Countdown to the Premier League: League rides out problems on rising numbers

Chief executive Scudamore points to soaring popularity after email scandal and World Cup woe

Chief Football Correspondent

There are few businesses in the world as successful as the Premier League who are required to defend themselves as stridently and as often – especially when the charge is that they are culpable in the decline of modern English footballers, rather than a bright shining vision of the future.

Another August and the show is starting again, today alighting on a quiet corner of Willesden in north-west London to sprinkle a little of the glamour of the most lucrative sports league in the world. At the Capital City academy, it was the Premier League which funded the students’ new 3G pitch, and in order that the world should know, the likes of Vincent Kompany, Manuel Pellegrini and Gus Poyet were brought in to tell them.

Sky Sports took it so seriously it built a studio beside the pitch, where governors of the academy had their picture taken alongside the trophy. The Premier League was keen for all to know that, as reported in The Independent  yesterday, it has pledged £10.5m to primary school sport. What is £10.5m for a league that earns £1bn annually from television revenue? Less than one per cent, but, as the league itself would point out, £10.5m more than other European leagues muster.

Richard Scudamore, the league’s chief executive, is a man whose default setting is robustly defensive. Who can blame him? On one side, 20 ultra-demanding club owners. On the other, a public blaming him for everything from rising ticket prices to England’s woeful World Cup to the dreaded 39th-game proposal.

This year, he had one more issue on the agenda. This was the first time Scudamore had discussed his recent excruciating personal scandal: his emails, leaked by a former personal assistant, Rani Abraham, in which he made sexist remarks about a Premier League employee – herself in attendance today. Scudamore survived but by a closer margin than he might have expected.

He said there is still a legal process in place – the suggestion being that Abraham accessed a private email account, an allegation she denies. Nevertheless, he did say that there was no sexist culture in existence at 30 Gloucester Place, the League’s headquarters.

 

“I think we can be absolutely sure of that,” he said. “Nearly 50 per cent of our employees are female, every single one of them – and believe you me, people were trying to goad one of them to ‘dob’ on the culture of the Premier League – will say it is a very invigorating place to work.

“There are some very aggrieved female employees who have seen the organisation characterised in the way it was. I can’t say more than that, they were private emails and you know there is a legal process that is going on which is still in train. But the ultimate test is the 40 or so females that work at the Premier League.”

Had it been difficult for a man who is not known for tolerating shortcomings in others, especially if they happen to work for the Football Association? “Of course it was difficult and I apologised straightaway. The clubs were assembled and they gave their backing unanimously to what I’ve done for how many years and hopefully in the future.”

Scudamore had heart surgery over the summer and the League’s chairman Anthony Fry has had to resign because of ill health. That, coupled with the sexism saga, would amount to a dreadful year in any other organisation, but the Premier League operates according to different rules. The Sky Sports v BT Sport war rages across the country’s billboards, pointing to yet another rise in the Premier League’s phenomenal television income when it goes to market in September for the next contract.

It is not even halfway through the current deal, worth around £1bn a year to the 20 clubs. Yet, having lost the League’s outstanding player to Spain for the second consecutive season, and endured another dismal England World Cup performance, there seems no slowing yet of the Premier League juggernaut and the fascination it attracts across the world.

John O’Shea, Phil Jagielka, Vincent Kompany and Wes Morgan at the Premier League season launch John O’Shea, Phil Jagielka, Vincent Kompany and Wes Morgan at the Premier League season launch The numbers remains staggering. The League is watched in 650 million homes in 175 countries. In the United States last season there was an estimated aggregate live audience of 115m on NBC, a 114 per cent increase. Domestically, even the BBC’s Match of the Day 2 saw an audience increase of 9.3 per cent. But nothing expresses the popularity of the Premier League like the cold hard cash of the broadcast deals.

Scudamore is unapologetic about rejecting limits on foreign players, which he says would reduce quality not enhance it. As for the World Cup, he argues that England underperformed. “We took a good crop of players. Those players ought to be able to compete on a world stage.” The clear inference being that it was Roy Hodgson and the FA’s fault that they did not, but he was too smart to spell that out.

On the future of the English footballer, Scudamore will point to the Elite Player Performance Plan, rolled out in 2012 after a great deal of research and investment by clubs in their academies. He regards that as youth development’s year zero; England’s Germany post-Euro 2000 moment. There will be no swerving from that strategy.

There is no chance of Scudamore changing his belief that FA chairman Greg Dyke’s B-team league is a bad idea. He supports the development of the Premier League’s Under-21s competition. “The idea that you would want to subject those players to playing somewhere between Conference and League Two football is not a place we want our players to go in a technical sense.”

On ticket prices and the Football Supporters’ Federation protest this week, Scudamore’s broad point is that the market dictates and the grounds are 95.9 per cent full. “I have a concern but it’s part of an overall concern of making sure the grounds are full. Clearly there is a linkage. If the attendances started to drop then one of the things you would look would be ‘Stop, have the clubs gone too far?’”

Yet there is no greater distraction from the issues of bad English World Cup performances and indiscreet emails than the Premier League itself. The madness starts again on Saturday lunchtime and, as usual, even the most trenchant critics will be rapt.

News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links