Friday, October 21, 2011

Frankly, Mr. Shankly wouldn't be pleased: How Liverpool is seeking to destroy competition in the English Premier League

By Robert Lawson, International Sports Reporter

"The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That's how I see football, that's how I see life."

In a move that's already generated a whirlwind of controversy, Liverpool has announced that they are seeking changes to the Premier League's current broadcasting deal (worth £3.2 billion in total to all Premier League clubs for 2010-13). Specifically, the club wants to see larger clubs receive an increased share of international television revenues.

Taking a longer view, the endgame for Liverpool seems to be the installation of a new television rights system, one where larger clubs are free to negotiate their own television deals with prospective rights-holders.

Such a system is currently in place in Spain, where clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona negotiate massive television contracts and to enjoy the riches they provide, while minnow clubs are left to fend for themselves on the scraps.

As the argument goes, this type of system would allow a club such as Liverpool (or Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, etc.) to generate a massive increase in revenues from television and other media; leverage the club's profile in emerging markets (e.g., Asia); strengthen its competitive advantage vis-à-vis other clubs when it comes attracting investment (e.g., sponsorship agreements); and, ultimately, enhance the club's capacity to compete with other large European clubs when it comes to purchasing top talent.

Some Liverpool supporters may react to this announcement with unbridled enthusiasm, gleefully rubbing their hands together at the prospect of massive revenue increases, commercial expansion, and, hopefully, attracting the world's best players to Anfield.

Others might heed the words of much loved former manager Bill Shankly, quoted above, and wonder whether reaping the putative rewards is worth the cost.

Introducing a television rights model such as the one prevailing in Spain would surely diminish the already considerably reduced capacity of smaller clubs (think Stoke City, Bolton, Wigan, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich, even Everton) to compete in the Premier League, not to mention extend the widening gulf between the Premier League and the lower divisions.

It would be hard to imagine clubs such as Derby County and Nottingham Forest achieving success under such a regime. To be sure, it's hard enough to imagine the success of smaller clubs as it is, when television rights revenues are centrally distributed in a fixed manner, with clubs guaranteed a certain share of overall revenues. If clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal were permitted to go their own way, any illusions of future competition that remain would be shattered completely.

Put bluntly, the wealthy and powerful clubs could and would leave their more modest brethren firmly behind.

But consider this: As I'm sure the great Bill Shankly would point out, without genuine competition between clubs in the Premier League it really isn't much of a league. It would become a playground for the rich.

Sure, the rich clubs would continue to go through the motions, filling out the fixture calendar with perfunctory visits to the Britannia or the Reebok. Yet the only matches to matter would be those played among the big boys.

The English Premier League would quickly begin to resemble La Liga -- and would be much worse for it, in my view.

Ironic that such an endeavour would be spearheaded by a club made famous around the world by an ardent socialist whose approaches to football management and life make him a figure of worship on Merseyside to this day.

Sad, too.

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