10 ways to improve the Premier League
1. Cap all away tickets at £20
The 20 Premier League clubs have agreed to continue the cap on away tickets that stops them from being sold for more than £30. But that is still high for supporters who regularly have to shell out for public transport and petrol for games arranged with only a few weeks’ notice.
Of course, supply and demand dictates that Premier League clubs could charge extortionate ticket prices and still come close to selling out. But we’re asking for a gesture of goodwill from clubs who are supposed to be social and community institutions.
With the average Premier League away attendance at 2,800, dropping the price of away tickets from £30 to £20 would cost a club £532,000 on average. The average broadcasting revenue alone of a Premier League club last season was £104m. They can afford it.
2. End-of-season play-off
After UEFA announced that the team finishing fourth in the Premier League would gain automatic group stage entry to the Champions League, there is now very little difference between finishing fourth and second.
So with a Big Six now competing for four competitions, why not introduce a Champions League play-off which would see sixth play fifth in a one-off match at a neutral venue for the right to face fourth in a play-off final for Champions League participation?
With teams outside the financial elite likely to find it increasingly hard to break into the top four, it would mean that the overachievement of finishing sixth would still provide a shot at Champions League qualification.
3. Scrap the January transfer window
The list of Premier League clubs who failed to make a permanent first-team signing in the January transfer window: Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Everton, Leicester, Watford, Brighton, Southampton.
The three highest-placed exceptions to the rule were Chelsea (who won’t actually get Christian Pulisic until the summer), West Ham (who could have signed Samir Nasri anyway because he was a free agent) and Wolves (who signed a player they already had on loan).
The January window has become a virtual non-entity. Clubs gain no value, and it provides an underserved safety net to those who didn’t act appropriately the previous summer, or who have failed to plan appropriately for the next one. You’d get the summer to build your squad, and that’s that. The only exceptions would be loan deals to Football League clubs from Premier League sides for those aged under 21, which could happen all season long. Which brings us to…
4. Cap loans for those over 21
The FIFA council is to ratify new rules that will limit the number of players aged over 21 or 23 (details unannounced as yet) who can be loaned to non-domestic clubs. Its aim is to restrict the loan farm model that Chelsea in particular have benefited from.
But these rules need to go further. The original intention of the loan system, to provide a means of younger players getting experience before they broke into the first team at their parent clubs, has been lost in the noise.
All loans for players over 23 should be banned, and loans for those between 21 and 23 capped at three. Clubs could loan as many players as they like up until the age of 21. If it gives players more incentive to turn down moves to elite clubs, so be it. If it gives younger players more power to dictate their futures, so be that too.
5. Increase payments to grassroots game
Anyone who has played or coached at grassroots level knows the drill. Poor facilities (with the odd exception), low budgets and an entire movement fuelled by the dedication of wonderful volunteers who receive little more than thanks and are constantly swimming against the tide.
If this is our national game, let’s at least try to give it back to the people. The Premier League does fund grassroots projects (£301.9m since 2000, as of October 2018), but the £71.4m committed between 2016 and 2019 equates to 0.85% of the broadcasting deal. That simply isn’t enough, given the falling standards at the lowest levels.
The potential sale of Wembley was lauded as an opportunity to revitalise the grassroots game, and it might well be a missed opportunity. But a means-tested tax on Premier League clubs to increase their financial commitment would do just as well.