Could Ian Ayre's intentions be good for English football?
You probably already know that Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has vocalised his inclination towards individual overseas television rights distribution across the Premier League. You may have read Iain Macintosh’s passionate response or Andi Thomas’s eloquent dissection of Ayre’s motives, while a few articles will certainly be popping up in defence of Ayre, Liverpool and their fellow Premier League giants. So upon visiting one of the few sites to actively trumpet the merits of the Football League, you could be forgiven for expecting a condemnation of the idea. You won’t find one. As Ayre suggested, this is something worth exploring and it could do English football a world of good.
Many commentators have already pointed indignantly overseas to Barcelona and Real Madrid, two clubs with the temerity to offer the Premier League’s best players a more attractive means of employment. On these shores, the other main catalyst for Ayre’s desire to open the debate about television rights is the gigantic investment in Manchester City. Before City make the most of the opportunity to grow their fanbase, clubs that already dominate the thoughts of overseas supporters are keen to make their move.
It all sounds ominous for the majority of clubs in the Premier League, never mind the Football League. But for every person that argues against Ayre and his ilk, there must be a growing number of supporters who would not be averse to change — whether that be a European Super League or simply the watered-down option of a vastly imbalanced top flight. As a traditionalist, it is a difficult concept to throw any sort of weight behind on first glance. But let’s delve into things nevertheless.
It is worth pointing out, before we move on to the impact this move would have on the Football League, that journalists fretting over the competitiveness of the Premier League would be well-advised to consider the comparisons they draw with La Liga. If Barcelona and Real Madrid’s massive global fanbase dictates that they dominate La Liga, surely increased television revenue for the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal will make the Premier League more competitive?
After all, the likes of Aston Villa and Sunderland don’t seem to be threatening to break into the top four, much less challenge for the title, at any time soon. The media are perfectly happy for such an enormous club as Liverpool to be the surprise rank outsiders in the race for the title, so why not allow them better tools to make good on their lofty intentions? Those suddenly worried about Bill Shankly’s socialist stance must be watching a different Premier League to the rest of us – one in which Liverpool decided against spending tens of millions on any midfielder they could get their hands on this summer. It seems a bit rich to decide that this latest development is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
From a Football League perspective, the status of those teams upon which the overall standard of the Premier League relies — again, the clubs like Aston Villa and Sunderland that regularly populate mid-table — is the true benchmark of the impact on the divisions beneath. The crux of the matter is this: if it becomes less desirable to emulate mid-table Premier League clubs, surely Championship clubs will be less willing to make dangerous financial gambles in pursuit of a place in the big time?
While winning is always the aim in each game and promotion always the target at the end of every season, there has been an increasingly desperate scramble to reach the top flight in recent years. So if the carrot on offer was suddenly made of tin rather than gold, would it be good news for the Football League?
There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, but ambition is now synonymous with investment. Across the length and breadth of the country, there are so many examples of the pitfalls this approach brings that a rethink is inevitable. If Financial Fair Play will more closely link the size of a club to the money it is permitted to spend, perhaps less evenly distributed television income is a good thing rather than an evil monster that threatens to kill English football?
We have already living in a world in which lower league clubs spend beyond their means to a point where their existence is threatened. Increased revenue at the head of the top table will have zero negative impact on this repeating scenario, but diminished revenue for their “colleagues”, as Ayre so delightfully referred to the Premier League’s less moneyed clubs, could be a good thing. The Big However Many There Are These Days have been busy constructing their own version of Hadrian’s Wall for long enough now — shall we let them build it to the heavens and swim in their television money? After all, the rest of us have a game to play.
This train of thought admittedly poses more questions than answers, but merely to open the lines of dialogue is precisely what Ian Ayre was suggesting. Before we are too quick to leap down his throat in indignation, perhaps the biggest question of all is whether the impact of Ayre’s thoughts on the Premier League is all we should be considering in this debate? Beyond the obvious danger this would pose to the majority of current top flight clubs, there is a much wider argument waiting to rage.