Generally speaking, if you want to hear some genuine, clear sense spoken about basically any issue in the Football League, Nicola Palios is your go-to.
So, on the Totally Football League Show, with so much stuff to do with the running and financial side of the game in the lower reaches of the EFL that we simply don’t understand, we called up the Tranmere Rovers vice-chair and peppered her with questions.
Is there a general consensus that the season should be completed?
I think there are mixed views, and I think it’s probably fair to say the lower you go down the football pyramid, the keener people are to end the season now. At the top end in the Championship and the Premier League they’re still very keen to keep playing, but as you get lower down and as the financial pressures get worse, the consensus seems to build that it’s just not practical to end the season.
It looks likely that when football does return, it will be behind closed doors, so clubs could stream their games to fans via iFollow. Will clubs actually make any money from that?
I think that will vary massively from club to club. I think we’re about mid-table for our following in the league, so we would probably get a fair number. The cost of iFollow is around £10 per person – in normal times people will have one iFollow login and get a load of people round to watch, but that’s not going to happen now, so we would get some revenue from that. And as you say the costs are lower.
But for clubs like us who own our catering, we would lose the revenue from that. We’d lose the ability to sell programmes and things like that, so there’s a lot of ancillary revenues we wouldn’t get.
One of the really serious issues that needs to be addressed, is the way iFollow is set up at the moment, in terms of the economic structure, is that it massively favours the big clubs and prejudices the smaller clubs, in a scenario like that. If you were playing matches in front of a paying crowd, the home team keeps all of the gate revenue, so if you’re Accrington Stanley playing Sunderland, in a real physical match on a Saturday, the gate money will include a large contribution from the away supporters.
The iFollow model is completely different, in that both teams put it out and keep their own revenue. That means that all of the Sunderland supporters would go through their iFollow and they would keep that money, and Accrington would get very little. That’s why it would be enormously problematic for smaller clubs to pay behind closed doors, unless they could change that revenue sharing, or that only the home club would keep the revenue.
Clubs are making use of the government furlough scheme, but has there been any discussion of any other form of state aid for lower league football clubs?
I haven’t heard it being discussed yet but I think there is certainly an argument for looking at it. One of the big reasons for that is, with any other business one of the things that was designed to keep them afloat during this time was the government’s business loans scheme. I don’t think a single football club will be able to benefit from that, because the criteria for it would be that banks would have lent to you in normal times: no banks lend to football clubs nowadays, and the reason for that is even where there is plenty of security on a loan, no bank wants to be the one who is foreclosing on a football club, putting it into liquidation.
Clubs aren’t going to benefit from [those loans], so I do think we need to look at another way to support clubs while they are unable to operate.
Regionalising Leagues One and Two has been discussed: do you think that will happen?
I’m not a fan of regionalising at a fully professional level. I think once you get to semi-pro level it makes a lot of sense, but the game would lose a lot if it went regional, certainly at League One level. I don’t believe that the costs are actually that material: in the scheme of things, the costs of travel etc are an absolute drop in the ocean. I appreciate for individual supporters it can be expensive to get to games further away. It’s something I would like to avoid.
Are you in favour of a salary cap being introduced?
Absolutely. And I think you’ll find almost unanimity on this among Football League clubs, which is quite an unusual position. This is something that has been brewing for years anyway. This crisis has just massively accelerated and exacerbated the scale of it. In a strange way, this crisis has really given the platform the game needs to get its financial house in order.
There’s always an assumption that clubs struggling financially just want to get more money passed down from Premier League clubs. But that would serve no purpose whatsoever if we don’t reform the fundamental model, because all that does is goes straight into player wages, which makes everything inflationary and makes the problem worse not better. If you give every club £1million, they will spend another £1million on players. That’s how it is if you want to remain competitive. The only way you can change that is by putting in a proper, strict wage cap. And I genuinely think that will happen.
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