As Premier League clubs look forward to record revenues, the wider football community is left to wonder how much – or how little – of the new £5bn TV deal will filter down to grassroots level.
Five billion pounds. Even in the crazy world of modern football finance, the Premier League’s latest TV deal left jaws wide open across the game.
Even Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said he was “surprised” at the size of the deal – the second largest in global sport, behind only the NFL – which will take the top English clubs’ revenues to a whole new level.
Sky and BT Sport will pay a record £5.136bn for three seasons of live domestic TV rights from 2016/17. Add to that the £204m BBC paid for Match of the Day and an overseas TV deal yet to be negotiated and it is expected that the Premier League’s income for the period will exceed £8bn.
The new deal will create plenty of winners. The “show”, as Scudamore likes to call it, will no doubt thrive as English clubs continue to attract some of the best playing talent in world football.
Millions of football fans will continue to feast on exciting football drama, although how much of the costs will be transferred to supporters in the form of increased ticket prices and TV, phone and broadband packages – a debate for another time and place – remains to be seen.
The stars of the show will undoubtedly benefit as salaries continue to sky-rocket – how long before the first £500,000-a-week player? – while agents will be licking their lips at the prospect of handling their clients’ next contract negotiations.
£5 billion for the new @premierleague TV deal. The game's awash with money. Cut ticket prices & make it affordable for real fans to attend.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) February 10, 2015
But what about grassroots football? The reality for many clubs across the country is playing on poorly maintained pitches and sub-standard facilities, while week-to-week costs such for essentials like pitch hire, insurance and match fees continue to rise.
How much of the Premier League’s new TV deal contract will find its way down to support the players and volunteers who run the game on parks and playing fields across the country?
Calls for support in this area spread across the game in the wake of the latest TV deal announcement, with Shadow sports minister Clive Efford saying it would be “nothing short of criminal if none of this extra money goes to expand participation at the grassroots of football.”
The Premier League points to the £168m it will spend during the current three-year TV deal on grassroots football and charitable causes, including funding its own community projects – such as Premier League Kicks and Premier League 4Sport – and those run by partners including the PFA.
It also points to the 150 new 3G pitches it will invest in during this time through the Premier League and The FA Facilities Fund.
Any investment in the game should be welcomed, as the beneficiaries of those 150 pitches will no doubt testify, but the investment from the Premier League and its partners into grassroots facilities is put firmly in context when compared to the size of the latest TV deal.
When you look at a figure of £5.136bn, the three digits after the decimal point may appear fairly insignificant coming after a sum of five billion pounds.
But this £136m is, coincidentally, equal to four years’ investment in grassroots facilities by the Premier League, FA and government combined, based on their current £102m three-year arrangement with the Football Foundation.
FA chairman Greg Dyke’s England commission has recently committed to an extra £230m investment in 150 football ‘hubs’ in 30 major cities by 2020.
The government has pledged £50m for the project – a sum matched by the FA themselves – and the Premier League is also expected to contribute.
But those hoping to hear news of the league splashing some of their newly-negotiated cash might have to wait a while.
Negotiations for the Premier League’s overseas TV deal – which covers the same three year period – are expected to be completed by the end of year, at which point the Premier League will sit down with clubs and funding partners to discuss where their money will be invested.
Whilst the league’s grassroots investment is expected to go up, their chief executive refused to guarantee that the 70% increase in revenue from the new TV deal – the second consecutive increase of this size – would be matched by a similar rise in grassroots investment.
“I’m not guaranteeing anything,” said Scudamore on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I’m not in a position to guarantee. I work for 20 employers. We will sit down and look at what is the proportionate thing we should be doing, and I’m absolutely confident that the clubs will do the right and proportionate thing. But I’m not able to guarantee anything.”
Recent history suggests that the grassroots community need not hold their breath.
I want sensible ticket pricing and grass roots football to benefit as much as possible from this deal. Who doesn't! This is a big issue!
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) February 10, 2015
According to statistics published by football finance blog The Swiss Ramble, the Premier League’s revenue grew from £1.223bn in 2010/11 – the first year of the previous TV deal – to £1.915bn in 2013/14 – the first year of the current deal – equating to an increase of 57%.
During the same period, the league’s external distributions – which include solidarity payments to Football League and Conference clubs – went up from £105m to £116.1m – an increase of just 11%.
So as revenues went up with the last TV deal, grassroots investment didn’t keep pace, and most people aren’t expecting it to this time out.
At the time of publication, our current Club Website poll reveals that 84% of the grassroots football community do not expect the Premier League to increase grassroots funding in line with TV revenues.
Scudamore may well argue, as he did on BBC Radio Five Live this month, that the Premier League is “not setup for charitable purposes” but to “put on the best possible football competition”.
He can also point to the £3bn in tax that the Premier League has provided to the Exchequer in the last three seasons, which rightly puts in sharp focus the lack of government investment in public sports facilities.
5 billion pounds spent on premier league rights. And I bet in a year's time we'll still be talking about the lack of funding in grass roots!
— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) February 10, 2015
Scudamore even argues that the Premier League is up there with the Queen and the BBC as things that people overseas “feel are good about the UK”.
He may have a point but, for the wider football community in this country to start feeling good about the Premier League – particularly those involved at grassroots level – his clubs may need to bring their investment in grassroots football a bit closer to the £115m they paid in agents fees last year.
When the government announced their recent £50m investment in the FA’s new 3G hubs project, Scudamore stated his commitment to the cause.
“The Premier League has a longstanding commitment to investing in facilities for the grassroots game, using a significant amount of the income we earn from selling our broadcast rights,” he said.
“Building on that commitment, we will work closely with the Government, the FA and our Clubs to make these new local partnerships a success. Good coaching on good pitches is the foundation of good football, whether it’s people playing for fun or talented youngsters developing their skills for the future and so the whole of football will benefit.”
Just how “significant” the Premier League’s next investment will be remains to be seen but, with ever-increasing TV revenues behind them, Scudamore and his clubs certainly have the means to transform the grassroots game, should they have the will.
Dan Pope, Club Website editor
CW Poll: Will the Premier League’s new £5bn TV deal (up 70%) lead to a similar increase in grassroots funding?
Cast your vote now on your own club/league website, or here on our demo site.