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Premier League Home, Away and Neutral fixtures

By: Ted Fred Franky, Refuting misinformation, January 10, 2024  5 months ago

Future of English Football

We have a current situation with football in England and Europe where the financial power of two major competitions has distorted the whole of European (if not world) football. We saw with the recent proposal for a European Super League and the vast financial rewards available should it proceed that the bigger clubs are trying to make one competition rule. These two competitions are at loggerheads as follows and one will eventually usurp the other, but there are several other elephants in the room which must be considered.

Elephant 1 – The UEFA Champions League

Teams competing in the UEFA Champions League have so much extra revenue from this competition that they become unassailable in their domestic leagues. This damages the competitive nature of each European League.

Official Manchester City Scarf – PUMA3
Official Manchester City Scarf – PUMA3

For many leagues the same one or two sides qualify every year, Celtic, Ajax, Bruges, PSG, Porto, Shaktar, Zenit etc. Whilst the big four European domestic leagues have coped better it has affected them as the same three or four teams tend to compete every year. So much so that in many leagues one team has almost supreme dominance running up league title after league title, to the previous list add Juventus & Bayern Munich.

Only the Premier League and La Liga have not yet succumbed but surely unless there is a change this will happen here too? There is a real danger than unless something is done to even up the playing field, each domestic league will be destroyed. What is the point in watching a competition when you know who will win it before a ball is kicked?

Elephant 2 – The English Premier League

English football has always been the most popular league in the world, it is after all the original league. The Premier League has benefited form this, and the revenue generated dwarfs that of every other league in Europe. It is only a matter of time before the Premier League teams will come to completely dominate European football, this is already apparent with the two recent finals between Liverpool v Spurs and Chelsea v City.

Official Manchester City Scarf – PUMA3
Official Manchester City Scarf – PUMA3

Elephant 3 – International Champions Cup (Pre-Season World Wide Friendlies)

The bigger European clubs are cashing in on their world wide appeal by playing each other exclusively in the International Champions Cup before the start of each season. It isn’t actually a competition at all at the moment, but surely this is the intention, why else would it have the word ‘cup’ in its name?

They play numerous friendlies exclusively against each other in front of crowds of 50,000 – 100,000 with standard tickets seling for £50-£250, along with numerous merchandising opportunities. These means each team is earning £5-£15m per match, figures that often exceed those for their home gate receipts in their domestic leagues.

The demand around the world to see these teams play is clearly huge. Surely turning these fixtures into a competition with a regular fixture list would be the next logical step? This is a European Super League in all but name, and clearly proving that such a league is not only viable but matches can be played anywhere in the world.

Elephant 4 – Live TV Distorted The Fan Base.

A quick look at the history of televising sport will demonstrate a problem televising of football has created for itself.

The televising of football initially in the UK was with Match of the Day (BBC) and The Big Match (ITV). In the 60s and 70s, it allowed people all over the UK and Ireland who did not have a local professional football team to follow football. They cold pick one team and cheer them on, a similar thing happend in the 1980s in Scandinavia.

Back then there was a real effort to give teams at all levels exposure. Each week, at least one of the three matches shown would not be a top flight one, it would be form the lower divisions.

Official Manchester City Scarf – PUMA3
Official Manchester City Scarf – PUMA3

However, this all changed with the first live football matches in the 1983/1984 season. Both BBC and ITV would show one live match each week. The two tv channels were in fierce competition and the channels were concerned to get the biggest audiences for their matches. They were therefore keen to show the sides with the biggest attendances and therefore the biggest appeal.

They settled on six clubs Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham, which they would label the ‘Glamour Clubs’. These clubs would feature on either BBC or ITV every other week in order to gain regular TV fans, who would inevitable support one of these six clubs. Naturally these six sides, each had a local derby against another of the top 6 sides, which could also be marketed by the TV companies.

Despite being regular title challenges in the previous years, Manchester City managed to get relegated in 1982-1983, leaving only 5 Glamour Clubs. By the time City returned to the top flight two years later these clubs were so far ahead of City, the rest that the world had changed. Everton then Arsenal came from nowhere to become league champions, whilst Spurs and Manchester United floated on the stock market with differing results.

However, the most significant aspect of all of this was that the five Glamour Clubs picked up large numbers of new armchair supporters all over the UK.

Quick to realise this and capitalise on this as early as 1985, the idea of a break away Super League was first mooted, where there would be no promotion or relegation, protecting the 22 top flight clubs, and also by keeping all the TV revenue they would all become richer.

Previously half of the revenue from the TV deals with distributed amongst the other 3 divisions. Eventually on its fifth attempt and with promotion and relegation ensured, the English Premier League was formed.

Official Manchester City Scarf – PUMA 2
Official Manchester City Scarf – PUMA 2

Immediately, the lions share of live matches were allocated to the glamour clubs, with recent champions and glamour clubs Arsenal and Liverpool, along with the biggest club by far Manchester United getting the most matches shown live on TV. This has two effects:-

  1. These clubs received more money directly from the new TV deal with Sky than any other club, and
  2. Because their matches were shown live on tv almost every week, they started gaining a greater share of the armchair supporter group.

This bias in live matches (ie exposure to new fans and revenue) has continued ever since with the Premier League allocating more matches to the teams that finish higher in the league with these three clubs getting a greater share of live games automatically, regardless of where they finish.

The juxtaposition now is that the domestic and worldwide TV audience, predominantly supports these three clubs over any other English Team.

This is a self perpetuating scenario. The only way dominance of these major clubs can be broken is by another smaller club having a massive influx of cash. This is what happened with Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United in the 90s, which was usurped by Chelsea and Manchester City in the 00s, and now again by Newcastle United.

This effect has also been the case in various other European leagues, and most notably with the Champions League. With clubs like Basaksehir, Sheriff, Shaktar, Zenit, RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim only breaking the glass ceiling due to massive injections of cash.

Elephant 5 – Rival Professional Sport

When you look at the rewards available there are some startling comparisons to be made with the NFL in America. All 32 NFL sides make the Forbes Top 50 sporting franchises in the world by turnover. This is truly astonishing when you consider:

  • American Football has very little interest outside the USA, with no other country in the world operating a professional domestic league;
  • Each club plays at least 14 matches (only 7 at home each season), compared to 40-60 by their European Association Football counter parts.
  • There is only one competition.

It is also worth noting that Basketball and Baseball clubs in the USA also feature in the top 50, and similarly appeal to pretty much a US audience only. These sports also play a lot more matches.

It stands to reason that if the Champions League or Prmeier League, marketed itself world wide using the techniques the NFL does, it would reap the rewards.

One of the most compelling things about NFL are the two systems in place to ensure no single team dominates:-

  • Most players careers last 2-3 years, so the worst performing teams have first choice in the draft system. The draft system is the recruitment new younger players from college. This ensures the weaker teams get better players going forward, and the best teams get the last pick from the draft.
  • Fixtures are stilted so your extra games outside your conference are against teams at a similar level to you. So the worst teams have slightly easier fixtures and the better teams have slightly harder ones.

Combining the Elephants

So when you consider these facts certain things jump out at you

  1. A single Football Super League is inevitable (Elephants 3 and 5)
  2. It will contain the clubs with the biggest TV audiences and the best funding (Elephants 3 and 4).
  3. The top European clubs have barley scratched the potential revenue that they could make (Elephant 5).
  4. Matches will be played all over the world (Elephant 3).
  5. The Champions League has been so damaging to most European domestic leagues that the TV audience watches the Champions League and the big 4 leagues in preference to their own domestic league. This audience can easily be switched to watching a new competition with the biggest teams should it emerge (Elephant 1). After all they are loyal to the clubs not the leagues or cup competitions.
  6. These clubs will have to resign from their domestic leagues and UEFA in order to do this.
  7. The majority of teams will be English teams, at least half (Elephants 2 and 3).

For the competition not to become stale two things must exist:

  • A) Some method of replacing teams (or franchises) in the competition with new entrants must exist.
  • B) There must be natural churn to prevent the same teams continually winning it – ie all teams must have an equal chance of winning it.

Clearly the plans for the European Super League (ESL) meet all the above criteria except B). Naturally, any teams not considered for the ESL will want to push back, however there is very little they can do. Any push back from Champions League and its remaining clubs, will only be in the form of acquiescing to the needs and desires of the break away clubs. This is what they have done repeatedly over the last 20 years on 3 significant occasions. Each of which has led to these big clubs having greater power within UEFA and a greater share of the profits.

The only other potential rival is the Premier League. It can position itself as the sole super league, and it has the capacity to do so. It should be noted that Elephant 1 causes a huge distortion in the Premier League. Therefore it is in the interests of the Premier League as a whole to try to edge out the impact of Champions League money.

If it moved to providing matches all over the world as part of its league season, this takes advantage of Elephants 2 and 3. By default it puts the competition in place to hold some league fixtures in the USA. Therefore it can adopt all the marketing strategies of the NFL, as the same marketing philosophies can be deployed there Elephant 5. By holding matches for all participants overseas the distortion of Elephant 4 can also be addressed. It already has Criterion A in place, and only needs to consider how to address Criterion B.

So again the buck stops at Criterion B – we need different wnners each year. The game will only truly reform when this is addressed. As long as Elephants 1 and 2 exist in their current state this will never happen.

How might a world wide Premier League work?

Let’s say each team plays each other three times, home, away and neutral. The neutral vene being anywhere in the world.

This immediately raises two issues:

  • Due to travel, it makes sense to cluster neutral fixtures
  • The number of league matches would increase to 57 for 20 teams.

The first point could be addressed by grouping the teams into pools of 3, 4 or 5 teams and playing a round robin of games. Then for the next round of neutral fixtures the teams are regrouped to play different teams. Obviously 3 teams don’t divide in 20 easily, and a pool of 5 would create 10 matches, where as pools of 4 teams would create 6 matches which could be played over two successive weekends with one midweek round. So groups of 4 makes a lot of sense.

The second point would mean too many fixtures. So reducing the total number of teams would seem obvious. Reducing this to 16 would be the obvious number, they can easily be split into groups of 4, and the 3 matches in the round robin, would mean a total of 45 league games, which is roughly the number the football league play now in each division eah season (ie 46).

Pools:

The table below shows how 16 teams could be split into various groups of 4 to play each other 15 times in total over 5 rounds. I have numebred the teams using a hexadecimal system. Yes the maths works out.


Pool APool BPool CPool D
Round 11 2 3 45 A B E6 8 C F7 9 D G
Round 21 5 6 72 A D F3 8 B G4 9 C E
Round 31 8 9 A2 5 C G3 6 D E4 7 D F
Round 41 B C D2 7 8 E3 5 9 F4 6 A G
Round 51 E F G2 6 9 B3 7 A C4 5 8 D

So when do you play these matches with minimal interruption to the season?

All Premier League teams currently play pre-season fixtures all over the world. There is no reason why these pre-season venues and slots could not be used to play the first two rounds of the neutral matches.

Round 1

Each Pool could play its round robin in one country in Australia, South East Asia and South America.

Round 2

The whole circus could move to the USA and share the 4 pools amongst 8 cities.

After these first two rounds, 39 fixtures remain and the season proper can start in England, with normal home and away games until we get to Round 3.

Round 3

Attendances are traditionally low in the run up to Christmas during the two weeks before. People have Christmas parties, nativities plays, carol services and so on, people often go away for a bit of winter sun or a city break. So it would be ideal for Round 3 to be played between the two weekends before Christmas.

Hot destinations such as Florida, the Canaries, Dubai, South Africa and Australia could all be considered to base the four pools in.

The teams could then return in time for the traditional seasonal Christmas fixtures and resume the normal league campaign.

Round 4

This could be held over the Easter weekend. Easter used to be a hot bed of football. A full progreamme of league matches took place on Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Monday. This doesn’t happen anymore. Many peple take advantage of the bank holidays to take a whole week off work and go away. So attending football is not really much of a priority anymore.

Round 5

This should be the culmination of the season, ie the last 3 matches. So it would make sense to allocate last seasons top 4 to one pool, the next 4 to another and so on, down to the bottom 4 from the previous season. This would increase the potential for end of season head to head fixtures that really matter. They would also be played at neutral venues, so neither side has home advantage.

In order to maximise interest in each host country or city, during any round, the player profile in each team may help allocate pools and cities when calculating who will play where and when. This could be simply achieved by each club having a top 3 preferred hosts list.

Relegation

Relegation would be as normal. However a move from 3 teams to 4 teams might to help churn and the competitive nature of the league.

Parachute Payments

These should stop, and the existing fund be spread evenly across the whole football league.

Protecting Finances of Relegated Clubs

Relegated teams would need to be protected by the loss in revenue. This could be achieved by adding clauses to the contracts of all players. For example, in the event of relegation the players wage is reduced to one that the club can afford as a Football League club, say 50% or what the player was on last time they were in the Football League. This obviously protects the clubs but penalises the players.

So each player from a relegated club can be selected by a newly promoted club who will pay their the remainder of their transfer fee, atomised over the remainder of their contract (ie they were signed for £50m on a five year deal, and have 3 years left to run, so the fee is £30m). Any players who are not transferred but want to retain their wage level, can then be auctioned off to any other EPL or EFL club who might want them.

In any event the top 10 wage earners at each relegated club are put up for sale, first to newly promoted sides, then other EPL sides, before any team from the EFL can bid for them, including his current club.

The transfer fees received for these players can then be split evenly amongst the relegated clubs to help manage their finances and rebuild.

Newly Promoted Clubs

Each should be given a kitty of £50m by the EPL to spend on bolstering their squad to compete in the Premier League as a reward for promotion.

Levelling the competitive nature of the tournament

By playing the neutral matches overseas and showing all matches live on TV, the distortion created by Elephant 4 should be eliminated over time. This will happen provided different teams rise and fall and no team dominates forever.

Contract Renewal Rules

Clearly with players playing for 10-15 years, the NFL draft system would have little effect in the Premier League. However introducing a little churn like this would help.

Introducing a rule that a club finishing in the top 4 can only renew a players contract if he is loaned out to a newly promoted side for one season. This would help even the competitiveness of the league.

Introducing a rule that a player can only have his contract renewed once before he must leave and play for another club (on loan or permanently).

Match Day Revenue from Neutral Venues

This should be pooled together and distributed evenly throughout the league teams. Perhaps, give the clubs with lower revenues a greater share to help balance overall club revenues, so teams can build to challenge in the future?

These are only ideas, but we can change football for the better. Extra revenue can be generated and shared more evenly.

Ideas for the Football League…