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The row sparked this week by Liverpool MD Ian Ayre’s suggestion that the club should be able to negotiate its own deal for television rights is an interesting one for a number of reasons.

You can see the logic. Ayre pointed out, quite rightly, that these days, the real competition for the clubs with the biggest brand names is other big European clubs. The Champions’ League long-ago eclipsed the FA Cup, so it shouldn’t be news that the teams at the top live in a global marketplace and no longer compete in a ring-fenced domestic market. (But try, if you can, not to spot the irony of that having been the argument used by online gambling for a decade.)

You can also see the counter-argument: if the Premier League becomes fundamentally unexciting as a competitive spectacle, it will no longer retain the level of interest from fans and that will kill off the league. It’s a position that is somewhat undermined by the statistic that only four clubs have won the thing in nearly twenty years, and one of them only once; but it still carries some weight.

What I find interesting, though, is in the way that this debate relates to one of the other big debates out there: whether betting should be paying sport. The Premier League, of course, is of the view that it should, on the grounds that money being bet is being bet on football, and therefore football should get a share.

If the Liverpool argument were to carry in relation to picture rights, where would that leave the debate about betting rights? Clearly, a match between QPR and Swansea will not generate as much betting interest as a match between Manchester United and Chelsea. So if the argument holds water that funds should flow to whatever generates them, then we need to start slicing the cake up more thinly.

But once you make that decision, where should the line be drawn? If next week, Chelsea go on to play QPR and Manchester United go on to play Swansea, the amount of money bet on QPR and Swansea as individual clubs will probably rise; but is that because the interest centres around them, or is it still really all about their opponents? And what about the player who claims that actually, a decent slug of the betting turnover was placed on him to score first? Has he generated that business, rather than his club or the match?

I think these are not easy questions to answer. I am sure that they will be dismissed by many, some of whose voices I can almost hear telling me that I am moving the argument to absurd extremes. But am I? The debate is on the table, right now, and it has been put there by one of the big clubs.

If you’re going to cut up revenues which stem from a source apparently dependent on the popularity of a separate underlying commodity – and particularly if you are going to make the argument, as many often do, that ‘people pay for picture rights; why shouldn’t they pay for betting rights?’ – then it is surely wise to decide exactly what part of the underlying commodity it is that causes the popularity. And it is lazy merely to bunch it together in a “catch-all” which will inevitably, at some point, end up being challenged by those who feel that they are subsidising others.

Right now, football thinks that the betting industry makes money off it without paying its way. If that argument is ever bought by politicians, then it seems clear (on the basis of this week’s news) what the next step in the debate will be: the big clubs will argue exactly the same thing of the smaller ones, until whatever money is generated ends up in the hands of a tiny few who need it least. More money for Carlos Tevez, anyone?

Posted in Betting industry, My articles, Regulation, Sport.

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One Response

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  1. bigdipper says

    The Levy for horse racing is an utter anomaly–first, in racing being the only sport to claim a share of betting profits, and second, in being distributed to an overarching Board, rather than a body that lays on specific, identifiable events attracting betting business, such as the FA Cup or Premier League.

    If, in racing’s case, we had to specify the ‘underlying commodity’ on which the right to bet could be sold or auctioned off, the most reasonable entity in my view would be the programmes of individual courses (or even certain meetings).

    Replacing the Levy with such a system would indeed be beneficial for racing’s long-term health, in stopping the cross-subsidy of uneconomic tracks, owners, horses, trainers and staff by people who have a historic and viable product.

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