To some of those present, it was the most disconcerting development of the season. It happened at Premier League headquarters in November as the 20 member clubs met to vote on an enormous £564 million broadcast contract offered by Chinese company PPTV. Before the ballot could take place, there were a few unexpected murmurs of dissent and then, from nowhere, the request that representatives of 14 of the clubs leave the room so that the remaining six — you can guess which six — could discuss the matter in private.
In various states of bemusement and disgruntlement, the delegations from 14 clubs — among them Leicester City, the champions, and Everton, a prime mover among the “Big Five" behind the initial Premier League concept and a top-flight club for much longer than any of their rivals — were sent for an unscheduled coffee break while the executives from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur debated whether the PPTV deal was really in their interests. The consensus among them was that it was not. The other 14 were invited back into the room. The vote took place, amid a newly strained atmosphere, and the required two-thirds majority was achieved before an arm could be raised in objection.
These are tense times, though, for a league whose appeal has long been perceived to be based on the strength of the collective. The “Big Six", as they would style themselves these days, do not see it that way. “It’s not about changing collective selling [of broadcast rights]," Ian Ayre, the outgoing Liverpool chief executive, said last weekend. “It’s about the proportion of [overseas] money, depending on how popular you are."
In other words, the Big Six clubs — at very least four of them, in any case — would prefer a system where the Premier League’s overseas broadcast revenue (£3.5 billion over the present three-year cycle) was shared according to global popularity. Rather than a model that sees Bournemouth and Burnley join Liverpool and Manchester United in accruing more than £50 million a year in overseas broadcast revenue, the Big Six believe their popularity in the burgeoning markets in Asia entitles them to a greater share of the pie.
You can just about see their point — there are not too many players or clubs outside the elite whose names “roll off the tongue in Beijing," to borrow an infamous phrase from Garry Cook, the former Manchester City chief executive — but it stinks of the type of entitlement that the Premier League elite used to rail against when decrying La Liga’s dominance by Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The Premier League needs to be more equal, not less. Forget Leicester City’s title triumph last season, which has already been shown up as the freakish and entirely misleading outlier we always knew it was; forget the league-where-anyone-can-beat-anyone hype. It has reverted to being a two-tier division this season, as was always likely given the enormous financial benefits enjoyed by the elite, benefitting from the huge global exposure they are afforded in the Premier League and Champions League era. And now they want more money in order to flog those advantages for all they are worth? Good grief.
The greed running through European football’s elite appears to know no bounds. Last season the talk was of creating “wild-card" places in the Champions League for big clubs who missed out on qualification. That idea has been kicked into touch for now, thankfully, but you can be sure it will be back on the table again in future. In the meantime the competition is being revamped, once again, to find more guaranteed spaces for clubs from the elite leagues — England, Germany, Italy, Spain — at the expense of other leagues. This, regrettably, is the way of things in the age of the mega-rich elite, who threaten to take their ball home if they do not get their own way
Greed of the big 6