Ian Ayre may boast of Liverpool’s pulling power in Kuala Lumpur, but he is unlikely to receive much support with his proposals to break up the Premier League’s television deal.
The Anfield managing director believes the club should be allowed to sell its overseas TV rights, which would bring an end to the collective agreement between all twenty top-flight clubs. The current deal, he argues, is disadvantaging the top clubs in England, of which he includes his own, when compared to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid who can sell rights individually.
“Maybe the path will be individual TV rights, like they do in Spain,” he told The Guardian. “With the greatest respect of to our colleagues in the Premier League, if you’re a Bolton [Wanderers] 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. The large majority are subscribing to watch Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal. So is it right that the international rights are shared equally between all the clubs?”
Whilst these comments may well cause outrage amongst the vast majority of teams in the Premier League, they will unlikely cause much surprise, such is modern day football. Greed has been a regular theme of clubs belonging in the top tier for twenty years now, ever since the elite called for a breakaway from the Football League to create its current format. But if what Ayre is proposing were to become a reality, then it would hammer home another nail in the coffin of those clubs who have already all but given up hope of emulating the achievements of Brian Clough, who led his Nottingham Forest side from the old second division to the English title and two European Cups within the space of five years.
At the moment, fifty percent of the £2.1billion domestic TV deal is shared equally between the twenty clubs. Another 25% is distributed according to final league position, with the final 25% dependent on how many times each club is shown live on television. In other words, Liverpool already have it better than most: during the previous nineteen seasons they have never finished below eighth and have on twelve occasions ended in the top four, whilst as one of the most popular sides in the country, they will always get more than their fair share of live coverage.
Overseas rights, which has prompted Ayre’s comments, have always been shared equally, and is worth £1.4billion over the next three years. So whilst Manchester United celebrated a record nineteenth league title last season, they pocketed exactly the same amount of money (£17.9million) as Liverpool, who finished in sixth position, or even West Ham United, who ended the season managerless and rock bottom of the ladder.
We already have a situation in England where only a handful of teams can challenge for a place in the top four; fewer more for the league: indeed, since the inception of the Premier League, only four sides have won the title. But despite this, it remains one of the most competitive throughout Europe: for example, there was little surprise last month when Stoke City, who finished in thirteenth place last season, held champions United to a 1-1 draw.
If the top clubs were to withdraw from the collective television deal in two years time and negotiate their own, then where would it leave the competition from others? What Ayre doesn’t appreciate is that whilst this would harm the smaller clubs in the division, it would also likely damage the reputation and integrity of the Premier League as a whole. One of the most appealing aspects of the competition is that teams like Wolverhampton Wanderers can go to Anfield and believe, as they successfully did last season, they can leave with three points.
Ayre refers to the Spanish model as perhaps the way ahead. In La Liga, Barcelona and Real Madrid negotiate their own deals, which see them make more than twelve times as much as the smaller teams in the division (last season, by comparison, top earners United raked in just three times more than the lowest earners, Blackpool). And how has this affected the competition in Spain? Speaking recently, Sevilla president Jose Maria Del Nido described it as: “The biggest rubbish in Europe…a Third World league in which two clubs subtract the television money from the rest of us who are competing. We are running down the Spanish league.”
If Ayre was expecting the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United to jump on his bandwagon, it appears as though he is well wide of the mark. The Stamford Bridge club have already released a statement in support of the current model, insisting they want it to continue. United, who actually suggested a similar idea in regards to overseas rights eight years ago, earlier this year also supported the existing deal, lauding it for allowing for a competitive league. So taking these two out of the equation, and considering Ayre will need the backing of fourteen Premier League clubs, it looks as though Liverpool will definitely be walking alone on this one.