Grassroots football is football for everyone at the most basic level, including football for children, amateurs, leisure, and school. As England’s national sport, it is important that grassroots football remains relevant and thrives.
The English Premier League is broadcasted in over 200 countries around the globe. It is the most popular league, watched by around 4.7 billion people (premierleague.com). In 2015, the Premier League signed a domestic live TV viewing rights from 2016-2019 with Sky and BT Sports for a deal over five billion pounds. This deal is a 71 percent increase from their previous 2013-2016 deal, which was just over three billion pounds.
The majority of this 2013-2016 TV rights contract went straight to the clubs in the league. Enough, as a matter of fact, to put all 20 of the Premier League teams, according to Deloitte Football Money League, in the frame of the top 40 largest earning football teams. While the teams in the league are soaring, the rather uncomfortable truth is that only around 4 percent of the 2013-2016 TV rights contract went into the grassroots. This is a huge imbalance of wealth distribution that should not stand in the 2016-2019 years.
In the large majority of England, grassroots football is deprived, due to the skewed distribution of TV rights funds from the Premier League. A survey conducted by Sky Sports News for those involved in grassroots football throughout the country showed that the overwhelming message was that grassroots football lacks in the quality of its facilities.
Thirty-three percent of those that conducted the survey said that poor facilities and pitches prevented them from playing 11-a-side football every week. Forty-four percent said that the state of facilities and pitches was the biggest concern for the future of grassroots football. Lastly, 66.2% said the two ways the national FA could improve the grassroots game would be by investing in better facilities and adding more 3G pitches.
Furthermore, in the 2012-2013 season, the FA revealed that “half of all grassroots players had more than five games cancelled in 2012-13 because of frozen or waterlogged pitches.” This goes to show that investment in grassroots facilities is dire and imperative.
What many people fail to realize is that investing in the grassroots can actually have benefits for the Premier League. The Premier League has been criticized several times by football associates, including players like Steven Gerrard and Thomas Muller, for having too many foreign players in the league. Alan Sugar, a business magnate and the former chairman of Tottenham Hotspurs, articulated this criticism in an interview with BBC. He said, “[England] don’t have a chance of winning World Cup or European Championships again, it’s because of money thrown into the league in order for Premier League clubs to survive by hiring in players from abroad and not allowing young players to come and learn their trade.”
Since the majority of the money from TV rights go directly back into Premier League clubs, grassroots football do not have the funds to improve facilities, and as a result, less players can use grassroots as a platform to rise to the Premier League ranks.
In this sense, investing in grassroots football can be incredibly beneficial to the Premier League itself. It would be able to produce more top quality players who would help the Premier League and England shine.
Since the TV rights contract comes from the global success of the Premier League itself, some argue that all the money from the deal should solely benefit the Premier League clubs. Richard Scudamore, the executive chairman of the Premier League, said that the Premier League is “not a charity” and that his job is to put on the best possible entertainment in the Premier League. To do that, he has to help “clubs have the best possible talent they can acquire.”
This means that instead of investing in grassroots football, Scudamore is more interested in giving Premier League clubs more money, so that they can afford to attract top players around the world with ridiculously high transfer fees and wages.
However, Scudamore’s perspective can be put into question. The Premier League is already one of the most successful leagues worldwide – arguably the most popular in the world. While some of this popularity has to be credited to the top class players that bring quality football to the league, one of the more key elements to the Premier League’s success is its unpredictability.
Geoffrey Rodocker, SAS Community Athletic and Activities Director and avid Premier League fan, said that the reason he watches the Premier League, as opposed to the Spanish La Liga or the German Bundesliga, is because of its unpredictable nature. “How many times do you see bottom 5 or 6 knock off a top team?” Only rarely does it occur outside the Premier League.
The most unpredictable team this season is Leicester City. The team, who was fighting to avoid relegation last season, is now at the top of the league standings. This unpredictability was led by Leicester City’s many home-grown players that started their football careers in the grassroots level, including Jamie Vardy, Danny Drinkwater, and Marc Albrighton.. Leicester City, a squad that costed 26.15 million pounds in transfer fees, proves that big money does not need to be spent to play entertaining football.
The deal overall sparks bad news for TV viewers. Broadcasting stations Sky and BT Sports have paid an immense sum for TV rights, so they will have to increase revenue from broadcasting to make the contract worth its money. An increase in subscription fee for Premier League football is heavily anticipated, if not inevitable altogether. If fans are to pay this money to watch their favorite league, they would hope that their money is being used in good places – specifically, that their money is being used to make the league they love even better.
Richard Scudamore and the Premier League should invest their money in grassroots football. Grassroots football is in dire need of funds to improve its facilities in order to accommodate all players from all over the country. Investments in grassroots football will further the development of rising players that can shine in the Premier League and England national team.
Moreover, the Premier League has a moral obligation to invest in the grassroots. It is giving back to the fans and the community that has been an integral part of the league’s success. The Premier League should continue to give clubs the same amount of money as they did in the 2013-2016 seasons. However, they should highly consider investing the extra 71 percent made from the new five billion pound deal in the grassroots. This way, they can continue to pay top wages, and attract top players, while improving the grassroots state of the national game. It is an investment worth making.