Alistair HendrieComment


Alistair HendrieComment

After the emotion had died down over Ian Ayre's suggestion regarding oversea's television deals and such like, Clive Tyldesley talked to us about the uproar and offered a different take on the subject 

Since its formation in 1992, the foundations of the Premier League have been based on one thing – television money. Without it, football would be an entirely different animal. From the very beginning, the big five clubs at the time – Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton and Spurs – struck a deal with Rupert Murdoch that would see football at its most lucrative point in history. The first contract was worth nearly £191m, whereas nowadays, Premier League clubs rake in around £1.7bn a season from domestic television.

Rick Parry, then Chief Executive of Liverpool, was divisive in securing that opening contract. Back then, in the early Premier League days, Liverpool electrified with a young squad brimming with English talent – the likes of Jamie Redknapp, John Barnes, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman.

However, life in the Premier League has hardly been a bed of roses for Liverpool. Considering the 80s when Liverpool were one of the main powerhouses of world football, the Merseyside club have been on the slide ever since. In the 80s, Liverpool won 18 trophies. Following on from those glorious halcyon days, in the last 21 years, they have lifted 14 trophies – a rapid decline.

It seems everything has changed for Liverpool since the birth of the Premier League. Today Liverpool are well below Champions League standard and have been overthrown by the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United. They have also endured the money-spurned sky-rocketing of Chelsea and Manchester City, combined with Spurs’ recent resurgence. Indeed, this season, they are without European football. Given their recent history, it seems unthinkable.

Parry is also gone now, having left in the summer of 2009. But his shadow still hangs over Anfield. Of course, as is well chronicled now, Liverpool are governed by the TV deal which Parry laboured hard to thrash out. And now, current Managing Director Ian Ayre is after a fresh TV arrangement for the club. It’s a glaring sign of how irony can strike at any time. Liverpool are not the force they once were and are now left ruing the deal which they had a huge hand in creating.  

As written by Iain Macintosh earlier for this site, Ayre discussed an alternative system for overseas rights - an arrangement in which clubs could create their own deals for screening their matches abroad. The uproar came, and Ayre, defending himself in the last few days, said that the quotes were misconstrued.  

Clive Tyldesley, commentator for ITV, shed some light on the matter after the dust settled and offered a different point of view on the debate. He argued: “I think he was just raising the question as opposed to proposing a new deal. It’s a very tabloidy story and I think the quotes were taken out of context.”

But at a time when the best clubs are far more dominant, particularly in Spain, is football heading for a system in which only the richest, biggest clubs prosper? Tyldesley opines that this is just way the market is. “You could call it greed, or you could call it good marketing, depending on whether or not you are from a capitalist viewpoint. If you are owner of a Sainsburys, you wouldn’t want to give money to the corner shop. Plus, in essence, Liverpool are competing with the likes of Wigan for fans – the two are only 20 or so miles apart – so why would you want to share money with your competitors? If Liverpool make an eighth of the pie, they might want more than just a twentieth.”

A cold, uncompromising sentiment, you might think. Yet it is a ray of hope that the Premier League is so determined to keep on a level playing field regarding revenue. To take the most obvious example from last season’s numbers, Manchester United – runaway champions – generated £67m compared to Blackpool’s £42m. The three-year parachute payments for relegated clubs are also a much-trumpeted element which the Premier League has introduced.

In Spain, there is a stark contrast, as superclubs Barcelona and Real Madrid made around €140m, compared to Atletico Madrid and Valencia – third and fourth in the revenue table – who accumulated €42. Worse still, the bottom five clubs were left high and dry with €12m.

Hence the Premier League is one of the fairest in Europe in terms of money. It makes the decision to break away from The Football League and maximise income seem all the more shrewd and well-timed. Despite understanding Ayre’s stance, Tyldesley has praised the current system of largely equal revenue on these shores, commenting: “The way the Premier League is run is very fair, what with parachute payments for the relegated clubs as well. If you take away from the likes of Bolton and Wigan, you take away what makes the Premier League special. We have seen the likes of Arsenal struggle at the smaller clubs in recent years, and what’s more, these are the clubs Liverpool play week in, week out, so they still owe something back.”

Ayre raised the ire of many with his cynical yet probably justified view that fewer fans in Asia were tuning in to watch Bolton. Admittedly, on paper there looks to be little scope for the smaller clubs to make money. Even though the Premier League is blessed with a wealth of enterprising, attractive sides, it is historically top-heavy, with Manchester United crowned champions in 12 of the 20 seasons since the rebranding.

Only three others – Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers – have won the Premier League and the more ardent traditionalists would argue that Chelsea and Blackburn’s successes were merely down to deep, deep transfer kitties. Single television deals for each club would only make sense for the biggest clubs and, of course, what the Premier League does not want is a system resembling the farce La Liga finds itself in.

Indeed, the backlash over the concrete Barca-Real duopoly is one which has been exploding for some time. Tyldesley has attacked the Spanish model and, despite praising their dominant sides, admits that it could be damaging the Spanish game in the long run. “In Spain, I think they are heading to a system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, he sighed. “If we go towards the Spanish model, it won’t benefit everyone. For clubs to get their own deals here, they’d have to get two thirds of the vote, and I don’t think the likes of Wigan and Bolton would be falling over themselves to agree to this.”

“The current system is fair on everyone, but essentially, the big clubs’ hands are tied. They can’t maximise their money unless they form a European super league with the likes of Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona, which I can’t see happening.”

So Ayre’s view of the bigger clubs gaining more of a stranglehold on the globe is, according to Tyldesley, a pipe dream. English football is currently at a crossroads in which two of the country’s biggest sides – Liverpool and Manchester United – are owned by Americans finding their feet in this country, some of whom were largely oblivious to the sport beforehand. With arguments over foreign ownership, game 39 and upwardly mobile cashflow within the leading pack, it seems that clubs are now searching for any loophole to make money. It’s a significant indication of where football is today. Let the debate continue.

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