15 December ~ It’s easy to believe that the people who run the FA must have spent a lifetime walking under ladders and running over black cats. Before the dust has settled from the World Cup 2018 bidding debacle comes the news that UEFA, at its executive committee meeting in Prague, is developing plans to centralise the sale of broadcasting and marketing rights for European Championship qualifiers. At present, the 53 individual associations are able to make their own broadcasting deals and sell sponsorship, but under the new plan both sets of rights would be sold by UEFA with the proceeds distributed equally.
As things stand the bigger associations – England, Germany, France, Italy and Spain – are able to strike profitable individual deals but for the smaller associations they must wait for the vagaries of the tournament draw and exploit clashes with the larger countries as best they can. Few doubt that the new arrangements will generate a larger pool for distribution and, with economies of scale flowing from the centralised sale, a greater proportion of the income will be available for distribution. Equally, no one doubts that gains for the smaller associations will be at the expense of the “big five”.
The origins of the deal lie in a proposal from the small and medium associations who are seeking greater security to their income from UEFA. At its meeting in Prague the UEFA executive reached agreement for the continuation of “solidarity payments” that will give each association up to €9 million (£7.62m) in total between 2012 and 2016. But the moves also reflect a continuation of UEFA's plans to maximise commercial income. In September 2009 David Taylor (a former chief executive of the SFA) moved from his role as UEFA general secretary to become head of the newly formed UEFA Events SA, a wholly owned but nevertheless arm’s length subsidiary. At the time of his appointment, Taylor was keen to emphasise that moving out of the top job was not a demotion and is determined to grow annual revenues that are currently estimated at €1.5 billion.
For the English FA, the proposals couldn’t have come at a worse time, weighed down as they are by the continuing Wembley debts. The stadium revenues are heavily dependent on income from corporate facilities and concerns about car-parking and other access issues might make this difficult to sustain. The total annual income stands at around £230m with sponsorship and broadcasting accounting for around £180m, a third of which comes from commercial partners. Whatever deal UEFA can strike on sponsorship it seems inevitable that the FA’s income will suffer, with the additional problems of the England team seeking a lead sponsor and the rights to national games and the FA Cup up for renegotiation in a tough market in August 2012. In 2006 the German FA made a post-tax profit of £47m on the World Cup and the FA know for certain that they will not have a similar windfall in 2018.
When the FA have problems it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed by a sense of schadenfreude. But investment in the grassroots game and contributions to the Football Foundation are now at risk and difficulties in securing sponsorship could affect the National Football Centre at Burton. There seems little doubt that UEFA’s inclusion in its proposals of both broadcasting rights and marketing deals is a negotiating ploy, with Germany in particular angered about the sponsorship issues. But although there are details to resolve, there are plenty of sleepless nights in prospect at the FA. Brian Simpson