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Liverpool Chief Doesn’t Understand The English Game

After Ian Ayre’s proposals for Premier League clubs to individually sell their foreign TV rights, it’s clear he doesn’t understand the structure of the English game and what makes it the most popular league int he world.

Despite the long and illustrious history of the European Cup, there have only ever been five winners from capital cities (see if you can get all five – answers are at the bottom of the page). It is of no surprise that a number of European Cups have been won by some of the poorest areas, not least Liverpool.

Now before anyone thinks I’m having a go at Liverpool, let me establish my Scouse credentials – my parents are both from Liverpool and I chose (that’s right, CHOSE) to spend three years of my life studying at the University. This is not intended to be a criticism of Liverpool’s socio-economic status, just an acknowledgement that it is not the most affluent area in the world.

In the 1980s, Liverpool was the heartbeat of European football. Quite aside from their seven league titles between 1980 and 1990, they also won two European Cups to add to their two in the late 70s. But, perhaps as equally important was the city’s fight for socialism against the Tories. And this was not just a one off – Liverpool is a city famous for its docks, and everyone remembers Robbie Fowler’s vocal support for the striking workers in the mid-90s. This incident came a full 30 years after another set of striking dockers won the sort of rights that workers everywhere in the country take for granted today.

No-one can question the socialist loyalties of Liverpool as a city. So perhaps this is why it is so surprising, if not upsetting that it is Liverpool FC who are threatening to upset the Premier League applecart. Everyone reading this knows of Ian Ayre’s proposals for Premier League clubs to individually sell their foreign TV rights (it should be stressed that this is foreign TV rights, not domestic ones).

I can understand Ayre’s thinking. Why should Manchester United get the same share of foreign TV deals as a club like Wolverhampton Wanderers? Manchester United has an estimated 333 million fans worldwide, approximately 5% of the world’s population. Surely they should get a larger cut of the pie than the likes of Wolves or Wigan? But, in this case, why is it that Italian and Spanish clubs are agreeing to a collective TV deal rather than the current individual deals?

The strength of the Premier League is its collectiveness. Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two richest clubs in the world. Of the 23 Ballon d’Or nominees in 2010, ten of them play for one of those two clubs. They are clearly two of the best teams in the world, so surely this the league that has the most global interest? Well no. The Premier League currently earns £479m a season from its foreign TV rights, easily the most in the world. La Liga in second place earns £132m. The difference is staggering. The fact that in the past two seasons, Valencia in third has finished 25 and 22 points behind Real Madrid in second shows the disparity in the league.

Is La Liga really a competition that the Premier League clubs will be looking to emulate? It is a league where only two teams have a chance of winning on a week by week basis, let alone winning a trophy. The Scottish Premier League has long been derided as a two team league, yet it is far more competitive in terms of the top of the table than La Liga. Last season, Barcelona and Real Madrid won 96 and 92 points, with +74 and +69 goal differences respectively. Rangers and Celtic won 93 and 92 points each, with goal differences of +59 and +63. Competitive much?

Earlier this year, La Liga decided to move to a collective TV rights deal that benefited only Barcelona and Madrid. The problem there was that the other 18 clubs realised that they would struggle without the presence of Barcelona and Real Madrid in their league and so gave them exactly what they want. Unfortunately, what they failed to realise was that Real Madrid and Barcelona cannot survive without the rest of the league.

This is what Liverpool has to realise – even without Liverpool Football Club, and potentially the other big teams (and to what degree Liverpool are still one of the big clubs in terms of performance is a debate for another day), English football will survive. When Manchester United was taken over by the Glazer family, fans were so disgruntled they formed a new club. Imagine the uproar if a team was to turn its back on its country? Sure, some fans would go with the club, but I foresee a number of new non-league clubs formed by former supporters.

I very much hope that Ian Ayre does not really want individual rights; if he does he has a severe misunderstanding of the structure of English football. Even Sir Alex Ferguson, the team whose club would potentially have most to gain was quoted just a few weeks ago, saying “We’d love to have our own but I don’t think it should happen that way. It’s quite fair to have all equal shares”. My theory is that this is just a precursor to a renegotiation of the contract, so the foreign TV deal will be split on the same basis as the domestic one. This, while giving even more financial muscle to the big teams may well be accepted by the other clubs in a bid to keep any future deal collective.

However, if Liverpool FC has its heart set on individual TV rights, it is more than welcome to them. Just not in our league structure.

The answers: Real Madrid (9), Ajax Amsterdam (4), Benfica (2), Red Star Belgrade and Steaua Bucharest (one each)

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