It was one of the most turbulent and seismic weeks in the history of English club football.
Starting with the leakage of an explosive proposal to mess up the game in a way that hasn’t been seen since the early 1990s, it ended with inconclusive disputes between gaming authorities. Demands for resignation and external regulation were on the way.
Seldom, if ever, has domestic football politics felt so feverish.
In the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis and strained relationships with fans and government, the various factions of football are sucking in air. How has the last seven days affected the sport and what could happen next?
A major bailout?
It may have taken two weeks longer than Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s prediction last month, but on Thursday the Premier League finally came on the bailout, which had put it under increasing pressure, to bring the English Football League (EFL) clubs towards it help to cope with no matchday income this season.
The EFL had hoped for £ 250 million. What was actually offered was less than 10% of that – £ 20m – with £ 30m more loan and only for Leagues One and Two.
After the package is politely refused, The Premier League is not going to withdraw what it thinks is a decent offer, but neither are there any current plans to improve on any it developed based on the EFL’s revenue distribution between divisions.
However, the Premier League has also made it clear that any club that is at risk of change imminent (including the championship) is welcome to reach out to them and ask for assistance.
No club has yet done this, and privately, the Premier League is confident the cliffs are months away. There’s still enough money left in the EFL thanks to player sales, parachute payments (in some cases), cost cuts, and advanced solidarity payments to make sure no clubs go under in the next few weeks.
In addition, the Premier League believes some EFL clubs are using Covid-19 as a smoke screen for over-spending and unsustainable business models.
What is crucial is that the Premier League has made a distinction between eliminating all the losses suffered by lower division clubs as a result of the pandemic that opposes them and helping the clubs to survive, as it says it is.
Premier League insiders point out that the £ 30 million loan on offer is interest-free and has only two conditions: recipients prove their losses and show that there are no alternative sources of income. That is only to be expected if their clubs also suffer from the continued absence of spectators on the premises.
Dowden described the Premier League offer as “a good start” and the government is encouraged by assurances that clubs will not be allowed to fold.
But after getting frustrated with how long the negotiations had taken and being surprised by the £ 14.95, the major league decided to bill fans for pay-per-view games (especially after the £ 1 billion) issued in the summer transfer window) Distraught by the incorrigible ranks that the past week has revealed. But more of that later.
What now for the EFL?
The Premier League claims that the real problem with the EFL isn’t a lack of generosity in redistributing TV money or the effects of Covid-19, but rather weak regulation. However, the EFL has a different perspective.
According to a well-placed source, given the initial anger of some championship clubs that they were left out, the board was initially intent on accepting the bailout as clubs in the lower two divisions were in desperate need of help, but a number of League One clubs did put solidarity before self-interest and urged the leadership to politely decline.
The EFL is still upset about what some have portrayed as a mocking offer. In an email to the clubs on Thursday, outgoing chief executive David Baldwin said to them: “Discussions showed that … [the offer] Leaving the needs of clubs far behind in terms of the value provided and the conditionality of their terms “.
Some EFL members are about to give up their efforts to get more money out of the Premier League and have considered applying for a loan on the Bank of England. Others have suggested asking the government to tighten the Premier League by adding a levy on broadcasting revenue if a better deal cannot be agreed.
Another potential avenue is to seek investment from private equity backers, a rugby union that has recently partnered with CVC, the former owners of Formula 1.
US investment firm TPG Capital has already turned down an offer – valued at £ 375 million in return for a 20% stake in the EFL – but BBC Sport has been told it is still interested and that other applicants in the circle are also interested are.
EFL chairman Rick Parry is believed to be against the idea of permanently handing over decision-making powers to companies that want to make as much profit as possible. Events of the past few days may have strengthened his resolve.
Project overall picture
You’d think the former Liverpool manager would be desperate after the demise of Project Big Picture (PBP) – The plan for a smaller Premier League with 18 teams to share a quarter of all TV revenue with the EFL, along with an upfront payment of £ 250m.
The Premier League voted against pursuing the Liverpool-Manchester United-backed proposal at a meeting last week, while other high-profile clubs, fans and the government – all of whom portrayed PBP as a “big six” takeover – hit back violently. . However, it seems to have brought the majority of EFL clubs closer together, encouraging Parry to keep the minds focused and re-energize the debate about the future structure, planning and sustainability of the game.
The motives behind the plan are already becoming clearer. Two years ago, the Big Six won a bigger share of overseas television revenue when the Premier League finally compromised the fair distribution that had underpinned its approach since 1992. Many feared the concession probably wouldn’t stop them from striving for more, and it has proven it.
A key element of PBP is the idea that Premier League clubs can sell eight games directly to overseas viewers. After analyzing the mail on Sunday external link With such a system, clubs could earn up to £ 125 million on a game – twice what they can currently earn per season selling the rights to all 20 games abroad.
Despite all prospects of a proper start a leak to the Sunday Telegraph external link Last weekend, PBP backers seem pleased that the issues they raised – including the need for a revised calendar ahead of the Champions League’s likely expansion from 2024 – and the need to bridge the financial gap between the top tier and the others Bridge – have now officially been incorporated into a strategic review that was added to the Premier League and urgently carried out again.
In fact, they believe that if PBP had never happened, that review – which was supposed to start in February but has been dormant since – may not have been revived.
They believe that greater redistribution of broadcasting revenue to the EFL and the abolition of parachute payments would finally give the 72 EFL clubs the stability they need. They believe this has been overlooked by the media and fan groups in a rush to condemn governance reforms.
However, there is also concern that some of the projections for TV revenue overseas included in the PBP plan are overly optimistic and may not lead to it as good as a deal for the EFL external link as originally assumed.
In addition, the perception of BPB as a product of “boiled-out backrooms deals” (as the government has described it) has certainly been given wider context.
On Thursday, Parry announced to his clubs that not only was Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck involved, but Premier League boss Richard Masters had also been invited to talks earlier this year. Discussion paper with “B-Teams” and “ Premier League 2 ”as examples of reforms.
That has infuriated some in the EFL, and perhaps more pressure would be put on the position of Clarke in normal times, who has been remarkably restrained in recent months despite the challenges the sport is facing.
PBP architects are believed to be ready to work with the Premier League’s review process – but the league now knows that the owners of the two biggest clubs are unhappy with the status quo and await change.
As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, additional pressure was put on by the government’s threat of a fan-led review and calls for an independent regulator by a group supported by Gary Neville and former FA chairman David Bernstein.
The basis of their argument is that English football is too self-interested to bring about the necessary changes. And some believe the past few days have made sense.
“A fan-led review is urgently needed now,” former Sports Secretary Tracey Crouch told BBC Sport.
“The stalemate between the Premier League and the EFL requires independent mediation. PBP has shown significant self-interest at the top of the game and the Premier League is no longer exempt from the exam despite its superior regulation. ”
“Independent regulation is not a new idea, but the past few weeks have accelerated the pace.”
The coronavirus crisis has exposed the tensions and forces that have been rising beneath the surface of English club game for years.
In doing so, it has accelerated the speed at which potential change can occur, forcing many to consider what football should be like in a changing financial and media landscape. It may have been ugly at times, but at least football now knows where it stands.
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