A Football League SWOT Analysis: The Threats
The stethoscope we have applied to the Football League over the past week has revealed a not altogether satisfactory heartbeat and the fact that the weaknesses section of our study has been easily the most read does indicate that there is concern for the competition’s health among supporters.
Which leads us to the threats section, the most portentous of the four categories, and one which can often appear indistinguishable from the weaknesses discussed on Wednesday.
Indeed, it’s when such shortcomings escalate that weaknesses become threats. In the world of business (and I’ll go on record here by stating that I don’t believe football is a business in the pure sense of the term), that may lead to a cessation of trading, be it due to a takeover (hostile or otherwise), a failure to balance the books or, en route, redundancies and austerity aplenty.
The Football League probably isn’t going to go away entirely and threats to its arrangement as it stands might actually be advantageous to the greater good – a breakdown in the current structure and a remerging along the lines that the Scottish Premier and Football Leagues are contemplating could reduce the power of Big Brother.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t look likely any time soon and it’s the nature of the Football League as a vassal state of the Premier League which is at the root of most of the problems.
In March, two proposals were proposed at a meeting of Football league chairmen – a salary cap for clubs relegated from the EPL which would amount to £16 million in the first year, £10 million in 2014-15 and 8 million the year after, and a suggestion that the £2.3 million solidarity payment to demoted clubs be shared out more equally among second tier teams.
The response from Richard Scudamore who, let’s remember, is actually the head of a rival organisation, was a flat NO – the response in turn to that was a toadying whimper.
For as Steve Wright of Nottingham Forest blog, Mist Rolling In From The Trent remarked on twitter, the larger Championship clubs would appear to regard their status as an unpleasant holding bay whereby they carry on attempting to spend themselves back into the Terrible Twenty, paying scant regard to those they consider to be beneath them and meekly accepting all the ignominies thrown at them.
Further identification as a second rate product could lead to a host of additional dangers:
This has reared its head before and there is a quizzical mindset among those owners who have been involved in American sports as to why this is allowed. Sacrosanct it may be to most of us, but money reverberates and how many Cardiff fans would be in favour of no relegation suddenly being introduced from next season? Given the scarlet pitch invasion when the Welsh side were promoted, quite a few, I’d wager.
Pulling up the drawbridge is a favourite human pastime and although most British soccer fans would declare themselves to be against it, how many Premier league fans would actually stop going to matches if it were imposed?
The last individual to suggest relegation might be scrapped was League Managers’ Association Chief Executive Richard Bevan and he pointed the finger at those owners – at the time, 8 out of the 20 in the Premier League – who he claimed to be broadly in favour of the idea. This followed on from Phil Gartside’s hankering for a two tier cut off point a couple of years before. This could still happen.
Extension of the franchise model
It’s happened once and once only but my fellow blogger Lloyd has pointed to what he claims is the ‘normalization’ of MK Dons. However, increasingly, when expressing disapproval of how the Buckinghamshire club came into being, we find ourselves subjected to the kinds of looks reserved for fans of Mumford and Sons.
I now find myself in a minority of a handful in continuing to refuse to visit Stadium: MK despite my acknowledgement of the city’s hidden pleasures. Now, alternative scenarios are raising their ugly heads – remember how it was mooted with all seriousness that Glasgow Rangers could assume the fixtures of a dying Bury in 2012?
Bury have happily now been saved and that Rangers are doing it the hard way thanks to a SFL contingent far less willing to be supine than their counterparts south of the border is encouraging for now – but if money is everything, sooner or later, the temptation would emerge again. Rangers and Celtic in the English Leagues? Dublin City? I doubt we have heard the last of either idea.
For the dreadful financial straits so many of the League’s clubs find them in puts them in the same category as regular businesses that falter and we cannot be far away from a big club throwing in the towel altogether. For Jessops, HMV and others, read a range of the Football League’s finest.
Could it be Blackburn Rovers with that rumoured £40 million debt, could it be QPR if Tony Fernandes loses patience? Could it be Wigan or Reading if the necessary downsizing that comes with relegation is not handled bullishly enough?
The League too finds itself in a financial pickle less than two months away from the big start – B&Q decided there was nothing to build on and pulled out of a deal that would have matched the financial arrangement that npower provided for the period between 2009 and 2012. That £21 million leaves a hole wider than Adebayo Akinfenwa’s girth and there will be accountants feeling very hot under the collar as they work 24/7 to line up a replacement.
Domino’s Pizza, who incidentally have a gargantuan operation not too far from Stadium: MK, are rumoured to be waiting in the wings, but they’ll no doubt be rubbing their hands in glee – having a desperate client over a barrel will likely mean a reduced agreement while, needless to say, other large benefactors such as Sky may also consider they are paying too much for what they get in return.
Loss of interest
Which leaves us with that other ever present threat – bums disappearing from seats. We explored how encouraging Football League attendances were in the Strengths section of this analysis but if clubs persist in their kamikaze, disrespectful pricing policies, then people will start to desert.
The range of alternative entertainments on offer is now legion – not least football on the television – and there is a contingent of folks who would still actually rather watch Jeff Stelling and Matt le Tissier gaze down on monitors than head down to Brisbane Road or Huish Park of a Saturday.
Yes – the League still appears buoyant in so many ways but outside the success stories such as Swansea City and Brighton and Hove Albion, there are a great many clubs – Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Leeds – where decline could be terminal if care is not taken to rebuild from a sustainable base.
That is happening in patches and the lead of organisations such as the Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct as well as the increased financial literacy fans now enjoy thanks to the likes of Wyn Grant, David Conn and John Beech do provide hope for the future. That said, in the final We Are Going Up Podcast of the season, David Cameron Walker (no, not him) and Mark Crossley underlined how the Cardiff City fiasco shows how it is all still about success on the pitch for most fans.
We have to be careful that this does not come at too high a price.