Are Premier League Clubs About to Transform Grassroots Football in England?
The Premier League is a financial phenomenon that is completely unprecedented in club football. Indeed, only the World Cup can boast higher total revenues. So it makes it all the more baffling that grassroots football in England continues to decline and stagnate.
In February 2015, The Premier League agreed a £4.2bn deal with Sky. In addition to this record deal, BT agreed to pay £960m for two separate packages. These three-year deals cemented the Premier League’s place as the world’s most profitable domestic football competition.
To put these figures into some context, the latest deal, which started at the beginning of the 2016/2017 season, was 71 percent higher than the deal agreed three years previously. Between BT and Sky alone, each televised game will see more than £10m poured into Premier League coffers.
But there’s more. International TV rights deals are expected to bring in a further £3bn over the same period - more than the TV rights for the Spanish, German, Italian and French leagues combined.
So, having by far and away the world’s most profitable club competition is a great thing for English football, right? Well, it seems that this mind-boggling wealth has been slow to trickle down to grassroots clubs and associations.
Instead of the extra money being used to get more people playing the game in their local communities, it seems to be going towards inflated transfer fees, burgeoning salaries and agents’ fees. Moreover, Premier League clubs aren’t exactly falling over themselves to reduce prices at the turnstiles. This is very much a case of the rich getting richer and the poorer… well, you know the rest.
Growing pressure to invest
But there are growing calls from key figures within the game to ensure that more of this cash bonanza makes its way to grassroots level. If you believe what the Premier League says, more than £1bn of TV revenue over the next three years will be ‘given away’ for the development of the game. But are clubs delivering on this promise? And should even more cash be committed?
In reality, the £1bn giveaway claim seems like pure fantasy. According to the government, Premier League investment in grassroots football during the first six months of 2016 was a paltry £30 - just about enough to buy a third of Paul Pogba.
So the question remains: what is happening to the £333m a year the Premier League has promised to invest in grassroots football? The fact that we have to ask this question is worrying, given the fact that, during 2016’s summer transfer window alone, more than £1.1bn was spent on new players by top-flight clubs.
Despite widespread condemnation of the treatment dished out to fans and those involved in grassroots football, there have been some small wins for the ‘little men’ of English football. The Football Supporters Federation’ recently succeeded in their attempts to limit the cost of attending an away match to £30. And they hope that further efforts will result in this cap being reduced to just £20 in the near future.
It should be a matter of huge embarrassment to the Premier League that Virgin Media decided to subsidise the cost of tickets for visiting supporters - meaning away fans will never pay more than £20 to watch their team at St Mary’s. It would seem that big business thinks more of football fans than the game’s leading body.
Unfortunately, we have already seen evidence of some Premier League clubs trying to claw back reduced revenues caused by capping ticket prices. There have been significant cuts to many subsidised travel services for fans on match days. And there are concerns that home fans could end up paying the price of such measures.
Could things be about to change?
We are still waiting for Premier League clubs to deliver on their promise to invest £1bn in grassroots football over the next three years. We are told that the investment had been put on hold until an investigation into the way TV rights deals had been concluded by Ofcom. Well, now it has, so there’s no excuse for further delays.
So far, all we’ve had is smoke and mirrors from England’s richest clubs. We have promises, but as yet we’ve seen little in the way of action. With Ofcom’s investigation now well and truly put to bed, it is incumbent on the Premier League to take the action they’ve been promising for many years. Let’s just hope this investment isn’t clawed back in some way - at the expense of ordinary fans.
If we believe what the Premier League is telling us, we should expect several announcements on community schemes, improvements to grassroots facilities and development programmes between now and the end of the 2016/2017 season. If a further £300m of investment from the Premier League really does materialise by the end of this season, the future of English football could be brighter than anyone expected.