5 leagues and 100 clubs – Be Careful What You Wish For 

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Will plans to create a 100 club, 5 league structure make Saturday special again? (Photocredit :Getty Images)
I like the idea of a 5 league 100 team structure at the top of England’s football pyramid. So full marks to the bods at the FA for putting the idea forward and starting the debate.  It’s not a panacea for the challenges the game faces, but it does tick some important boxes – player (and spectator) fatigue, a more rational structure, more flexibility in the footballing calendar.

But it is clear that the debate is necessary and not straight-forward. Let’s take two specifics.

First, for all the positives, listed above, playing fewer games in a season is highly problematic for many clubs – well, most clubs actually.  For my own beloved Brentford, currently resting at 29th in the pyramid (i.e. – top half of the current second tier) the loss of income that four fewer home games would lead to is highly significant, as the supporters have already made clear.  – based on 2014/15 ticket income, removing those games makes for a loss to the club of £540,602.

There is of course a way round this – English football is hugely lucrative.  The latest contract for Premier League TV rights is worth   around £5.1bn over three years.  Parachute payments are common place –  so why not extend this  culture of compensation  to off-set the risk to clubs whose cash flow and profit-and-loss accounts  are  much  more vulnerable than  the  premier league giants?  As the much-respected @Besotted said, the sums involved are not, in footballing terms, so great –  £12k off the weekly wage bill in this case.

A second issue is the possible  rededication  of Saturday afternoons as the  time for  football matches to  take place , made possible by  a sparser  schedule of  games.  I recognise the appeal of this return to more straight-forward and less distracted times (although midweek floodlit matches also have strong support). But I fear such hopes are forlorn.

This is because part of the rationale for such huge sums being associated with football is its marketability.  And that  marketability  requires a different approach to scheduling, increasingly with live football  being shown on  TV  every day of the week, with kick-off times  to  maximise the audience (and advertising revenues for everyone but the BBC).  Indeed,  you could argue that football as whole is so leveraged  that maximising financial  returns  is  the only valid criterion –  that seems to be the justification (for example) for Wembley Stadium’s  marketing  approach –  the  money  spent of redeveloping the site  has to be repaid.

And if there is  more space in  the domestic calendar,  is that  just to facilitate  a European Super League  which will do nothing  to deliver a stronger national  team or any of those prospective benefits for the clubs involved.

Crucially, for those hoping for the rededication of Saturdays, I suspect the price of a compensatory payment by broadcasters will be even more flexibility in scheduling.

Always assuming the FA’s motives were good, it’s a question of the best of ideas being subject to the law of unintended consequences!

 

 

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