Oh joy! My little heart sang when Bojo announced that I could now mingle with six other people in the park - as long as I didn’t ask to use their toilet.
I’m not sure now if I have to wait until he tells me who these six people are or if I can get to choose that for myself, which could be difficult as I’m not sure I know six people who I’d like to mingle with in the park. Or go in the park at all actually given that it’s crammed full of people all trying to mingle and not asking to use each other's toilets.
Spare a thought therefore for the poor Premier League footballer who’s now being asked to mingle with about 150 people at a time on a semi-permanent basis when the game returns on June 17th. I wonder if anyone’s asked 72 year old Roy Hodgson how he feels about this?
With something like 92 games in six weeks we’re promised back-to-back live games every day of the week, scarce leaving most of us the time to get out in those parks with our hastily assembled empty-bladdered friends.
But let’s not get carried away. This return to ‘normality’, (and whilst I’m on, I’m struggling with the concept of horse racing ‘behind closed doors’ - it must be a very large house) isn’t for the good of the game, the benefit of national morale or any spirit of fair play, it’s all about the money.
If the season isn’t completed then the Premier League clubs are due to repay the TV companies about £750 million. If they play the games without fans, on strange days at weird times, possibly at neutral venues then that liability drops to £330 million.
At least that’s what the TV companies are demanding, their argument being that given all remaining games are being played ‘behind closed doors’ (it’s okay, I won’t do the ‘big house’ joke again) the value of the product they paid many squillions for will be devalued.
“But no!” cry the clubs, strangely unwilling to part with such huge sums of money – they cite the fact that because fans can’t attend the games it’ll actually increase the demand for live televised matches, and the lack of other sports available to watch will have the viewing public dripping with anticipation for every sterile, eerily quiet kick-about they can put on.
To be honest I’m surprised they haven’t actually held out for a premium never mind a rebate.
And if you were ever in doubt about footballs relationship with the almighty dosh, take a look at the turn taken by the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle.
OK, so the Saudi’s are guilty of state-sponsored murder – no problem. They suppress their own people and violate their human rights – yep, whatevs. They oppress their weaker neighbours, starve their population and fuel a civil war bringing death and destruction to the region – no sweat, these things happen.
But WHOA! They stream live games illegally! Blinky blimey, who saw that one coming?
That’s eating into the bottom line bonny lad, it’s rocked the football world back on its heels – it’s like finding out Lassie had fleas. And, if you believe the papers, the takeovers all but off – and quite rightly so... pirating live football matches – I mean forget the Holocaust, forget Rwanda, they’re f***ing with the money!
Which, lest we forget is very much concentrated at the top of the pyramid. The Premier League clubs raked in close to £9 billion from the last TV deal, so they can afford the COVID testing and boxes of Dettol required for the resumption of play. In fact they’re so across this they’ve carried out more tests already than the entire country did in the first two weeks of the outbreak (which sounds impressive but I think the actual figure was about six).
Not so awash with the folding stuff is everyone else, or at least Leagues 1 & 2 who don’t get the global TV revenues available to the elite and can’t afford the disinfectant to start up again, so don’t get the chance to finish their leagues, which in a gross under-statement, just isn’t fair.
So the concept has been raised, tentatively, almost apologetically, that maybe the Premier League should share its good fortune with those clubs in the lower leagues that rely on people coming through the turnstiles for the bulk of the income. And whilst I generally consider myself leaning towards the optimistic in most things, this is like Nigel Farage renouncing the public life and becoming a Rastafarian.
The next round of TV rights is due to be negotiated this year. Clubs are worried that TV companies won’t fork out the same sort of money in a post-COVID world, and they’re going to have to come up with new ways of replacing that revenue, for as David Kogan, the former Premier Leagues chief media rights advisor says:
The only way that clubs can then survive is by looking at costs. And the massive costs are agents’ fees and players, and at that point you’re affecting the product.
And if you’re worried about affecting ‘the product’ you’re not going to be worrying about how Accrington Stanley or Port Vale or anyone else is going to keep going. If you want to see how that’s going to turn out, look no further than Bury FC. Remember the flood of Premier League clubs dipping hands in corporate pockets when that was front and centre?
So, in the richest football league in the world we’re faced with the possibility of an estimated ‘50 or 60’ clubs going broke. With no help forthcoming from their own business, or their government their only hope may be from a wealthy benefactor, and we all know how well that’s gone in the past.
And who’s to say that just after they do, Bojo will announce that it’s now okay for crowds to gather together again. As long as they don’t ask to use the toilet.