It has been a tough week for both Steve Parish and Paul Barber. Steve Parish, the part-owner and chairman of Crystal Palace said in a recent Times article that “Deliveroo aren’t bailing out your local café”, whilst various replies to Brighton fans messages on the subject of Pay Per View (PPV) games have been posted on Twitter, apparently from Albion’s Chief Executive and Deputy Chairmen Paul Barber, who reportedly said in one ‘fans will always want everything for free’.
So it’s a good thing for many Premier League Executives that they will ultimately be judged by their actions rather than their words. And the announcement this week of £20m in grants and additional £30m in interest free loans to League One and Two club’s to ensure their short term survival is a good step toward repairing their reputations.
That total of additional funding figure of £50m is a good start, but change is needed. The EFL’s financial model has become unsustainable as club’s from throughout its leagues overspend in search of the Premier League’s riches. Whilst the rest do their best to keep up with the competition by also overspending. Meanwhile Premier League club’s enjoy the riches of its TV broadcasting wealth.
At Brighton we are fortunate that as Paul Barber assured the fans on this week’s Q&A call the club’s future isn’t in doubt and Tony Bloom will cover any losses. But many in the EFL aren’t as lucky. We’ve already seen Wigan go close to bankruptcy this summer, if things carry on this way many more will surely follow.
Even before the Global pandemic caused this crisis, the bankruptcy of Bury was a huge warning sign about financial problems in the EFL and Macclesfield following suit this summer has its origins well before that hit. Even if this funding (along with the likelihood of subsequent amounts) tie club’s over until the crisis ends and fans are allowed back in the stadiums, long-term change is required.
As Paul Barber pointed out himself in that Q&A this week the Premier League club’s would be in a better position to help club’s lower down the leagues if fans were allowed back into stadiums. It’s a fair point, as they are the clubs losing the most revenue in real terms.
He sounded genuinely frustrated by the doubles standard that have seen a half full Palladium Theatre whilst the Ministry for Sport continues to drag their feet on elite sporting events, despite having given him the impression that the test event held by the club would lead to a return of some fans.
As the statements across the Premier League’ clubs stated yesterday: “Football is not the same without attending fans and the football economy is unsustainable without them. The Premier League and all our clubs remain committed to the safe return of fans as soon as possible.” Unfortunately for the League and it’s clubs this is out of their hands.
But even if a limited numbers were allowed in, there’d be plenty of fans who would be struggling to go back given the crisis many are experiencing in their own personal finances. Whilst both clubs have subsequently publicly committed to a phased refund of season ticket holders, this will only help some supporters. Many others who attend on a more casual basis because of other commitments and will want to watch certain matches, won’t get that same cash boost. Whilst for others it will do little to help their growing financial worries.
Whilst Paul Barber made a great case from the club’s perspective on the PPV scheme, stating it was essentially a choice for them of games on PPV or not shown on TV at all. For many supporters that choice means the same thing for them at the moment as money worries mean they simply won’t be able to pay out additional amounts for PPV games whilst already worrying about meeting existing contracted bills due to Sky and BT along with all their other bills and monthly rent/mortgage payments.
As I pointed out in a piece earlier in the week, English football sold its soul to TV broadcasters well before Barber, Parish and their fellow executives had a personal influence. Us supporters must except that we have enabled this process of excess to grow. But this doesn’t help those struggling with their own personal financial concerns.
A clubs identity and culture is arguably more than ever shaped by its executives. And whilst they haven’t done their reputations much favours this week both Palace and Albion are luckier than most clubs in this regard.
Paul Barber and Steve Parish have both shown themselves over the course of their time at their respective club’s to be brilliant representatives for their Club’s interests and welfare. And both have been commended for overseeing a refocus of resources into its community work during recent lockdown. So for me to suggest they don’t care about their club’s fans and it’s place in the local community would be disingenuous.
However, both have seemingly shown little sympathy for the crisis faced by many other EFL clubs, or for the crisis many of their fans will face in their personal finances. Nonetheless their actions in recent days show they have at least listened to some of the concerns raised and acted somewhat accordingly, even if it was hastened by Man United and a Liverpool’s cynical project big picture proposal.
The executives will all have lost a certain degree of personal standing in the last week. And so will have to excuse many fans such as myself for being sceptical of the outcome of the coming review into the strategic plan for the future structures and financing of English football.
With the lead up to this weekend’s derby being overshadowed by negotiations at an executive-level, you can excuse supporters for being a little less enthusiastic than usual. For the two public faces of those clubs, after a week of turmoil in the boardroom, a win in this Sunday’s derby match would go some way towards healing those wounds.