From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.43 :: Oct. 27, 2011
There was a time when Liverpool was the leading force in English football on and off the field. It was a club with dignity and style, a bastion of fairness. A club which saw the big picture and whose biggest characters were role models for all that was good in football. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan.
It was a club which mixed with the great and the good in Europe but never forgot the little clubs along the way. All that changed recently when Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre claimed Liverpool and other top clubs were being short-changed when it came to their share of television fees.
Ayre wants Liverpool to receive a bigger share of the £1.4 billion of foreign TV cash which currently is shared out equally between the 20 Barclays English Premier League clubs.
Greedy? Sounds like it. Unpopular with the majority of English football? From the reaction of the smaller clubs it would seem so. Short sighted? Definitely.
Indeed, not perhaps since EPL chief executive Richard Scudamore floated the money-grabbing idea of a 39th game to be played in places such as Sydney and Singapore has a footballing individual so mistaken the mood around him.
It is not that you cannot see where Ayre was coming from in a league which has been financially skewed by the billionaire owners of Manchester City and Chelsea.
The Liverpool v Manchester United was one of the year's most-watched sporting encounters. It was screened in 213 territories across the globe.
It attracted more viewers than Real Madrid v Barcelona and AC Milan v Juventus. There are few more popular individual sporting events.
Ayre's contention is that clubs such as Bolton and Wigan and Blackburn will benefit to the same tune financially as Liverpool and United from such a game while not bringing anything to the party. He believes that is not right and he is wrong.
What Ayre does not compute into his myopic accountancy is the reason for the EPL's global appeal. Yes, it has to do with the glamour of clubs such as Liverpool, United, Arsenal and Chelsea but it is also just as much to do with the intensity of the competition. The fact that on any given day an unfashionable club such as Stoke can beat Liverpool, as it did on September 10, or draw with United as it did on September 24.
The EPL is unpredictable and therein lies the secret of its excitement. The Boltons, Wigans, Stokes and Blackburns add a bedrock of honesty and commitment and quality which give the league depth and integrity, the sort which just does not exist in Spain where Real and Barcelona's capacity to negotiate their own TV deals has made La Liga a two-horse league not dissimilar from the domination of Celtic and Rangers in Scotland.
Ayre can delude himself that substantial fans in Asia, for example, tune in just to watch Liverpool and some might but that audience would fall off a cliff if week after week matches were not competitive.
No, Ayre has got it wrong. Rather than trying to grab a larger share of the TV cake from clubs less well off he should be concentrating on new ways to maximise Liverpool's commercial revenue from its global appeal.
He should be exploring new avenues to deliver an essential new stadium for Anfield, including trying to resurrect the obvious route of a ground-sharing deal with neighbour Everton. Attempting to take cash from the clubs which are less fortunate is no way forward.
Thankfully, Liverpool's hope of forcing a change of policy is likely to be strongly opposed by the majority of EPL chairmen, two thirds of whom would be needed to support any new deal.
The improvement of the Welsh football team under Gary Speed was not swift enough to qualify for Euro 2012. But the 1-0 win in Bulgaria, three victories in the last four qualifiers, an unfortunate defeat against England at Wembley and the fact that Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are developing into world-class performers suggest better times could be ahead.
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