Call it generosity, call it guilt but the decision by the current twenty Premiership clubs to hand over at least£1billion of their new £5billion TV deal to the lower leagues sides and grassroots needs to be commended. In a meeting yesterday, the clubs decided unanimously to hand back £50million each in an unprecedented move. That money will now be given to five worthy areas in the lower regions of English football – grassroots facilities, participation, fan engagement and match day experience, solidarity with lower leagues and supporting disadvantaged groups. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has called the decision “the right thing to do” and added that it would be tough to find another sport that is as committed to this level of sharing. He fell short of breaking down how much each area would get in terms of redistribution as the agreement is dependent on the outcome of a regulatory challenge from Ofcom into how the league sells its TV rights and further additional potential income generated from lucrative international TV right sales.
The divide between the top tier in England and the other leagues has been growing year over year since the launch if the Premiership in 1992. Clubs in the Premiership have profited considerably from increased interest and subsequent lofty TV deals whilst sides in the lower divisions struggle to survive. Sky and BT agreed this year to a three year, £5.136billion deal that will start in 2016 but as the Premiership continues to grow its global brand this cost could rise to as much as £8billion when they come to renegotiate for the rights to continue in 2019. By stark contrast the TV deal struck between Sky and the Football League, which runs the three divisions under the Premiership – Championship, League One and League Two is also a three year deal but for a much smaller sum – £264million. Interest in the Championship both domestically and internationally is growing as the league attempts to become more attractive to investors by making itself more competitive but reaching the same levels of TV revenues that the Premiership is getting now is still very much a pipe dream.
Whilst the move has been welcomed by many of the fans groups associated to the lower league clubs including the Football Supporters Federation, there are some who believe that the amount is still not enough and that the Premiership should be sharing more of its wealth. But the move is a step in the right direction for many who see the investment as a way to protect the future of football in England going forward. In an additional move, the twenty Premiership clubs have also agreed to pay all full time staff at their own clubs at least the living wage. The current living wage is set at £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 an hour in the rest of the UK. This should help to appease several fan groups who have been protesting for fairer conditions for their workers associated to the Premiership clubs. The fans are also calling for a reduction of match day tickets with the average cost now sitting at £56, a dramatic rise from the average cost of £19 when the league kicked off in 1992 which has meant that the common working fan struggles to afford to attend games on a regular basis. In previous years families used to take their kids to games but with the cost of a match day experience for a family of four reaching the £300 mark (after tickets, transport, food etc), it proves too difficult for families who are struggling to make ends meet. That decision lies with the clubs themselves who may be less likely to lower prices given this new deal with the lower leagues.