Robin Sainty: Money makes this football world turn round

Distancing measures in place at the Manchester United Club Shop - a huge money-spinner for one of th

Distancing measures in place at the Manchester United Club Shop - a huge money-spinner for one of the sport's richest clubs Picture: PA - Credit: PA

Well, we’re going to be getting some “entertainment” in the coming weeks, but to paraphrase Mr Spock: “It’s football, Jim, but not as we know it.”

The new world - the matchball is disinfected before a German Bundesliga match Picture: PA

The new world - the matchball is disinfected before a German Bundesliga match Picture: PA - Credit: AP

Empty grounds, social distancing on the sidelines, five substitutes allowed from the nine on the bench (a tacit admission of the excessive strain that will be imposed on players’ bodies) and games deemed as “high risk” potentially being played at neutral venues. It’s going to be a weird couple of months.

As ever, City’s sporting director Stuart Webber has been painfully honest about the motivation behind it all as he said: “Certainly, the wealth has definitely taken over. I’ve heard ‘health before wealth’, it’s definitely not, it’s the other way round.”

I’ve never much cared for the Premier League on an ethical level, but as I’ve done more research in order to write about things other than live football during the pandemic, I started to realise just how much it is in thrall to the broadcasters, and how iniquitous the football pyramid actually is.

As a lover of football the thing that I find most concerning about the game as a whole is that while some clubs in the Championship and below are in dire straits because of the loss of matchday income, the richer Premier League clubs are more concerned with protecting their TV money.

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The fact that the game can go on without us gives a pretty good idea of where the paying spectator sits in the Premier League food chain.

In fact, La Liga is taking things a step further by introducing computer-generated fans to fill the stands on TV coverage in order to make watching a ghost game more realistic for the armchair fan. Perhaps they’ll phase flesh and blood fans out of the game completely...

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The Swiss Ramble, probably the best source of forensic independent analysis of football finances, provides a perfect illustration of just why the TV money is so much more important than having fans in the stadium.

Manchester United may have made £111m from matchday income and £241m from broadcasting rights in 2018/19, but at the other end of the scale Bournemouth made only £5m from matchdays, which when set against the £130m earned for being a member of the Premier League is a drop in the ocean.

However, perhaps the most telling statistic is one that the Football 365 website articulated perfectly: “Let’s take Newcastle United. Swiss Ramble last year calculated match-day money was worth £23.9million to the Magpies – 19th highest in the world, apparently.

“But that is just over half of one Joelinton. So, to put it into perspective, if Newcastle don’t buy Joelinton, and don’t have any fans in the ground all season long, they’d be £17.1million better off.”

Of course, no one is suggesting that clubs don’t want fans in the ground, and I know how desperate City are to get people back to Carrow Road as soon as it’s safe to do so, but these figures show how much the game at the top level in England has become more about keeping the armchair fan happy to pay subscriptions.

And, of course, now we have live football again those Sky subscriptions, which had been frozen in lockdown, are being reactivated, although no doubt the viewers won’t get any benefit from the huge rebate that the broadcasters are claiming on the basis that games are not available on the basis that they paid for.

Part of me hopes that fans tire of the artificial football and cancel their subs, but where would that leave a game that has made itself totally dependent on the TV money?

Finally, I’ve been asked to answer these three questions...

Can City survive?

My head says no but I’m almost past caring.

Who will be relegated?

City, Villa and West Ham.

Who is the most important player/person for City for the rest of the season?

Teemu Pukki.

We need goals.

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