The collective negotation of TV rights between Premier League clubs has so far remained largely untouched. Despite the top flight being decaptitated from the rest of the Football League in 1992, this ostensibly socialist approach to the distribution of wealth has tinges of a hangover from the pre-premier dark ages. Not to ignore the dearth in variation of title-winning teams since then, one can still argue that the league as a whole has at least maintained some semblance of competitiveness.
We should grateful that La Liga is so shamefully two-sided. Barcelona are thrilling to watch of course, but the self-propagating financial superiority that they and Real Madrid enjoy over the rest of the league starkly illuminates the danger of allowing the big boys to plough their own furrow when it comes to TV money. Dave Whelan, the Wigan chairman, has never been one for understatement, but his branding of Ian Ayre’s suggestion that Liverpool sell their own foreign TV rights as “diabolical” is not too far wide of the mark.
Ayre’s logic is sound, of course; the Asian markets are dominated by fans of the new-school big 4. But it’s just not as a cut and dried as he is trying to make out. If the big boys start going it alone, then the top flight will be on a one-way trip to La Liga-dom that will take decades to recover from. The Premier League is already two-tiered enough; those with Champions League aspirations, and those trying to avoid relegation. Start breaking up the collective bargaining and you start truly destroying the league. The reason the Premier League is such a successful foreign export is precisely because of the collective bargaining agreement, not in spite of it. Who’s going to pay good money to watch Liverpool tank a load of no-hopers 7-0 every week? No-one. It’s pointless.
What sets the PL apart from La Liga is that most teams believe, on their day, they can be competitive in a one-off fixture against a top 4 side. I’m not talking about a cup tie giant-killing – I can only remember Chelsea putting sand on the pitch to stop a superior team in the last 10 years – I mean a mid or lower mid-table side raising their game a little and getting a result. Man Utd have looked irresistable going forward this season, but you feel they could still be vulnerable at the back, and they will have a rocky patch at some point – they always do. All it takes is one result to trigger a period of uncertainty and lack of confidence.
That’s not to say the league is open, by any means. I’m not naive enough to think that. But I saw Barcelona’s procession to the Spanish title last year, and it was pathetic. Boring. I don’t want the same thing to happen in this country, and that’s why I’m advocating resistance to this newly mooted breakaway from collective bargaining. The finances of almost all the Premier League clubs are screwed and skewed enough without removing the one thing that keeps it interesting.