Sport on TV: Sugar's sweetener creates new world of millions and minions
"It woz 'im wot done it," you might say. If you wanted to point the finger in order to explain why a business as successful as the Premier League can make £2.2bn a year but has debts of £3.3bn, you could do worse than jab it at Lord Sugar. Sadly, however, in an industry where managers are sacked on a weekly basis, the phrase "You're fired" has lost all its power.
We have all had a bit too much Sugar this week. The latest series of The Apprentice kicked off over two legs and we were also treated to Lord Sugar Tackles Football (BBC2, Sunday). In the latter he admitted that he set the ball rolling for Sky's monopoly on the newly formed Premier League in 1992. He was the chairman of Tottenham Hotspur but also provided the fledgling satellite broadcaster with their receiver dishes. When ITV put an offer of £262m on the table for a five-year deal, Sugar sneaked off and rang Sky's chief executive, Sam Chisholm, to tell him: "You must blow them out the water." So began 15 years of exclusivity. There was no limit to Sky.
Sugar confronted a chairman (Wigan's Dave Whelan), a manager (Harry Redknapp), an ex-player (Alan Shearer) and an agent (Jerome Anderson) to get to the bottom of the game's deep pockets. With football these days, it's not hard to reach the bottom. The former FA chairman Lord Triesman chipped in: "This is no kind of business model. It is far too like a casino." Presumably there were no current players around to talk to because they were all in the casino spending their vastly inflated wages.
Tottenham manager Redknapp admitted: "I couldn't tell you the wages of one player at this club." Well, we've known for a while that 'Arry's not too good with figures; he gets all twitchy. By saying he had no control over the finances Redknapp was exonerating himself of blame – "not guilty, m'lud" – as indeed did Shearer when he opined profoundly: "If someone's getting paid £150,000 a week, it's not the players' fault."
It is left to Sugar's sidekick on The Apprentice, Karren Brady, to shine a light into the murk as chief executive of troubled West Ham United: "The purpose of bringing the money in is to improve the team." She's right, and she should know: when she arrived at Upton Park five years ago, wages were 91 per cent of turnover. Arsenal are held up as a model business and yet they are accused of not spending enough money on players.
Meanwhile Manchester United win the title while servicing their debt of half a billion with £350m in interest payments. The numbers are obscene, indeed nonsensical in comparison with the real world. Sugar, or maybe one of his minions, spoke to Terry Clarke, whose joinery business is still owed £50,000 by Portsmouth after they became the 54th club to go into administration since the inception of the Premier League. A pernicious dispensation called the Football Creditors Rule means Pompey are only required to pay debts in full to other clubs (£50m) and players (£10m), and screw the Terry Clarkes of this world. His business has gone under too, without the dispensation.
The one perspective that the old barrow boy didn't bother to consult is a rather important one: the punter, or the football supporter. Nor did he mention the massive hike in ticket prices that have made this Saturday "passion" debilitatingly expensive. The shit has hit the fan too.
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