The collapse of the incredibly ill-conceived Super League will be viewed as a great victory for all stakeholders in football. There will be enormous relief, perhaps jubilation in board rooms, dressing rooms and perhaps most importantly among the fans themselves.
However, unless there are significant changes to football in terms of ownership, governance, income distribution and fan engagement/participation the “victory” will be hollow and meaningless.
Let’s start with the miscreants first. They need to be punished financially and in terms of their competitive status. Why? Firstly their actions in bringing the game into disrepute, the commercial and damage to value their actions have brought warrant punishment. Secondly it has to be a deterrent to them or anyone attempting such actions again.
So what is a worthy punishment?
My own view is that the six should be relegated to the Championship at the end of this season and replaced by the top six of the current Championship. The effect of such punishment would be felt by the clubs themselves, only three of the six could possibly be promoted the following year thus assuring that at least three of the six would be outside the Premier League for more than one year, and also outside of European competition (bar winning the FA Cup or Carabao Cup in 2021/22) for two or three years at a minimum (assuming they qualified for Europe upon return to the Premier League, which might not be the case). An additional European ban might be considered necessary – a blanket ban of five years for example. The six clubs would have to deal with the contractual issues of relegation with their superstar players, similarly with their sponsors and commercial partners. They should be subject to the usual Financial Fair Play rules that apply to Championship clubs. (Perhaps the Glazers can buy Old Trafford to cover losses).
Putting the six clubs into the Championship would have a re-distributive effect for the Championship and indeed the English Football League. It would create much greater visibility, improve the commercial attractiveness for fellow Championship clubs and almost certainly lead to a renegotiation of TV and broadcast rights.
Equally, it would have a redistributive effect on the six promoted clubs assuring that at least three of the six would spend two years or more in the Premier League. Additionally the glass ceiling would be broken for all Premier League clubs bringing fresh competition to the title and qualification for the Champions League and Europa League – itself a redistributive measure.
This is a punishment that fits the crime and benefits football. In my opinion it has much merit.
Changes to the Premier League
Governance. Self regulation in football has clearly failed by almost any metric you care to consider. Regulation of football has to be taken out of the hands of the club owners. They (with some possible exceptions) have not proved worthy of the responsibility, and paid no regard to the custodianship obligations placed upon them. Their lack of care, their dereliction of duty means that regulatory control has to be put into the hands of people independent of the clubs, broadcasters and other commercial entities associated within the game. The regulation would be subject to a framework that necessitated new values in the game, recognising the societal benefits of football and the moral ownership of football by its fans. The clubs, broadcasters and commercial partners would be subject to the authority of the regulator.
The regulator would have fan representation and would have an obligation to regularly consult with fan stakeholder groups up and down the country in terms of reviewing its performance but also guidance in terms of future direction and strategy for the professional game.
The regulator would also have responsibility for wider aspects of the game including the fair distribution of wealth across professional football, community obligations of each club and most critically financial support of grass roots football.
Although some clubs have the good fortune to be owned by responsible owners, as the last few days, actually many years have shown, it is not something that is a given. The list of clubs destroyed by their owners actions is long and frightening as fans up and down the country will testify, even before one considers the impact the owners actions of the six have had on their own fans. The true victims are the fans themselves. Yet that is not a reason for the clubs to escape punishment such as suggested above.
I’d propose a new governance structure for each professional football club. The structure would create an advisory board that had veto over certain decisions. The advisory board would be populated by fans and truly independent non-executive directors or trustees (depending upon the status of the board). The club’s shareholders and directors would have day to day control of the club maintaining operational responsibilities, budgets, commercial activities and of course all relating to footballing matters (budgets, manager, player recruitment etc). They would retain their legal responsibilities as per current legislation.
The advisory board would have veto over two key areas. The advisory board would hold a golden share with voting control for the following matters. One is change of control or ownership of the club. There could be no change of ownership or control (in normal circumstances) without the advisory board approval. The advisory board would have the power to appoint professional advisors to assist in their deliberations. Secondly, the advisory board would have the power of veto over the club’s ability to enter new competitions, meaning that the club could only commit to entering new competitions with the approval of the advisory board.
The advisory board would have main board representation.
Such a structure commits the owners, indeed obligates the owners, to a custodian role without negating their ability to provide capital, commercial expertise and grow the club in a responsible manner – all within the regulatory framework of the Premier League and individual clubs.
The attempt to destroy the Premier League as it had become creates the opportunity to put right all that was wrong. The six may have been dissatisfied with both the Premier League and particularly UEFA, but to be honest the dissatisfaction (for different reasons) was carried by almost all in football.
Professional football needs to change. The actions of the six have accelerated the need for change but also provided the opportunity to execute change. They lived by the sword and they must die by the sword in terms of a suitable punishment (as above). They irreparably damaged and their undue influence should never be countenanced again.
However, this is a phoenix-like opportunity for football to correct itself, to re-discover itself, to recognise its value and importance culturally and societally.
It has to start by punishing those that sought to destroy the sporting and competitive integrity of the game. The punishment should be fair and just but also offer a path of redemption over time.
In the meantime the governance of football at League and club level can be improved massively, (i) to protect the game (ii) truly enrich the game and (iii) ensure that the true owners of the game (the fans) can contribute to and regulate where necessary the game we love.
Everton, as the most senior of the remaining Premier League clubs, with its new found confidence and leadership role, plus its excellence in consultation and engagement with fans and the community are ideally placed to drive these changes through the game.