Finance Regs & the Fans

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Regulations
I don’t think anyone will disagree with the FFP & the Premier Leagues new financial regulations, but what does it mean? Will this lead to a win-win situation for clubs, fans and the sport as a whole?

I think situations such as Portsmouth will hopefully be a thing of the past and I feel that’s been the main driving force of these new implementations, making sure 92 league clubs stay as 92 league clubs, give or take the relegations into the Conference.
The news of the Premier League’s new regulation of no club being over £105 million in debt over a 3 year period is a welcome one, but I’m concerned that the first reaction from owners, who will now have to guarantee losses over £5million a year against their own assets (genius), will be to hit the fans in their wallets, again. This is all well and good for the top half of the table and those in Europe, as they are most likely have Johnny Come Lately fans ready to take the seats of the loyal fans (as in those that were there when the club were in lower leagues or mid table obscurity) that can’t afford to come each week. But this is not sustainable. And those teams in the lower half, that feel they need to spend big (relatively speaking) to stay in the top flight won’t have this luxury to help themselves in the short term. It’s not a surprise that the clubs against the new rules were Fulham, West Brom, Villa, Swansea and Southampton. They like to keep their tickets low already (from what I’ve seen) and don’t want to increase prices to keep within the new constraints (not that they’ve spent £105 million in the last 3 years on transfers). Nor have they got the same worldwide fan base as the top teams to generate the extra revenue. Even the little foreign fan bases they do have will struggle to keep up the foreign shirt sales investments if they are relegated. (Man City also voted against, but whoever knows what they’re thinking nowadays and there is usually an exception to the rule that I’m making up as I go!). Clubs do seem to be much more restrained of late in handing over more and more cash to players in their wages, but personally as long as the clubs can afford it and the players give their all for the club, I don’t overly care about what players earn. The majority of them do give everything. Wages will of course make an impact to the clubs financial figures, but I don’t see this being the main cause, nor what makes me want to write about it.

Capacity Crowds
The new PL regulations include exceptions on money spent on academies (‘youth teams’ to you and me) and stadium improvements which is clearly a good thing. But what about the fans? Surely filling those expensive stadiums must remain a priority, and it’s got to be filled with the passionate fans that will still be there if the team go down, not someone that is just as happy switching to the local rivals or even rugby when they’ve not got Premier League games. These are the fans that will make each game the exciting event each premier league game should be with their shear noise and passion. These are the fans that will make football sustainable in the long term and they must be listened to. We’ve all heard about the threat of the football bubble bursting, and these regulations genuinely feel like that day has been postponed some-what. But for how long? Clubs can’t rely on all their worldwide fan base (aka shirt buyers) to continue to support their club if no one is going to games anymore, leading to TV companies not bothering to show that team, leading to TV coverage abroad being scarce and foreign fans (be they local or ex pats) being starved of the ability to follow their team, then not buying the merchandise.

Adjustments
So, how about the PL adding ticket prices to the sums being exempt too. Adjust the calculations on how much teams make in revenue to not include ticket revenue. This way clubs will be encouraged to lower prices and not use the regulations as an excuse to rip off the match going fans – the fans they should be looking after most out of their fan base. They can make up this shortfall on the day with club shop sales and match day experience merchandise and the like. Perhaps they could even be rewarded with having cheaper tickets? I’d imagine this will initially benefit the teams with the biggest capacity (it could be adjusted to be a percentage of their capacity to make it fairer – I’ve not thought of the mechanics, these are just ideas!) in that they would make more from merchandise (which would be counted in the regulations rules) and from the fact they have more attending, but eventually it would surely mean that all games are sell outs, all clubs are receiving more attention from those extra attendees going onto social networking sites and telling their mates, it would be much more enticing for the younger generations to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents by attending a game at the weekend as part of their weekly routine, like I did as a kid and my old man before me. Fans would be back in their droves and lead English football back to the heydays of sell-out crowds up and down the country, week in week out. Surely that’s the end result we all want?

TV
Another benefit of this increase of attendees would be the TV rights. TV companies are going to hike up their prices as much as possible regardless of whether they need to recoup money they’ve spent on football rights, so let’s charge Rupert Murdoch and his mates as much as possible for the rights to even more live games but focus on outside the top 4. They will do it too with the better atmosphere’s in the bottom half of the table grounds (in general they don’t have full crowds, but I know some do still sell out) making it more enticing for them to show these games and not just sell outs at Old Trafford. To recoup this money the TV companies may charge subscribers in this country a little more – so what? They’ve not made the effort to get to the game.

Loyalty points
To control the above ideas in making ticket prices cheaper, clubs must make sure their loyalty schemes are spot on. I’m sure each club have their own way of rewarding loyalty and there isn’t only one successful scheme. This must be spot on through and reward those that were there in the beginning, before promotion, before success (can you tell I’m a Chelsea fan?) and before European football. Brentford are expected to take 6000 to Chelsea next Sunday. Their average gate last season was 5643. I really hope those 5643 fans all managed to get a ticket, as there will no doubt be fans coming out the woodwork. I mates that are QPR fans and they’ve told me how they had no idea where their new fans had come from once they got back to the Premiership. I’ve nothing against these new fans or those that had just lost interest in the lower leagues and found their love of football again when their team start winning again, but clubs should make sure they reward the ones that still turned up when so many stopped going.

Summary
So, where are we? The new rules must be a step in the right direction. They will mean clubs are more sustainable in the short and medium term as a business. But what about as a football club? The latest buzz word is sustainability and that isn’t a bad thing, but sustainable as what? I believe the success of these regulations will rest on phase 2 – love the match going fans. Let’s hope there is a phase 2.

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