Sport

Should The Government Save Football?

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The recent Government update announced a range of new restrictions that have the potential to last six months, including the announcement that plans to start allowing limited amounts of supporters in to large sporting events are to be postponed. Should then the UK Government start to help out EFL clubs, that will be impacted financially as a result?

An open letter was penned to Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, that was then signed by several influencers within the world of football, such as Greg Dyke, former FA chairman, and Robbie Savage, pundit and former player. The letter warns that the financial impact of not allowing fans of lower league clubs in to grounds ‘”could lead not only to the failure of many historic community clubs, but the collapse of the national league structure that we have known for over one hundred years”. They also point out that £1.5 billion has been made available to the arts and cultural organisations, and ask the government what support they are willing to offer.

Football is seen as a money game though, and in many ways, it is. However, the issue is that it is only a money game for a very select number of clubs and/or leagues. The Championship Play-Off game is called ‘the richest game in football’. For this reason, promotion to the Premier League gives a guaranteed, £31.8 million revenue just from TV money alone. 

It was predicted that the total value of last seasons play-off game was over £100 million. This has led to calls from some in football, that the Premier League and their teams, should share some of this wealth to the lower league teams to ensure their survival, but is it really their responsibility?

The footballing profession has often had a bad press when it comes to financials, with the arguments online comparing footballers’ wages to a nurse’s wages, remerging again and again. Some of the eye catching figures in top level football does little to help with this with Chelsea spending around £200 million this summer alone. Some top level clubs seem to have also felt the effects of Coronavirus this year, with Liverpool, Bournemouth and Tottenham originally furloughing some members of staff, before reversing that decision after criticism in the media and from supporters. 

Arsenal proposed 55 redundancies to non-playing staff in August which was met with widespread criticism when they have players on hundreds of thousand pounds a week, whilst investing over £50 million in new players. Other clubs have tried to restore some faith back in to football. Southampton announced that ‘the board of directors, the first-team manager, his coaching staff and the first-team squad’ will defer their salaries for three months over the summer to protect the club and staff. 

The revenue that Premier League clubs draw in compared to lower leagues is almost unparalleled. In 2019/20, the average revenue for a Premier League club was £291 million, whereas in League 2, that was a paltry £4 million, according to this report. The majority of this comes from ticket sales, rather than TV revenue or sponsorship deals, and this is where the stark difference in football really becomes apparent and some call for the top divisions to help the lower leagues. 

Although, the argument against this is fairly obvious; why should these clubs help out others that they have no ties to? Why should Manchester United bail out Mansfield Town? Why would Arsenal give money to Southend United? This may seem a cold and morally questionable way at looking at it, but these clubs are businesses after all. We don’t see Apple helping out the local repair shop, nor Sainsbury’s bailing out the town corner shop, so why should these elite clubs help the lower leagues. This is where many argue that the government should step in and provide support.

The UK is a football loving nation, who can forget the scenes during the Russia World Cup, or the open top parade for Wales after Euro 2016. Millions of fans around the UK base their weekends around football, visiting a local team, watching on the TV or popping to the pub to watch Soccer Saturday. The revenue that it brings to not just the clubs but also the hospitality sector around the UK is invaluable. Surely, this is something that would be worthwhile saving? 

This could be seen as a quick win for the government. Offering financial support to many beloved smaller clubs, would no doubt improve their popularity in the area amongst some of the locals. If the help comes, then it is likely to be in the form of a short-term loans or government grants, which would be a welcomed reprieve for lower league clubs. 

However, this is a short-term fix, rather than a solution. In fact, it may merely be prolonging the inevitable. There have been predictions that many clubs will not see the end of the season, and we may see similar situations to Bury, one of the oldest clubs in English football, that folded this year, after being formed in 1889. Short-term loans offer the assumption that they will be paid back by the clubs, but when and at what expense is hard to predict currently. 

The government must surely be weighing up the social and economic factors of helping out sport in general, but football specifically. In a year that has already seen vast sums of money spent on furlough schemes, eat out to help out and small business grants, how high is lower league football on the government’s list? 

The vast amount of money spent in the Premier League transfer window shows that there is still money in the game, but where the responsibility lies to look after other clubs in the football league, remains an unknown. This is a worrying time for the English Football League, with both the clubs’ staff and their supporters hoping that they can raise enough finances to survive the winter. As the pressure mounts and more stories arise of clubs struggling financially, the government may be forced to step in to protect local communities and the clubs they support.

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