Football's top clubs take fast track to future

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The top employees of England's most prominent football clubs will be earning bonuses of up to £3.4 million a season from 2002 it emerged yesterday, although the sportsmen concerned will not be footballers and the earnings will be linked more to the pits than the pitch.

The top employees of England's most prominent football clubs will be earning bonuses of up to £3.4 million a season from 2002 it emerged yesterday, although the sportsmen concerned will not be footballers and the earnings will be linked more to the pits than the pitch.

The bonuses, which will come on top of basic salary packages, is the amount that leading motor-racing drivers will earn in the Premier 1 Grand Prix series, football's answer to Formula One. The new competition will involve 26 cars bearing the logos and colours of Europe's biggest teams competing on the great circuits of the world.

The clubs, including Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, have been asked to license the use of their names for the venture. They will be under no obligation to finance the running of the cars but are likely to profit, through advertising and sponsorship, from their association with the project.

The series has been designed not only to attract football supporters but also motor-racing fans who are seeking a sport that is a pure test of driving skill. All the cars will be made by Dallara, the well-respected Italian constructor, so the emphasis will move away from mechanical superiority. Unlike in Formula One, refuelling will be prohibited during races.

"When we get the licences from the clubs we're off the ground and running," said Graham Kelly, the former chiefexecutive of the Football Association who is now a director of Premier 1. "What this offers clubs is the chance to widen their sphere of activity and open up new streams of revenue. Our research shows that something like 50 per cent of football fans consider themselves to be motor-racing fans as well. There is a ready crossover market there." Plans for the new competition, which was conceived by an Essex-based property developer, Colin Sullivan, will be submitted to the FIA, motor racing's world governing body, in the autumn. If cleared, the project will begin in 2002.

Apart from the four English clubs, there will be four clubs per country from Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands, plus one club from Portugal and one from Greece. It is understood that Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Lazio are among the participating clubs, which Kelly said have been chosen on footballing form over the past six years.

The clubs' cars will compete in a series of 24 races, on established grand prix circuits, over 12 Sundays between April and October. Eleven of the meetings will be in Europe and one in South America. There will be two races on each Sunday, and each race will last for either 100 miles or for one hour. The meetings will be scheduled to avoid clashing with Formula One race weekends.

"We do not see Premier 1 as being in competition with Formula One, but as complementary to it," Kelly said. "There's certainly room for another grand prix each year in each country." The issue of who will run the 26 cars on behalf of the clubs will be decided through an open bidding process. Established racing teams are among those expected to bid, as are established sponsors of the clubs, which could lead to the likes of Team Benetton-Lazio or Team Manchester United-Vodafone.

It is estimated that the Premier 1 series will cost £100m a year to run, or around £3.8m per car per season. Income from television rights, advertising, sponsorship and merchandising will finance the competition and contribute to a prize pot for distribution among the clubs.

Premier 1 hopes to find a broadcasting partner, preferably terrestrial, in each country. The BBC is reportedly interested in the project but will wait to see how it develops.

The racing teams will hire the mechanics and drivers, although the football clubs might want to exercise some influence in trying to tempt big-name drivers.

"There are a lot of good drivers throughout Europe who cannot get Formula One drives at the moment and Premier 1 could make them into household names," said Kelly. He added that he does not anticipate many defections from Formula One, although there may be some movement from Formula 3000.

The top driver in Premier 1 is forecast to make £3.4m a season in prize money alone, with the average driver's prize earnings being £1.9m a season. A basic salary, capped at a level yet to be decided, will come on top.

Such pay is well below the estimated £50m annual income Michael Schumacher receives in total from Ferrari and his commercial activities, but might attract other drivers. Jenson Button, in his first year in Formula One, is thought to earn £350,000 a year, while David Coulthard may earn around £3m a year plus win bonuses.

Comments