A cause of concern for the Premier League?

Liverpool’s Managing Director Ian Ayre has attracted widespread criticism for his outlandish proposal for each club to sell their foreign TV rights individually. As Man Utd and Chelsea have looked to distance themselves, Ayre looks to be well short of the required 14 clubs needed to start his rights revolution. Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan has rightly lambasted the plan hinting that if it were to go ahead, it could open up a future that saw the Premier League fall by the wayside, instead giving way to a European Super League.

The vocal Whelan stated: “I have just read his (Ayre’s) comments and I find them diabolical – I just can’t believe what he has been saying. It is the ‘American Dream’ this, they are thinking ‘how can we get more money?’You won’t get more money by killing the heart and soul of the Premier League and killing the heart and soul of football in England.

We invented the game and we have still got the finest league in the whole world and some of the finest supporters in the whole world and they want to rip the whole thing up. It is absolutely scandalous. It would kill Wigan Athletic. It would kill Blackburn.”

It’s hard to argue against Whelan’s argument to be honest. The current overseas TV rights deal is worth £1.4bn and comes to an end in 2013. At the moment it works out as roughly £18m per team each season and is in stark contrast to what happens in Spain, whereby Barcelona and Real Madrid take away 60% of the revenue between them, leaving the other 18 sides to divvy up the remaining 40% between them.

Unsurprisingly, this has left La Liga uncompetitive. Stoke Chairman Peter Coates had this to say on the matter: “I think what we’ve got is a pretty good system that works well and is probably a model for European countries to follow. I don’t think what Spain has done has done anything for Spanish football. As I understand it, their own clubs and supporters and everyone connected with the game in Spain is pretty depressed with what has happened there.

Furthermore, both those clubs [Barcelona and Real Madrid] have got huge debts and that’s with all the money they get. I think things are structured very well here and to change that would be very much a step in the wrong direction. I think we’ve got it about right and I’m disappointed that Liverpool think differently. But hopefully the majority of clubs will recognise we’ve got a system that works well.”

In order for any proposed deal to go through, 14 of the Premier League’s 20 clubs need to vote in favour of change. It really is like turkey’s voting for Christmas. Whelan’s rage is entirely understandable as it would initially leave the top flight as a two-tiered division.

The likes of Wigan, Stoke and Bolton hardly have a global following. The only benefactors from such a deal would be Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City due to the fact that each of their respective clubs can now be considered a global brand. Name recognition of Wigan Athletic in Beijing is most likely to be met with a dumbfounded and blank stare.

Ayre argues: “Is it right that the international rights are shared equally between all the clubs? Some people will say: ‘Well you’ve got to all be in it to make it happen.’ But isn’t it really about where the revenue is coming from, which is the broadcaster, and isn’t it really about who people want to watch on that channel? We know it is us. And others. At some point we feel there has to be some rebalance on that, because what we are actually doing is disadvantaging ourselves against other big European clubs.”

It’s crucial to keep Man Utd and Chelsea on side in this debate rather than falling in line with Liverpool. Chelsea released a statement confirming that they remain “Supportive of the Premier League on this and want to continue with the way they sell [TV rights] collectively.”

Man Utd’s position is less clear cut, with mixed messages coming from manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Chief Executive David Gill. Ferguson decried last month that: “When you shake hands with the devil you have to pay the price. Television is God at the moment” before later tacitly agreeing with something similar to Ayre’s proposal with “There is a negotiation to be had there next time around. [Individual rights] is the big issue in Spain at the moment but I’ve no great feelings about that. We’d love to have our own but I don’t think it should happen that way. It’s quite fair to have all equal shares.”

David Gill told a parliamentary inquiry last season that: “The collective selling of the television rights has clearly been a success and it has made things more competitive.”

The temptation to give in must be great. The current domestic TV rights deal is worth £2.1bn over three years, but when both sets of deals are next up for renewal in 2013, the overseas deals have the potential to dwarf the domestic rights package. While Liverpool would undoubtedly benefit, no-one would more so than Man Utd.

And therein lies the real worry – could the likes of Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea potentially breakaway and form their own Super League?

If they’ve negotiated their own TV rights deal, what is to stop them negotiating their own individual league deal in the future. It could include the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrird and Bayern Munich too. All the best clubs in the world in one terribly boring league getting richer and richer by the second.

The Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules mean that clubs are now looking for other ways to maximise their profits. The age of the mega-rich owners is coming to an end; Man City and PSG managed to sneak in there just in time.

It does seem somewhat strange that Ayre has been hung out to dry quite as much as he has been, though. He surely, in private, must have canvassed opinion around other clubs before publicly expressing his owns intentions. However, the likelihood of such a proposal coming to fruition is slim to none. But still, the warning signs do set a precedent of what the future holds for the game further down the line.

Whereas once upon a time the idea of a European Super League would be laughed out of the halls of power, there is a creeping suspicion that it would now be welcomed with open arms in a manoeuvre that would be mutually financially beneficial. Michel Platini’s FFP rules are entirely admirable in their aims, but in practice, they could simply force clubs to find other ways to make their money.

The Frenchman’s influence at UEFA would quash any idea at present, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and with the dollar signs flashing in every big club’s eyes at the prospect, they’ll patiently bide their time for now, even if Ayre’s move does seem a tad premature side.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1

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