What does your party’s General Election 2017 manifesto say about football?

Kieran Maguire is a football finance expert in the University of Liverpool’s Management School

What does the figure one billion, nine hundred and twenty-two million, nine hundred and forty-one thousand pounds mean in terms of football and politics? (and before you ask, is isn’t Diane Abbott’s answer to the question, “If I buy two pints of lager and a packet of crisps, and a game of darts at the pub, how much change will I get from a twenty-pound note”).

This is in fact the money generated by Premier League football clubs in 2015/16 from broadcast income.

The Labour Party has generated publicity with a proposal in its manifesto that the Premier League should commit 5% of this sum to grassroots football.

We have therefore looked at the manifestos of all the major parties (and UKIP) to assess their views on our national game, and sport overall.

Labour

The Labour party has a full page dedicated to sport, summarised as follows

  • Accredited supporters’ clubs to appoint and remove at least two club directors
  • Improvements to access provision for fans with disabilities
  • Invest 5% of Premier League TV money into grassroots game to help develop next generation of players and coaches.
  • Implement the Waterson Review into secondary ticketing to reduce ticket touting.

These proposals appear very laudable, but upon further inspection some of the proposals seem more populist than pragmatic.

(a)  Many clubs have foreign ownership, so board meetings could be held overseas, and so difficult to attend in person. There is a further issue of many clubs have many supporters’ clubs. There could be squabbling between them, or the football club could deliberately choose a ‘tame’ supporters’ club, that is unlikely to rock the boat, as the one that has board representation.

It seems anomalous to have board representation for customers at football clubs, but not other businesses. Whilst fans don’t see themselves as customers, and football plays a unique part of our culture, singling out football from other sports again seems unusual.

(b)  Whilst the Premier League generates a lot of income, it loses money most years, both on a club level and, due to the fall in sterling following Brexit, at an entity level.

It is therefore difficult to see how the 5% funding for grassroots could be made. The Premier League have committed to paying out significant sums to grassroots football, and whilst this may not reach 5%, it still amounts to many millions of pounds.

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s £3m a year chief executive, points out that other industries do not help smaller businesses to the same extent as football, so feels the game is being singled out because of its success in negotiating lucrative broadcasting deals.

It seems odd that small clubs such as Crystal Palace, for example, should lose out on TV revenue simply because the Premier League has successfully sold its rights to a broadcaster.

Part of the reason why so many clubs make losses each year is that they pay out large sums in wages. This is turn generates large sums of income tax for the Treasury, as the average Premier League salary now exceeds £2.2 million, so 45% of a large chunk of this will be handed over by clubs.

If money is diverted to grass roots, then presumably less will be paid in wages (and thus taxes) so the proposals will result in the government taking with one hand and giving with the other.

Conservative

Type in the search word ‘football’ into the 88-page Conservative Party Manifesto for 2017, and you get no responses.

Perhaps Theresa May thinks that our national game, a bit like putting the bins out, is a ‘boys job’ and so she has no interest in it.

Typing in ‘sport’ gives 10 answers, 8 of which are in relation to the word ‘transport’. The others merely say that the government will support schools sport.

Liberal Democrats

The LD’s only mention of football mentions a move towards safe standing at stadia, and that’s about it.

UKIP

Neither football or sport get a mention, unless you count waterboarding as a sport, which wasn’t on the list of Olympic medal events when we last checked.

Greens

Again, no mention of football or sport, although they seem keen on cycling.

SNP

No mention of football. The only mention of sport is in giving the Scottish Parliament the right to choose which sporting events are shown free to air. This presumably will be of little interest to Scottish football fans, given their national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup since 1998.

Conclusion

The almost complete disregard of our national game in the 2017 manifestos suggests that football (and sport in general) is closer to the public than the politicians who lead us.

Labour appear to be the only party to have given the game much thought, but its suggestions don’t make sense financially, and seem to be targeting a successful industry for the sake of things.

Having three guardians of the game, in the form of the Football Association, Premier League and Football League, with different aims and ambitions is a contributory factor to the lack of success of the national team.

Broader issues of a school curriculum that places sport as a secondary issue to learning irrelevant facts, a national obesity crisis, prohibitive pricing for those who want to qualify as coaches, restricted access to facilities and reductions in local and national funding for sport, have far more impact than trying to extract more money from the Premier League.

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