After the announcement of the Super League in May, football fans protested in front of the stadiums
The dangers English league clubs face are “very real,” with key aspects of the nation’s game being “genuinely at risk,” said the chairman of a fan-commissioned review.
Former Sports Secretary Tracey Crouch has written to Secretary of Culture Oliver Dowden to propose a range of measures.
This includes an independent regulator to “protect the future of our game”.
The review has heard over 100 hours of evidence from fans, the football association and clubs at all levels.
“The evidence was clear that football clubs are no ordinary businesses,” wrote Crouch. “They play a vital social, civic and cultural role in their local communities.
“They need to be protected – sometimes from their owners, who, after all, are simply the current stewards of a community asset.
“Key aspects of our national game are in serious danger. The short-lived threat posed by the European Super League has put the future of the English football pyramid at risk.”
“Although this threat has – for now – diminished, the dangers faced by many clubs across the country are very real as their futures are precarious and, in most cases, depends on the willingness and ability of owners to finance significant losses. “
The actions proposed by Crouch include:
- A new independent regulator that deals with issues most relevant to the risks to the game, particularly financial regulation, corporate governance and property.
- More work will be carried out over the summer to increase fan engagement and influence at all levels of governance of the game.
- Propose a possible reform of the Football Association, Football League and Premier League, recommending that at least 50 percent of the FA board be made up of independent non-executive directors.
- Greater protection for important club values such as badges, location and colors through a “golden share” for fans, which gives them a right of veto.
- Further research during the summer on revenue streams within the football pyramid, including “parachute payments”.
- calls for a concerted effort by football authorities to improve the wellbeing of players, particularly those who have been dismissed from the academy system;
- Allows clubs to operate all-weather pitches in the second division in order to generate income in the lower divisions.
- Proposal that the English Football League (EFL) start talks to include the National League’s top division in the EFL structure.
- Possibility of a levy on transfer or agency fees to support the development of grassroots, amateur and women’s football.
- A separate look back into the future of women’s football according to “various” insights into the best way forward.
Crouch will make her final recommendations in the fall.
“English football is facing an existential crisis”
The review was promised as part of the Conservatives’ election manifesto in 2019 and commissioned early after its inception and rapid collapse of the Super League in April.
Crouch highlighted Deloitte’s 2018-19 numbers – before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – which she believed highlighted the dangerous state of many clubs’ finances.
She pointed out that nine Premier League clubs reportedly made pre-tax losses this season and eight clubs had a wage-to-revenue ratio of over 70 percent.
In the same season, all but two championship clubs made pre-tax losses and the average wage-to-revenue ratio was 107 percent.
“It’s sobering when you consider that these numbers are the end result of a long period of time football has grown revenue to or near record levels,” she wrote.
“The risk of potential future income losses that can be expected as the television market diversifies suggests that, without reforms, English football could find itself in an existential crisis in the coming years if preventive measures are taken now.”
Football authorities have lost “the trust and confidence” of fans, she added, as have a number of clubs.
She said the authorities had repeatedly issued warnings in the past that had not been heeded, and “therefore it is now time for outside help”.
Crouch also said the game’s governing bodies had failed to adequately implement the agenda for equality, diversity and inclusion.
“Fan votes were taken into account”
Dowden welcomed Crouch’s recommendations, saying: “We saw this year with the failed proposals for the European Super League and Euro 2020 how central football is to our national lives.
“I knew it was time to take a full look at reforming the game. I will not hesitate to take bold steps if necessary.”
“I thank the chairman and panel for their update on the fan-led review. I look forward to receiving the final report and recommendations in the fall.”
The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) welcomed the update, and its chief executive officer Kevin Miles said: “It is clear from the preliminary report that not only was the evidence brought by fans, but that fan voices were heard.
“The commitment to establishing a new independent regulator for English football is particularly welcome.
“Additional suggestions related to the sustainability of the game, golden stocks for fan groups, grassroots investments, mandatory fan engagement and a strong voice for fans in governance at all levels are extremely encouraging.
“We will continue to play a constructive role in the work of the review and to flesh out the details of the preliminary proposals. Implementing them in full could be a big step towards ensuring a sustainable future for our clubs, the communities around them, and more broadly. “Game.”
“Fans play a crucial role in football”
Both the Premier League and EFL welcomed the preliminary results.
A Premier League spokesman said: “We are now considering the first update and are determined to support Tracey Crouch, the panel and the DCMS team in finalizing their recommendations.
“Fans play a vital role in football and clubs have a significant impact on their communities. We look forward to working closely with the FA, EFL and other football organizations on these important issues.”
The EFL said, “We will now fully consider the recommendations and continue to push for a reallocation of the game’s finances, which will require a major reset to ensure long-term sustainability across the pyramid.
“As always, the league will continue to work with clubs, authorities, fan groups, the review team and others as part of the process.”
‘No more Russian roulette with the traditions and history of the clubs’
The Fair Game Group, which advocates reform of the sport, including the introduction of an independent regulatory authority, also responded positively to Crouch’s recommendations.
“There’s a lot to say about this letter,” said director Niall Couper. “The need for a new football regulator is now undeniable. Football cannot go on in the same unsustainable way.
“The Premier League is the richest league in the world. Still, the championship is the biggest losing league in the world, and further down the pyramid we’ve seen the collapse of Bury and Macclesfield and many others on the edge of the abyss.
“This letter concludes that there is a need to revise the financial flows within the game. However, rebalancing cannot be left to the leagues themselves – the organizations that have brought us where we are now.
“English football has become a siren for players. As the letter rightly points out, too many clubs routinely spend well above the recommended amounts on player salaries.”
“Owners should no longer be allowed to play Russian roulette with the history and tradition of football clubs.”
‘I don’t want problems, give me some solutions’ – analysis
BBC sports football writer Simon Stone:
The first soundings that I took over from people in the game were mixed up. An independent regulator has been spoken of by so many for so long that it comes as no surprise.
Issues relating to the distribution of funds and fan participation were also well addressed.
There was almost an order for the National League to abolish its board composition, stemming from the sharpness over the chaotic state of the league last season and calling for the resignation of then-chairman Brian Barwick, who has since left the organization.
However, as I read the review, I was reminded of something my mother said to me as a child, “I don’t want problems, I have a lot of them, give me some solutions”.
All of the well-researched questions raised in Tracey Crouch’s review leave the basics in place. Most of the revenue in English football is generated by a collection of leading clubs, all of which are privately owned. The current structure allows them to keep most of it, the rest will be filtered out.
That makes some clubs exceptionally rich by definition and makes other aspects of the game less. Plus, none of the people who run the facilities in question think they’re doing a bad job.
As Crouch says, “This is just the beginning”. But it will take a lot of determination – and government support – to make the change that many believe is long overdue.