Monday 19 August 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'TV's power over top flight could be start of its downfall'

The domino effect of exorbitant spending is good for footballers - but bad for football

Alexis Sanchez can earn £26million in wages for doing very little. Photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Alexis Sanchez can earn £26million in wages for doing very little. Photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Golf enthusiasts will tell you that the tournament claimed by Shane Lowry in Portrush last month was The Open Championship, not the British Open. It's a global event with a status which goes beyond the location of the host.

And the same description equally applies to the Premier League as a new season dawns. It's not the English Premier League.

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This is a truly worldwide enterprise based in England, although it's an especially lucrative one for the natives. Harry Maguire's new status as the most expensive defender in the history of football backs up that point.

Where does it all end?

It's a question that is asked ahead of each new Premier League campaign, as baseline fees and wages rise and rise again.

Complaining about the exorbitant sums earned by elite footballers tends to miss a basic point.

They are coining in that wage because the game they play is capable of generating that level of revenue.

Go to any major city in the world, from America to Asia to Australia, and you won't have to stray too far to find Premier League action.

That demand is what generates massive TV deals and it's only right that the skilled athletes should benefit from an industry that is lining the pockets of many others.

For generations, footballers were underpaid relative to the wealth they were generating for executives.

But the rise and rise of Premier League wages, in tandem with the growth of super agents, has added an objectionable layer to the market.

Now we have accelerated to the absurd position where the under-performing Alexis Sanchez can earn £26m for not doing very much.

Amounts of money that could have a transformative effect at lower levels of the game are being thrown around by the top clubs with reckless abandon and it can't all be attributed to inflation.

Top English clubs swimming in so much cash that market value is practically an irrelevance. Romelu Lukaku has now moved for close to £75m for the second time in three years and yet doubts linger over his status as a truly top level striker.

But its the knock on effect of these deals that has seriously contributed to chaos further down the food chain.

Well-supported sides in the Football League are haemorrhaging cash.

Recent 2017/18 season figures showed only a handful of clubs in the three divisions below the Premier League were turning a profit. Eight Championship operations recorded net losses in excess of £20m. Wolves posted a £57m loss in their Championship-winning season.

They pushed the boat out to get to the promised land but other clubs are failing. Bolton (League One) and Bury (League Two) have started their seasons with 12-point deductions. Bolton were in the Premier League as recently as 2012 and they are now struggling to pay wages on time.

The fear is that this is only just the beginning. On these pages yesterday, an important report was carried about a piracy row in the Middle East that could have serious implications for football in England. Illegal streams are a threat to broadcasting deals which are effectively propping up the Premier League.

While domestic TV deals now appear to have basically levelled off, there was a 30 per cent rise in the last Premier League deal for overseas coverage. The 2019-22 package was valued at more than £4billion.

Crucially, the big-six clubs got together to negotiate so they receive a larger piece of the pie. Under the old deal, all 20 clubs received an equal share. The death of that arrangement has ominous implications.

This is widening the gulf between top and bottom, leading to more mismatches with a bottom line that consumers might just start to pick and choose subscriptions and fixtures.

Envy

More pertinently, the guaranteed revenues available to English clubs is the source of continental envy and has driven the push for a European Super League-style idea that threatens the Champions League's standing.

If that happens, a global audience will act accordingly and that €4bn Premier League deal will shrink dramatically. In every scenario, Manchester United, Liverpool and the other English powerhouses will shine.

Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley and others of that ilk might suddenly find their TV money isn't covering the cost of spending which they could never have dreamed of a decade ago.

Outside their communities, few will care about their plight. For the TV viewer, the show will go on. Six different kick-off times this weekend show who is calling the shots.

Certainly, the modern booming Premier League is great for the current players who are living through a golden era. But in the long run, it could prove to be very bad for football.

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