Dan Dalton is a Conservative MEP for the West Midlands.
The latest TV rights deal for the Premier League raised a staggering £5.1 billion for the three 2016-2019 seasons. This is a 70 per cent rise on the current deal and, to put this into context, the latest TV deal of England’s rival league in Germany, Bundesliga, is worth £1.8 billion over four seasons. Even Spain’s La Liga, which is seen as by some as of a higher quality, will receive only 33 per cent of the revenue that the Premier League will.
There is no doubt that this is one of the greatest commercial successes of any British industry in the past decade and firmly places sport, notably football, as one of our greatest export industries – something often overlooked by many.
Last year alone, the Premier League’s activity raised £1.3 billion in tax. Make no mistake, this phenomenal deal cements England’s reputation as the best league in the world. Such is the scale that serious concerns have been raised in Germany, Spain and UEFA, Europe’s governing body, about how they are going to compete with the English football’s dominance – with protests at some German stadiums being held.
Indeed, when the new deal kicks in, even the botto- placed side in the Premier League will receive almost three times more prize money than last year’s winner of Europe’s most prestigious competition, the Champions League, Real Madrid, did.
Whilst some analysts are highlighting the potential dangers of this flood of money, it is firmly my view that we should applaud the Premier League for its ingenuity, incredible marketing success and ability to win the “European race” to capture the ever-rising global audience.
English football offers the most family-friendly environment of any league in the world, attendances have continually risen and it has a world-class safety record. It is now hard to believe that, only two decades ago, English football was perennially mired in the spectre of hooliganism.
Yet, for all the huge success, there is a prevailing feeling that something is not right within our game. The cost of football has risen exponentially. The paradox is that whilst clubs have become spectacularly richer, the cost for fans of supporting their clubs has risen.
Fans, the backbone of English football, are increasingly feeling that the game is moving away from them. Over the past decade, we have seen some season tickets rise at an astonishing rate. In 1990, a ticket to watch Arsenal cost just £5. The cheapest ticket for a category A game at the Emirates stadium is now £64. Merchandise costs have also risen dramatically, as have one of the greatest scandals of modern football, enormous agent fees, which are ultimately paid for by asking fans to pay more in a time where many families are having to make difficult spending decisions.
The average salary of a Premier League player is now £31,000 a week. There are few that would argue that the top players who do so much to promote the game globally don’t deserve their fair share of the rewards – but so many players who arrive in England are mediocre, earn millions and walk away whilst contributing barely anything to English football.
This is in part why loyal fans are feeling increasingly alienated. In 2013, the average cheapest ticket price in England was £28. In Germany it was £10, in Italy £15. It is understandable, then, why many fans feel aggrieved paying so much, when they see the Premier League’s riches.
It is estimated that clubs could use the extra TV money raised to reduce every ticket at every Premier League game by £40, and still be no worse off than they are this season. This may be implausible, but substantial cuts for tickets should be a priority. Put simply, clubs can afford to help their fans and communities at this time.
This increasingly lucrative Premier League is extremely attractive for lower league teams, which in turn creating a dangerous risk-averse business environment. As a proud Coventry City fan, I have despaired as the club moves from one disaster to another on the premise of reaching and staying in the “promised land”.
During the last five years, the club has gone into administration twice and even spent a whole season playing home games in Northampton. This happened because the club overstretched itself by signing too many players on big wages when its revenue wasn’t big enough to sustain it. Similar situations arose at Leeds United and Portsmouth. In addition to the job losses that these failures led to, a great deal of pain was caused within the local communities that they are at the centre of.
So we must ensure that the new money is invested wisely, and does not exacerbate the current situation in which whole communities suffer if a football club fails. Much more of the TV money should also flow into the grassroots to help support the hard-working local players, coaches and parents who make football in this country possible at the community level.
The Premier League will be providing a substantial share of the £230 million FA Football Hubs Project being rolled out across 30 English towns and cities partly designed to help promote future talent. Whilst this is a good investment, £230 million is close to what Premier League clubs have spent on agents’ fees in the past two seasons. We have staggeringly few coaches who hold the highest qualifications, with Germany and Italy both nearing ten times as many coaches qualified at the highest levels.
A quick glance at your local park highlights the decrepit facilities that many players play in, yet across the continent far more matches are played on excellent 3G multi-weather surfaces. We need to catch up – and, with the vast riches swirling within the game, there can be no excuse not to do more to develop grassroots, community facilities.
Clubs are not charities, and they have been in part successful because they have applied free market economics so successfully. However, they have a responsibility to help their fans – and they can do this by lowering the cost of football and increase its investment in the grassroots.
Fans’ patience is not infinite, and if they continue to pay their hard-earned money only to see wages of footballers and agents’ fees spiral further out of control, it is possible they may vote with their feet. This happened in Italy which, just over a decade ago, boasted Europe’s most dominant league, and is now stuck in the doldrums. Grassroots investment should be increased and ticket prices should be lowered. The continuing success of our game depends on it.