Liverpool’s managing director Ian Ayre has said the club should be able to sell its own overseas TV rights – a move which would end the “collective agreement” between all 20 Premier League clubs. Ayre believes the current set-up is “disadvantaging” English clubs as Spanish clubs, such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, can sell rights individually.
However, critics say the move would widen the gap between rich and poor leading to a more uncompetitive top-flight than currently exists. The current overseas deal runs from 2010-13 and is worth £1.4bn. For Ayre’s plans to be approved 14 of the current Premier League clubs would have to vote in its favour.
Speaking to the Guardian, Ayre said: “Personally I think the game-changer is going out and recognising our brand globally. Maybe the path will be individual TV rights like they do in Spain. There are so many things moving in that particular area. What is absolutely certain is that, with the greatest of respect to our colleagues in the Premier League, but if you're a Bolton fan in Bolton, then you subscribe to Sky because you want to watch Bolton. Everyone gets that.
“Likewise, if you're a Liverpool fan from Liverpool, you subscribe. But if you're in Kuala Lumpur there isn't anyone subscribing to Astro, or ESPN to watch Bolton, or if they are it's a very small number. Whereas the large majority are subscribing because they want to watch Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal.
“So is it right that the international rights are shared equally between all the clubs? Some people will say: 'Well you've got to all be in it to make it happen.' But isn't it really about where the revenue is coming from, which is the broadcaster, and isn't it really about who people want to watch on that channel? We know it is us. And others. At some point we definitely feel there has to be some rebalance on that, because what we are actually doing is disadvantaging ourselves against other big European clubs.”
The fans' view
However, Ayre's opinions are not shared by all Liverpool fans. Speaking to the FSF Spirit of Shankly’s James McKenna argued that such a move could harm supporters: “We are surprised at the latest comments from Ian Ayre. It leads us to question whether Liverpool FC, and other clubs, intend to actively pursue negotiating their own TV rights. While we recognise that the football club is looking to increases its commercial revenues, pursuing such avenues can lead to further problems.
“Supporters, who are becoming increasingly frustrated at the constant changing of dates and times for football matches at the request of TV stations, will be fearful as to what any new deals could mean for them. TV stations, paying more money, are likely to want an even greater say in the kick-off times. As the true lifeblood of a football club, it is important that loyal supporters attending matches are not forgotten in the clamour to make more money.
“There is also a worry that such a move towards negotiating your own TV rights deals would be another step towards Game 39 as clubs look to exploit their global brand. The competitiveness of the league would also suffer from any changes, as all clubs currently receive equal shares of any overseas deal. Giving more money to the ‘glamour’ clubs will only reduce this, creating a league within a league.”
Spirit of Shankly also point out that clubs and supporters in Spain are becoming increasingly unhappy with the manner in which Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate La Liga while clubs in Italy have recently chosen to revert to collective bargaining. Sevilla’s president José María del Nido recently called La Liga “rubbish – the biggest pile of junk in Europe” while half of league's clubs cannot attract shirt sponsorship.
Writing in Sports Illustrated the FSF’s Football Writer of the Year Sid Lowe described TV rights as the “single most important factor” which allow Barcelona and Real Madrid to operate on a budget at least four times the size of their nearest rivals. “The disparity between the two biggest teams and the rest is concerning; for the rest, economic viability is a pipe dream, competing impossible.”
Of the major European leagues the Premier League is currently the most equitable when it comes to the redistribution of TV funds although additional revenue from the Champions League and billionaire benefactors has seen an elite emerge in recent years. Football Supporters’ Federation chair Malcolm Clarke argued that the collective agreement must be maintained.
Clarke said: “This wouldn’t just be a step in the wrong direction but a giant leap. The vast majority of match-going fans would oppose the move and we hope most Premier League clubs would too. They’d be crazy not to as many would be signing their own death warrant when it comes to top-flight competition.
“The growth of the Premier League has been underpinned by the collective agreement. The idea that it should be thrown away to allow a very small number of clubs to further gorge themselves on overseas TV rights is ridiculously short-sighted. When it comes to the redistribution of TV money the Premier League has the narrowest gap between top and bottom of all major European leagues and it should stay that way.”
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