

Premier League vs FA

The tussle between Scudamore and Triesman is based on two issues – fallout from Game 39 and the regulation of the English game.

When the Game 39 proposal was first made, FIFA president Sepp Blatter went so far as to threaten England’s World Cup 2018 bid by saying that if the Premier League chose to defy FIFA on the issue he would personally assure that England didn’t get the World Cup (Andrew Jennings has an interesting article on FIFA and World Cup 2018).

The FA doesn’t have a cash cow like the Premier League. They are largely dependent on staging matches at Wembley (key to paying off the debts the stadium’s construction has incurred) and organising international events in England. The spate of friendlies last summer which prompted us to dub London as the capital of world football were staged to generate revenues, and you can expect the FA to do whatever it takes to make sure that they get the World Cup.

The Premier League’s growth and friction with FIFA and UEFA threatens the FA’s objectives, and as a result it’s not surprising that the FA was against Game 39 and has spoken against the Premier League not only on the debt issue but on several other issues.

As long as FIFA and UEFA executives hold the keys to awarding the hosting of international competitions, national footballing associations like the FA are going to get strongarmed and bullied. As a result, any proposal coming out of the Premier League is usually shot down – be it technology-assisted refereeing (supported by Blanchard and Hackett, both part of FA) as FIFA and UEFA have the final say on how competitions are regulated, and they are hardly above petty vendetta.

Premier League vs UEFA

Dave Taylor, former CEO of Scotland Football Association and now General Secretary of UEFA, has been quoted several times this week talking about the ‘debt problem’ and how he plans to make football ‘financially fair’.

Let’s assume that there’s no national bias here, what is Taylor trying to achieve?

If Champions League revenues are more equally distributed, no single club or set of clubs are able to attain financial superiority to an extent that they become semi-independent global brands.

Financial restrictions do two things. One, they freeze (more or less) the money-making capacity of all partners. This means that the Premier League, growing in stature, will not be raising its revenues at the same rate in the future if it was denied participation in the Champions League. This means less competition for international football and less competition for UEFA / FIFA, and prevents the EPL from widening the gap between themselves and the competition.

Two, it prevents weaker clubs from ever progressing beyond their current level (if everyone is at the same level you’re not going to get significant progress by any one member), which is good because it eliminates any future ‘uprising’ from football clubs who want to do things their own way.

Everything UEFA is doing – from proposals on debt to player quotas and changes to formats – is to balance the field of play. This is great for UEFA – they get to keep control and the balance and inclusion of more members (the European Championships will be expanded to 24 teams from 2016) guarantees them more money without club competitions posing a threat.

Premier League vs FIFA

Chris thinks Blatter is speaking sense; I respectfully disagree. FIFA are furiously working to control club football and restrict it’s growth. Before you go giving Sepp Blatter credit for anything, remember that his first move post election as President was to propose a World Cup every 2 years to make international football the centerpiece and hence boost revenues.

So when Blatter talks about the 6+5 rule or talks about slavery, he’s attacking club football and wants to restrict it’s growing influence around the world.

Premier League vs Fans

There’s not much to say here except this: if you’re fed up of the high ticket prices, the mercenary nature of the modern football player, clubs losing their identity, etc etc – then stop being a part of it. It’s that simple. Unless you’re in a position to make real change (not carrying out a personal vendetta but genuine improvements to the game’s structure), there’s nothing you can do except walk out.

But we don’t walk out, because football and our football club is an integral part of our lives. It’s who we are, and that’s not going to change.

Premier League vs Rest of The World

Asia and Australia are both eager to partner with the Premier League as long as FIFA approves – which again goes back to the aftermath of the Game 39 proposal where Blatter fumed and threatened everyone with sticks. The turnaround from various associations chiefs has been quite remarkable, and now even the most ardent critics are openly welcoming the Premier League in their homes.

In other words, football associations in Asia, Africa, Australia and North America are ready to partner with the Premier League in order to make more money and improve their standard of football. This is a powerful opportunity for FIFA to harness the growth and power of the Premier League in the right direction and get their help in improving the standard of football around the world.

That is, if FIFA genuinely wants to help football.

Premier League’s Problems

Whether you like football as a business or prefer it in it’s pure form, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there are key issues in football that need resolving – financial stability, ownership, local development, racism, improving standards of refereeing, refereeing recruitment, fan violence, ticket prices, etc. There are solutions to each of these problems, but none of them involve turning the Premier League into the pantomime villain and certainly no solution involves Sepp Blatter riding to the rescue.

Platini and Blatter are working together to keep the Premier League under control. UEFA will probably be able to change their rules to force football clubs to keep wages within a certain percentage of their earnings. Blatter is likely to fail in his 6+5 fight, although if he pushes it through it will definitely change the face of club football. He might also be successful with changing legislation to restrict under-age transfers but like the case of Jeremy Boga and David Petrucci, you can’t do anything if the family shifts from one country to the next, which by the way is how Barcelona got Messi to come to Spain.

However, don’t expect UEFA or FIFA to do anything substantial about the issues that directly affect fans – violence in and around stadiums, rising ticket prices, refereeing, racism – or issues that affect grassroots football, especially the rampant corruption in national associations that means that football development in most countries is stifled and screaming for private investment, the type of investment that will only come when investors see financial benefit, the type of benefit that FIFA cannot provide and will not let anyone else provide.

Trust them to do their best to keep the clubs in line. And trust them to do their best to make a lot of money for themselves. Fans, and football, don’t even enter the equation.

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  1. Liverpool United 11 October, 2008
  2. BD Condell 17 October, 2008
  3. BD Condell 17 October, 2008
  4. Ahmed Bilal 17 October, 2008
  5. Ishaq(South Africa) 16 March, 2009