Premier League clubs can't keep ripping off fans with TV billions

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I once watched a rubbish film called Transformers. The actors were terrible, the jokes weren't funny and the plot had as much depth as a glass of water, but for metaphorical purposes, I've decided to write about it for the first time.

You see, the Autobots landed on earth to hide from the Decepticons. The Autobots are a good albeit clumsy bunch who want nothing more than to stay undetected and peaceful. The Decepticons are out to destroy the Autobots for a reason I simply can't recall. For the sake of the film, the Decepticons, despite an expansive Galaxy made out of billions of stars, manage to find the Autobots.

Thus entails a huge battle that, if left unchecked, will eventually consume Earth. The machines were so powerful that normal humans were pretty much defenseless. Their fate was out of their hands.

Unfortunately, in the battle for Premier League TV rights, where BT Sport and Sky Sports are raging like all-powerful machines, there are no good guys. They are both interested in just one thing: business.

Just like the good looking extras in Transformers, the football fans in this country are innocent bystanders in a war of attrition, yet will be the first to pay the price. It is easy to forget that it will be us providing the punnet of cherries on top of an already mountainous pile of cake, especially when the promise of even more transfers is just around the corner.

Luckily, we have a mediator in all this – no, it is not Ofcom. They had the chance to amend a bidding system tailored towards maximising reddies and chose not to. It is, ironically, the thing Sky Sports and BT Sport are fighting for: the Premier League itself.

Super chief Richard Scudamore yesterday spoke of his surprise that the bids to televise the world's most watched league in Britain between the 2016/17 and 2018/19 had reached so high this time around. It was the second consecutive occasion that the rights had increased by over 70 per cent.

While fans wait to see how much their subscription packages will go up, the Premier League are wondering what should be done with the extra money, all £5.136 billion of it.

Giving it back to the customer

Hey, I've got a neat idea: How about giving it to the fans?

Usually, the Premier League responds to such incredible increases in revenue by handing it straight to the 20 lucky clubs. When the current deal, worth £3.018 billion, came into play last season it saw that bottom club Cardiff City earned more money from TV revenue (£62m) than the champions Manchester United had done the season before (£60m).

Handing Cardiff that kind of money saw them earn more than double Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich (£27.3m), almost double La Liga winners Atletico Madrid  earned (£35.5m) and almost as much as Serie A dominators Juventus (£69.6m).

Under the new deal, the bottom club can expect to receive just under £100m, bringing them in the same ballpark as Barcelona and Real Madrid.

You will notice in the graph below that Premier League clubs don't usually use this increased money to say, pay their cleaners and hospitality workers a living wage. They stay on their zero hour contracts while the stars of the show get incredible increases on an already incredible wage.

Plenty of that money also filters straight out of the country in the form of transfer fees. That is bad for everyone, not just football fans. In fact, this year, where the effects of that truly staggering £3bn TV deal have been felt for the first time, saw over £950 million spent on transfer fees across two windows with the majority going to foreign leagues.

Bulging coffers 

Basically, what I am trying to say is – and maybe I could have saved you time and said it straight away – is that Premier League clubs simply do not need anymore money than they already have. They can take care of themselves.

That egomaniac playmaker with the super car and the model girlfriend may see this as a perfect opportunity to ask for his £100,000-a-week wage to be increased to £150,000-a-week, but the Premier League have every right to make sure not a penny of that extra money goes to the clubs.

Instead, they can use it to fund schemes that help promote the game at a grassroots level. Currently, according to the BBC, the Premier League put just £12m per year to improving the nation's grassroots football facilities. Even the government, which has a pretty hefty deficit to claw back, puts in £10 million a year.

They also claim to have invested a substantial share of the £230 million funding for the FA’s 150 “football hubs”. Even under the current deal, this is inadequate – less than ten per cent of the £3 billion they received. Do remember, the Premier League also makes several billions off foreign rights as well.

Premier League clubs now have the financial power to bring all the foreign stars they need to keep the foreign audience enticed. It is time to make sure English football at a local level is not just surviving but thriving. After all, we are all funding this joyride and it is time we started seeing the benefit.

The price of football fandom

If indeed the money does reach the hands of the clubs, which it inevitably will, it needs to come with reassurances that the money will filter through to the fans rather than the players.

A report by the BBC claimed that the average price of the cheapest season ticket has increased to almost twice the rate of the cost of living since 2011. Critics believe football clubs are losing touch with fans while others claim they are just responding to demand like any other business would.

A poignant finding in the BBC's Price of Football study was that Charlton Athletic fans enjoyed the cheapest season ticket in the top four divisions at £150. Meanwhile, the cheapest season ticket at FC Barcelona goes for £103. Heavy discounts are needed if fans are to stay attached to the game. 

Scudamore's response to this campaign was: "We're not set up for charitable purposes. We are set up to be the best football competition."

That is outrageous. Fans are hooked on this game because it is linked directly to their heritage. The Premier League and the clubs within it have been exploiting them for too long. It draws similarities with the tobacco industry in these eyes.

Now there is enough money in the game to make sure the heritage of football is not consumed by an all-consuming machine. It's time for the Premier League to decide whether it wants to turn this monstrous battle into something good or to just let it spiral out of control.

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