Friday, February 29, 2008

What The Premier League Thinks Of You

I've copied this over from "Pitch Invasion", and will be putting up a reply to it on here later on. An open letter to Richard Scudamore, if you like. It is, I think, a critical read if you are an English football supporter. I have made a few amendments to the formatting, but every word of what is printed below is as per the original transcript.

Consultation meeting between Mr. Richard Scudamore, Premier League Chief Executive, and representatives of the Football Supporters' Federation (the FSF).

Wednesday February 27th - 10.30-12.00

FSF representatives were the chairman Malcolm Clarke, together with one grass-roots member each from the previous week's FSF regional "NO TO GAME 39" campaign meetings (clubs whose fan bodies were directly represented were Aston Villa, Chelsea, Liverpool, Portsmouth and Sunderland).

Three of Mr. Scudamore's staff, including Cathy Long, were also present but said very little during the meeting.

FSF chairman Malcolm Clarke began by asking Mr. Scudamore what was the current status of the proposal to play a 39th round of PL matches overseas. Before he answered the question that had actually been asked, Mr. Scudamore embarked on a 10 minute explanation of why the proposal had to be made out-of-the-blue at the meeting of PL chairmen on February 7th, how the proposal was leaked some hours before the PL had called a press conference, and how frustrating this inauspicious start was to him personally.

He then continued his monologue by spending a further 10 minutes dismissing some of the objections which had been already been put forward by the FSF in their written submission, and by many other voices. Only then did Mr. Scudamore finally answer the original question, telling us that the proposal was very much ongoing, and that, "we sit before you in the middle of a consultation process which has had an interesting start� There was unanimous agreement between the 20 clubs in principle - there was not a dissenter. The clubs have agreed there is enough merit in the idea to move it forward�". A few moments later he strengthened this to "so much merit in the idea that it's got to be considered�".

"Format is the issue clubs want to get their heads round most (and this will be discussed and probably won't be settled until June/July), and if they're unhappy with the format, it won't happen. It's currently only a proposal, and will only become reality", he said, subject to:

- Consultation
- Calendar fit
- Sanction of host associations
- Club rules

"We have had to accept from the start that it won't be perfect, there can be no symmetry", he added. Mr Scudamore then went on to imply that we should be grateful that the Premier League had not proposed to take one of the existing 38 fixtures out of the calendar and play it overseas. Never for a moment did he consider that the fact that it won't be perfect and that there can be no symmetry' means that this Game 39 should not happen.

"I refute the suggestion that this is all about money. It's about a whole load of things before it's about money. We do have an international following and by serving it in this way we can control the wealth redistribution down the league. We have a responsibility to our fans on a global basis, and we'll do it before the big 4 go off and do it themselves. It's not me that will decide and certainly not Mr Blatter - if 14 people stick their hands up that's it".

Emphasising the strength of feeling on the issue and the level of protest, unprecedented in recent years, Malcolm Clarke called this a "Rubicon moment", and all the FSF representatives backed this up, stating that this proposal could mark the beginning of the end of their personal support of a Premier League football club.

In response, Mr. Scudamore stated that "we will have to weigh up those we lose against those we gain". He implied that he felt a lot of the recent furore had been merely "initial resistance and reaction", and that much of it would not be long-term - contradicting his earlier statement that "you can't weigh up one kind of supporter against another and judge whose support is better".

"Part of the calculation the clubs have to make is to ask 'is it going to cost us'? For how many people is it going to be the tipping point. For 16 years we have been losing various segments of our supporter base We have lost some,but we have gained a lot more. Part of our assessment of this project will be those we'll lose and those we'll gain We'll weigh that up in the 'is this worth it?' column. We know where the balance of the noise is (in the media and grass-roots furore over this proposal) -our difficulty is working out the weight of that. We know the feelings of those who are making the noise. We've only got 330,000 attending fans - we have to weigh that in the balance against other stakeholders".

However, Mr. Scudamore did state that, "If they (the dissenters) fight above their weight it might put people off ". So, in spite of his patronising tone, this does seem to offer apparent encouragement to the protest campaign.

One interesting phrase he used, when allusions were made to calls from certain quarters for his resignation (not something the FSF itself has suggested at all) was that "I am fairly committed to this proposal", suggesting that he does not see it as something he wishes to stand and fall by, going on to say that, "I wouldn't be supporting it if it was more than one extra game, and that if that proposal is made, say ten years down the line, I won't be here anyway".

Going back to what he had said earlier in the meeting he told us that the playing field is far from level already, with huge imbalances between the financial power of Premier League clubs, so "it's already about distortion - my job is to overcome huge imbalances". This is not about the Premier League brand, he said (contradicting his clear statements of three weeks earlier), "it's about 20 brands, giving Reading, Bolton and the like the chance to ride on the big 4-6 and promote their brands".

He re-iterated that the decision to host the matches was not up to FIFA or regional associations, but to the individual national Football Federations. "Read my lips", he had said earlier in the meeting, `if the local football federation do not think this is a good idea for football development in their country, we will not do it. We believe that where we are successful, football around us is successful. Since 1992 we (the Football league, the FA & the PL) have all grown together".

At the beginning of the meeting he had said that fundamental to the rationale of the whole proposal was "keeping the PL collective together against substantial threats from the bigger clubs (that they didn't want to have to play in the League Cup, FAC replays, etcetera, that they wanted to parcel off their own TV rights individually, etcetera)". Throughout the meeting Mr. Scudamore's arguments were fundamentally reliant on such spurious linkages and underlying threats that without him and new proposals like this, English football would all fall apart.

Needless to say, we made our total opposition clear and stated our determined intention to keep campaigning against this in whatever ways it would take to defeat it.


dotmund said...

"We've only got 330,000 attending fans - we have to weigh that in the balance against other stakeholders"

This pretty much confirms for me that the Premier League has lost it. Sport is not a business venture first and an activity second. The sole reason that "football" (in inverted commas, 'football the construct' rather than 'football the game with the ball') is such a marketable commodity is its fanbase. Football - and they are, as a sport, not alone in this - need to remember that without the supporters, their activity simply would not happen in its current form.

Still, as the players and owners all get richer - with their big houses and expensive cars and porcelain wives - and are less and less inclined to listen to the man in the stand, I am placated somewhat by the fact that there is a tipping point (I believe, a rapidly approaching tipping point) where the man in the stand will simply take his money somewhere else, and the wanky lifestyles will wither and die. At which point they will all look around at each other and say "how did THAT happen?"

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