Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughResponding to the Ian Ayre comments - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Responding to the Ian Ayre comments - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Responding to the Ian Ayre comments

After the pause in domestic proceedings to complete the qualifying for the European Championships, we are back to the drama of the Premier League and we start with what promises to be one of the games of the weekend, what a way to get us reacquainted with the self-proclaimed most exciting league in Europe than the meeting between its two most successful members. First on the bill is the mouth-watering Liverpool against Manchester United, always one of the more fiery occasions on the calendar, yet with the comments of Liverpool’s Managing Director Ian Ayre on Tuesday, it is one that may soon be played in a different world to the rest of the league.

Ayre has proposed a break-away to the current deal of foreign TV rights which carries an equal share of the money between all 20 Premier League clubs in a view that has taken influence from the set-up in Spain where Barcelona and Real Madrid have long since benefitted from a top-heavy distribution of income from TV deals. The top two Spanish clubs have the right to negotiate their own rights, which have allowed them to dwarf their counterparts from around Europe, it has allowed them to be able to spend £80 million on Manchester United’s best player in order to further pull away from their English rivals and Ayre is intent on being able to gain the right to bridge this gap.

Ayre sees the attraction of the Premier League declining in comparison to La Liga if the collective sharing continues; his words are “the whole phenomenon of the Premier League could be threatened. If they (Real Madrid and Barcelona) just get bigger and bigger and they generate more and more, then all the players will start drifting that way and will the Premier League bubble burst because we are sticking to this equal-sharing model?”, yet with saying this he overlooks the art of competition that has formed the Premier League into the global force it has become. Under Ayre’s proposals, both Manchester United and Liverpool, as a result of their appeal to a global market, most notably that of the Far East, will both speed off into the distance and leave the rest of the league behind. The likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal will do relitively due to their exposure in the Champions League, but cannot compete in terms of revenue streams from overseas; it will be an elitist band of two. Clubs like Bolton, who Ayre so charmingly singles out in his proposal, will fade away in the midst of the exhaust fumes.

As a result of club negotiated deals, the stream of money for Liverpool and Manchester United will stay roughly the same, while the majority of the Premier League clubs will experience a drop from the £17.9 million a season which is currently handed out as a base figure irrespective of position from 1st to 20th, a principle in place since the inception of the league in 1992 to maintain a solid base of respectable competitiveness. The harsh reality of Ayre’s words, that “in Kuala Lumpar, there isn’t anyone subscribing to Astro or ESPN to watch Bolton”, is sadly true, the emergence of the “Sky 4” suggests in recent years the main draw of the Premier League is the participation of its top clubs. Yet teams like Bolton have earned the right to be a member of English football’s premier competition, and therefore should reserve the right to be treated as equal in terms of money distribution, Ayre’s Megalomaniac prophecy is a self-serving one aimed to maximise further income from an already burgeoning model and the formation of the Premier League, the competition we all call “the best league in the world”, will be dramatically distorted because of it.

It is the huge popularity of the Premier League that Ayre seeks to take advantage of with his plans, the deal in place for collective television rights have almost doubled since the last set of negotiations, from £625 million for 2007-2010 to £1.4 billion for 2010 to 2013 and he thinks that it is because of the elite set of clubs which have pioneered the league into the global age and deserve a bigger slice of the pie because of it. However, it is roughly here that his comments become slightly contradictory, for he cites Spain as the archetypal model but for excitement and drama, the two pre-requisite characteristics for a popular sport, La Liga is not the advised destination.


Barcelona and Real Madrid may be as eagerly awaited on the football calendar as our very own Liverpool vs Manchester United, yet interest falls away sharply when it is Real Zaragoza 0 Real Madrid 6. Spanish T.V rights amount to half of the value of that in England, at £688 million and the Real Madrid, Barcelona duopoly account for 45% of that overall figure. The fact is, the Premier League is not attractive to a Worldwide audience because of Liverpool, it generates widespread popularity because of its excitement, the fact that Manchester United could only win five times away from home last season in contrast to Barcelona’s 14 away wins, the fact that Blackpool beat Liverpool twice in one season. If the Premier League goes down the Ayre route, such unpredictability will have to be waved goodbye.

It is not coincidental however, that Ayre’s comments come at a sensitive time for the Premier League in relation to television rights. The current deal, in place to 2013 and worth a total of £3.2 billion for all Premier League clubs, has seen a significant recent challenge to its internship with the victory of bar-owner Karen Murphy in securing a right for pubs to use foreign decoders for cheaper viewing of the Premier League product. The European Court of Justice over-ruled national legislation, which banned the use of foreign decoders to provide live matches for pub viewing, to licence a cheaper alternative for screening; Murphy paid £118 a month for the Greek service she used in her Portsmouth bar, rather than the £480 she was required to pay for an official broadcast. Pending a decision in the London High Court, such legislation could reduce the amount internal broadcasters are willing to pay for Premier League football, meaning clubs will see a decline in share as a result. The cynics will say that Liverpool have seen this threat and attempted a break-away proposal in order to maximise their own revenue stream.

Regardless of new proposals, that have incidentally been shot down by the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea almost immediately, together with Wigan chairman Dave Whelan and his Stoke counter-part Peter Coates, the Premier League is already home to an unequal power share in that, on top of the collective distribution of television money, comes an end of season prize reward, which as a bigger club you are better placed to receive more of, and an individual match fee, which also benefits the larger clubs more. Furthermore, this is not to mention the money generated from merchandise and marketing, and the Champions League money that is available to the very select group, only six English teams have qualified for the competition in the last five years, that lumps further weight on the Premier League see-saw in favour of the larger clubs. As it is, the likes of Bolton and Stoke fall way behind in terms of commercial revenue but under Ayre’s proposal for a new World, there would be absolutely no chance of a repeat of the latters’ rise from the Championship to established Premier League, European competitors who have already taken points off both Manchester United and Liverpool this term. Stoke would still compete with Liverpool on the same pitch of course but off it, they would be in a totally different stratosphere.

In order to realise the true irony of the position from which Ayre has fired this dramatic prophecy, it is best to revert to the Country he wishes to emulate and Spain, where every season is a two team procession to the summit of the footballing pyramid. Rafael Benitez’ Valencia were the last team other than Real Madrid or Barcelona to win the league, while Villareal in 2008 have become the only team since then to break the axis. Last year, Barcelona’s all conquering gladiators marched home with 96 points with Real Madrid on 92, with Valencia in third on a meagre 71 points. It is this through such dominance that Madrid can send Sergio Canales, a fantastic attacking talent, on loan to Valencia in safe knowledge that he is no close proximity to hurt them. Nobody thinks the Spanish League is genuinely competitive and exciting in the same way the English league is but this is irrelevant to Madrid and Barcelona who effectively host regular play-offs to see who goes on to hoover up all trophies, they have begun to abuse proceedings to suit their own individual gain. Over in Spain, competition in football has been rendered virtually obsolete, and in the greed encapsulated by firstly the preposterous 39th game sham and now the views of Ian Ayre, it is the gluttonous route that English football seems intent on following.

Adam Gray @MonkeyLunch21

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