Premier League makes welcome pledge, but one that's not quite as good as it sounds

There are people in the League keen to harness football's power for good

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The Independent Football

Forget this week’s vows by David Cameron and Ed Miliband not to raise VAT and National Insurance respectively, when it comes to eye-catching, popularity-boosting promises the Premier League’s pledge to invest £1bn in the wider game tops anything this election campaign is likely to produce.

“The Greed is Good League discovers conscience” is a headline that seems as likely as “Ukip backs more European integration”. Inevitably, after so many years of apparent indifference to everything outside their gilded world, there will be those who react with cynicism.

“Where’s the catch?” “What’s in it for them?” are obvious responses and it is true this giveaway is not entirely altruistic. There is a telling reference in the League’s statement to “the regulatory challenge from Ofcom” The communications overseer is investigating the way the Premier League sells its TV rights in the UK. Should Ofcom rule against the League the rights will plummet in value.

While Ofcom is technically independent, political pressure has influenced its decisions in the past and though Virgin, which has pursued the case, is doing so for its own commercial motives, a negative ruling could be sold as protecting the “man on the street” (more accurately, “on his sofa watching TV”) against Premier League greed.

Now the League can argue a reverse would prevent it reinvesting its windfall in a gamut of good causes from the game’s sorely neglected grassroots to “the sporting and educational development of young people”. A reduction in ticket prices – or at least the provision of cheaper ones – also looks likely. Since sports provision is actually the responsibility of government, which has instead exacerbated neglect by slashing local authority budgets, it would make sense tacitly to support the Premier League – actually a corporation of 20 private companies – on the issue.

This is not, however, the whole story. It is not a Damascene conversion, for football clubs already do significant good in their communities. Education and health initiatives, run through clubs, often engage people state agencies struggle to reach. There are people in the League keen to harness football’s power for good simply because it is the right thing to do.

However, the £1bn is not quite as generous as it sounds. When highlights and overseas sales are included the TV income from 2016-17 to 2018-19 will exceed £8bn. Meanwhile the parachute payments for relegated clubs will, based on the work of respected financial blogger Swiss Ramble, be around £530m.

So, excluding clubs relegated, the commitment to help subsidise and improve the match-going experience of fans, support the rest of the Football League, improve grassroots facilities, and get the nation’s coach potatoes up and about, is just under £500m, around 6 per cent of TV income.

Like the pledge to pay the Living Wage to all contracted full-time employees (but not the much larger army of part-time and contracted match-day and ancillary staff), the vow is welcome and will bring real benefits, but it is not quite as good as it sounds. That’s politics.

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