Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Two-Tiered Premier League?

The Sunday Mirror UK says Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside, an influential member of the Football Association board, has put together a blueprint that is being circulated among key figures within the game. Gartside’s blueprint proposes two Premier League divisions, each of 18 teams, with promotion and relegation of two clubs between the divisions and relegation from the second division to the Football League. A winter break and also possibility of two Scottish clubs to join Premier League 2 are among the recommendations of the document.
The full Sunday Mirror article can be read from here.

At first glance, this is clearly an attempt to preserve Premiership status and the associated financial benefits of clubs outside of the Big 4. Let's face it, any club other than the Big 4, run the risk of being relegated. This revamp of the Premier League system will definitely cushion the blow of relegation, both financially and football-wise.

I can think of 3 reasons why this proposal should be accepted
1. Increased revenue
According to the Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance, the Premier League reported £1.5b in revenues for the 2006/2007 season and is estimated to reach £1.9b for 2007/2008 season. In contrast, the Championship (conceivably the clubs eligible for "Premier League 2") clubs reported only 3% growth in revenue to £329m for 2006/2007.
More worrying is that wage increase within the Championship clubs is at 14% which would indicate a net loss for most clubs which are playing in the Championship. This disparity must be addressed otherwise more clubs will go bankrupt, much the same way as Southampton, Leeds and Luton. It must be remembered that football clubs existed initially as a social club and have deep roots in British society. The amount of clubs going into administration (about 17 so far) is alarming and should be addressed.
With a two-tier Premier League, more clubs can be a part of the gravy train, thereby reaping the financial rewards to build a sustainable future for themselves. Clubs will also benefit from the increased revenue from TV viewership with the expansion of the current 20 clubs to 36 clubs. This bootstrap effect will also pull up the revenue earning power of the so-called Championship clubs putting them in a much stronger financial position, eliminating the chasm in financial muscle over time.

2. Increased competition - breaking the Big 4 monopoly
This is a no brainer. With the increased riches (okay, the Big 4 will get richer) clubs will be able to build a good capable squad. The intent hopefully, over some years, is for clubs like Cardiff and Birmingham City to compete with the bigger clubs. Yo-yo teams like WBA and Sunderland will have the time and finances to develop and build talent while supplementing the team with the right experienced quality signings to enable these teams to compete effectively with the bigger clubs. The arrivals, albeit controversial, of Rangers and Celtic will no doubt provide added star quality and intensify the competition within this new proposed blueprint. Not only will this help to improve Scottish club football, it will allow the SPL to flourish. The gap in quality between the Big 4 and the other clubs will be reduced over time resulting in a more vibrant and exciting Premier League.

3. No more fixture congestion
With proposed 18 teams rather than 20, there will be a reduction of 4 matches a season, about a months rest. Whinging managers who blame their team's poor form on fixture congestion will not be able to do so anymore. Perhaps also this ease up in fixture will persuade other managers to shift their thoughts and efforts in forging an extended run in domestic cup and/or UEFA Cup competition. Indirect effect of this two-tiered Premier League will be the same dominance in the UEFA Cup as is currently prevalent in the Champions League.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that this blueprint will benefit English and Scottish football. Question is, would at least 14 Premier League clubs see things the same way as I did?
One thing's for sure, I will miss the always exciting, always busy Christmas fixtures which typically separates the title challengers from the mid-table dwellers. Still, British football will gain from this move and we in Asia will continue to enjoy possibly the best League in the world.

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