Stoke City keeping watching brief over TV rumpus

Stoke City keeping watching brief over TV rumpus

It isnt enough – Chairman breaks silence as Aston Villa, Leeds United and Co fight the EFL

The EFL is certain it represents the best possible deal for its 72 member clubs, not just financially but in “maximising reach and exposure”.

But the majority of Championship clubs are not happy. They didnt want the deal signing and have expressed “grave concern” that it has.

The new deal allows Sky Sports to show 138 EFL games, every play-off match, 15 games in the EFL Cup and the semi-finals and final of the EFL Trophy. For the final two seasons of the contract, Sky Sports can broadcast an additional 20 league games, which must be taken out of the weekend programme.

Leeds United: Big-hitters rumble in the TV broadcast jungle

In addition, Sky Sports can show any game they are not showing live, apart from matches that kick-off on Saturday at 15:00, on their red button service to residential customers.

Sky can select any game for TV coverage but must show each Championship club at least twice at home. This increases to three times for the final two years of the contract.

The majority of Championship clubs believe this deal is materially different from the short form agreement they were sent last year.

Right until the last minute, the Championship clubs were urging the EFL to delay, in order to provide more time to assess the changes and to come up with an alternative. They are incredulous their voice was not heard.

On Tuesday, seven Championship clubs met to discuss the situation and released a statement that ended with an ominous warning: “There is a calm determination within Championship clubs to ensure the matter is not left here.”

Given those clubs deliver the vast majority fans and TV viewers to the EFL, it means some pretty powerful people are upset – and they have a number of complaints.

Firstly, they feel the deal is miniscule compared to the £4.55bn Sky and BT have agreed to pay to show 180 Premier League games per season from 2019-22. Two of its member clubs, Aston Villa and Leeds, were the 10th and 12th best supported clubs in England last season. Seven Championship clubs were in Englands top-20 best average attendances last season. The Championship as a whole do not understand why the gap between the top two leagues is so big and fear the consequences of it getting larger in terms of financial competitiveness.

In addition, a number of clubs have said they were not told about the EFL decision to allow Sky to show non-TV midweek games on their red button service. The EFL is equally forthright in its view that they were. The disparity suggests the communication was not delivered effectively.

Clubs recently relegated from the Premier League have noted the difference in how that organisation is run by Richard Scudamore and how the EFL operates under the control of its chief executive Shaun Harvey. Many clubs have complained at the lack of clarity in decision making by EFL executives. Clubs even found difficulty getting to see the actual TV document submitted by Sky ahead of Mondays decision.

Ultimately, as the nine-member EFL board – comprising EFL interim chairman Debbie Jevans, Harvey, EFL non-executive director Ian Watmore and representatives from Walsall, Scunthorpe and Carlisle in addition to those from the three Championship clubs – voted on the TV deal, it could be argued the other clubs did not need to see it.

In addition, the biggest clubs also feel their matches are shown too often, disadvantaging fans and teams – last season, for example, 19 of Leeds Uniteds 46 league games were selected for Sky TV coverage. It has also been suggested that some centrally negotiated deals end up costing clubs money because of the number of tickets they have to give away as a consequence.

The Championship was the third most-watched league in European football during the 2016-17 season, while the Premier League was top with total attendances of more than 13m and Germanys Bundesliga second.

However, the Championships attendances of more than 11m ranked higher than Spains La Liga, Italys Serie A and Frances Ligue 1.

The Premier Leagues three-year deal with Sky and BT Sport, which begins in 2019, is worth £4.55bn, although the amount Amazon paid for one package of games has not been disclosed.

In June, Spains La Liga sold its 2019-2022 domestic television rights for 980m euros (£871.41m) per season to Telefonica, an increase of 15% on the last three seasons.

The domestic television rights for Ligue 1 in France were sold in May in a record deal of 1.15bn euros (£1.02bn) for the rights from the 2020-2024 seasons. Spanish group Mediapro won the main “lots” auctioned by the League, with another “lot” acquired by BeIN Sports. By comparison, the prices for the period 2016-2020 amounted to 762m euros (£677.5m).

Germanys top two divisions sold their domestic media rights for 4.6bn euros (£3.6bn) in June 2016, almost double their previous deal.

The deal is in its second of four seasons and was an 85% increase on the amount raised by the same rights in 2013.

Five months ago, broadcaster Sky and sports media group Perform won the rights to screen top-flight Serie A football matches in Italy until 2021 for more than 973m euros (£893.1m) per season.

Forming a breakaway league Premier League 2 has been rumoured but this is thought to be unlikely due to the timescales involved.

More likely, legal advice will be sought to see if any regulations have been broken in agreeing the contract.

In the meantime, attention may start to focus on Harvey, a former chief executive at Bradford and Leeds, who became EFL chief executive in 2013.

Harvey, 48, was behind the proposal to expand the EFL to four divisions of 20 teams, an idea that was scrapped when the FA refused to transform the FA Cup into a midweek competition.

In 2016, he caused controversy by inviting 16 Under-21 teams from the Premier League and Championship into the EFL Trophy as a way of helping young players gain greater experience in a competitive environment.

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The statement confirming the agreement of a new broadcast deal between the EFL and Sky Sports could not avoid mentioning the noses it was putting out of joint. At the same time as championing an arrangement which was in the overall best interests of the EFL, the governing body accepted that it had taken the offer in the face of opposition from some of its more powerful members.

Debbie Jevans, the EFLs interim chairperson, touched on comments and frustrations faced by the organisation and made a promise to rethink the way in which future negotiations were handled. The statement said the EFLs board had digested complaints by a number of Championship clubs before deciding to take Skys £595m, five-year bid. The deal has been designed to maximise both the financial return and exposure for all 72 member clubs, the EFL and its competitions, it concluded.

If the intention was to be conciliatory, the announcement on Monday night had the opposite effect. Championship teams opposed to Skys contract arranged to meet in Birmingham the following day and plan their response to a deal which the majority were pushing the EFL to renegotiate or reject. Not every side in the division is unhappy with the deal, and many in Leagues One and Two support it, but the weight of anger amongst key EFL players raised the threat of a fresh attempt to bring it down.

Skys offer is an increase of 35 per cent on its existing contract, which is due to be replaced at the start of next season. Annual payments to the EFL will rise from £90m to £119m in return for the rights to 138 live matches, including 16 midweek Championship fixtures. An additional eight from that division will be broadcast simultaneously on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings through the red-button service introduced by Sky in September.

The terms of the proposal attracted criticism from the Championship at an early stage and officials from clubs in the league have met regularly over the past month amid growing frustration. Andrea Radrizzani, Leeds Uniteds majority shareholder, spoke in person at one of the gatherings last week and Angus Kinnear, the clubs managing director, attended yesterdays summit in Birmingham. Leeds, as the most televised club in the EFL, have been at the forefront of attempts to force a delay in signing Skys contract and bring about further negotiations.

Criticism of the agreement is varied and differs from club to club. There is dissatisfaction with the red-button service, which has allowed Sky to increase the number of midweek Championship matches it televises in return for no significant revenue. Teams in the league feel they are being asked to accept more live games for less money per appearance. Others expect matchday earnings from other revenue sources, including live streaming, to suffer as a result.

There is a sense too that Championship rights should be worth more to individual clubs than the £3m per year they will receive from Skys new deal. That figure does not include additional fees paid for live matches and Leeds most recent accounts set their annual earnings from TV payments and other central distributions at £7.5m but Championship executives are increasingly aware of the huge disparity between broadcast cash in the Premier League and the price paid for rights in the EFL. The Premier Leagues latest three-year deal with Sky and BT Sport, starting next August, is worth £4.55bn, excluding a small batch of games purchased by Amazon. The last set of accounts published by West Bromwich Albion prior to their relegation to the Championship declared media related income as almost £119m.

Sky once controlled Premier League football exclusively but Englands top flight has used the sale of rights in fragments – batches of fixtures which are auctioned separately – to maximise its income. The EFL, in contrast, has negotiated a collective deal with one broadcaster, on terms which run to 2024. Certain Championship owners, including Radrizzani, think the fragmentation of EFL rights would prove more lucrative. Some believe a five-year contract with Sky is excessively long at a time when the TV market is changing rapidly. Already this year, Radrizzanis online broadcast outlet Eleven Sports has picked up the UK and Irish rights to Serie A and La Liga from BT Sport and Sky and Amazon is about to enter the Premier League ring for the first time. The EFL claims a five-year cycle will let clubs develop their own digital offerings to a standard which allows for an alternative approach when the rights are next sold in 2024.

The EFL maintained throughout that Skys bid was the only realistic option available to it and the concerns of many Championship sides are not shared lower down the pyramid. Leeds and others, including Aston Villa and Derby County, have been accused of allowing greed to drive their resistance, though the clubs leading the challenge to Skys improved contract claim they could construct a different strategy which benefits all 72 clubs.

It is only a couple of months since Radrizzani discussed the need for a Premier League 2 to help clubs in the Championship remain financially viable as they chase a place in the Premier League but the idea of unhappy teams moving to break away from the EFL does not appear to have anything like the support it would need and the focus at yesterdays meeting was on the possibility that legal action or the EFLs own rules might yet obstruct the agreement with Sky. This bitter wrangle is not over yet.

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