With a new £8bn Premier League TV deal about to kick in, should the FA consider an overhaul of the competition’s prize structure to make more funds available to non-league and grassroots football?
Manchester United and Crystal Palace head to Wembley this weekend with just one thing on their minds: FA Cup glory.
Palace are aiming to win the Cup for the very first time, while United have their sights set on matching Arsenal’s record of 12 FA Cup victories.
Supporters will fill Wembley Way and sing along to Abide With Me dreaming of glory in the oldest competition in world football.
The players will picture themselves climbing up the Wembley steps to collect a winners medal; captains Wayne Rooney and Mile Jedinak will dream of holding aloft the famous trophy.
It is unlikely that anyone on either side, including those in the boardroom, will be thinking of the £1.8m prize money on offer to the winners, or the £900,000 runners-up prize to soften the blow if they lose. They also won’t dwell on the £1.6m that they have won en route to the final.
The simple fact is that Premier League finances operate on another scale to the rest of English football and the prizes on offer in the FA Cup are already fairly small beer in comparison.
From next season top flight finances enter a different stratosphere altogether, with the new domestic and overseas TV deals bringing in a combined £8bn to the top 20 clubs in the country over the next three years.
Next season a side could play as badly as Aston Villa did this year and still pocket £100m for finishing bottom of the Premier League, while the champions will bank a cool £160m.
With riches like that coming their way, would any club really miss £67,500 for winning an FA Cup third round tie if that prize wasn’t on offer?
The FA’s remit, in their own words, is to “protect and grow the game of football in England”, so perhaps they should focus more of their investment on those parts of the game that need protecting and growing most urgently. The Premier League seems to be doing alright for itself.
In 2015, the FA had an annual turnover of £318m and an overall expenditure of £299m, of which £117m was invested back into the game.
The national game – i.e. grassroots football – received a total of £47m , which included £16m distributed to County FAs, £4m investment in coaching and participation, £13m to the Football Foundation to invest in facilities and £4m in distributions from the FA Cup.
£21m was invested into projects that span the whole game, including women’s and girls’ football, the Respect programme and FA Learning, whilst the professional game received £49m – i.e. more than the national game.
Of this, £30m was distributed from the FA Cup, comprising prize funds, TV broadcast fees and the FA Cup Pool – which collects a share (usually 10%) of gate receipts from the third round onwards for redistribution to all 92 league clubs.
This season’s FA Cup prize money totals £15.1m (see table below). £2.2m was awarded to non-league clubs; Championship, League One and League Two clubs pocketed a combined £2.9m, whilst £10m found its way into Premier League club coffers.
FA Cup prize money 2015/16 (click to enlarge)
This is hardly a surprise. Only 17 of the 100 semi-finalists in the last 25 years have come from outside of the top flight, just three of whom – Sunderland (1992), Millwall (2004) and Cardiff (2008) – made it to the final, where they all lost.
If the bookies’ favourites win on Saturday, then 21 of those last 25 FA Cups will have been won by just four teams: Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Whilst the prize money keeps finding its way to the same clubs, they rely on it less and less. Last season, Arsenal scooped £3.4m in prize money for their winning FA Cup run, which equated to just one percent of their £344m revenue.
Some may argue that the competition is there to be won and the lion’s share of the prize money should always find its way to the most successful clubs, like in virtually every other professional sporting competition.
But the FA’s responsibilities extend far beyond the FA Cup and rewarding those who are successful in it. They exist to look after the whole of the game and have a responsibility to nurture the game’s grassroots.
The £10m spent on FA Cup prize money to Premier League teams last year dwarfs the £4m invested in coaching and participation in the national game and is almost on a par with the FA’s annual investment into the Football Foundation (£13m), which funds vital work improving grassroots football facilities across the country.
Since the FA sanctioned the Premier League breakaway in 1992, the financial independence granted to the top 20 English clubs has enabled them increasingly to stand on their own two feet, without the financial support of the game’s governing body.
So, as custodians of the game, why can’t the FA exercise some control in the one area they still have it and change the rules of the competition that bears their name to ensure a more equitable distribution of funds across the game?
Would Arsenal, Man United or the new champions of England, Leicester City, refuse to play in the FA Cup if they were allocated a smaller share of the pie and lower league clubs, non-league clubs and grassroots clubs received more? Unlikely. It wouldn’t reflect well on them, that’s for sure.
The rules around distribution of FA Cup revenue – already complicated enough – could no doubt be tweaked further to ensure more money is allocated to non-league clubs or ring-fenced for grassroots football.
Or to keep it simple, why not keep everything the same with one major change: any prize money for Premier League clubs is placed in a grassroots football fund, to spend on training the next generation of coaches, providing new pitches for teams to play or subsidising new kit to play in.
If the Premier League clubs aren’t keen on the idea, you could even extend it so that the prize money they earn is spent on grassroots football within five or 10 or 20 miles of the club, thereby providing tangible benefits for their cup progress and giving something back to the local football community, which includes many of their supporters.
So rather than Stoke City pocketing £67,500 for their third round win over Doncaster – enough to pay Xherdan Shaqiri one week’s wages – they could give 450 budding football coaches in the Potteries free access to a Level One course.
Could Manchester City really complain if the £157,500 earned by their run to the fifth round was instead used to put 500 prospective youth coaches through the FA Youth Award modules one and two?
You get the picture. When you point out how much good a relatively tiny amount – in Premier League terms – can do at grassroots level, it just shows how far our of whack football’s finances are in this country.
The Premier League will point out that its clubs are already set to double their investment in grassroots football from next season – to over £100m a year – but, when you consider that the team finishing last in next season’s Premier League will pocket more than six times this season’s total FA Cup prize pot, it puts the game-changing new TV deal into perspective.
Clubs will always want to win the FA Cup and add their name to the list of winners of the oldest and most famous domestic cup competition in the world. A rethink on FA Cup prize money should not change that.
Even a radical rethink like the one proposed above would not have a huge financial impact at the top end of the game, but it could make a massive difference to thousands of grassroots clubs across the country.
CW Poll: With the new Premier League TV deal starting next season, should all FA Cup prize money for PL teams be redirected to grassroots football?
Cast your vote on your club or league website now – or here on our demo site – and have your say in the comments section below.
FA Cup image courtesy of The FA.