As The Rich Get Richer….

by Back Page Football

With Blackpool just one win away from the Promised Land of the Premier League, Tyrone Marshall looks at the issue of money filtering down the divisions.

THOUSANDS of Blackpool fans will queue around the clock at Bloomfield Road in the next few days to get their hands on the cherished prize of a Wembley ticket for the play-off final.

Odds-on to be relegated at the start of the season, the Seasiders are now within 90 minutes of the Premier League, but the remarkable story of Ian Holloway’s side will be even harder to follow in the coming seasons, after Football League chairmen voted to accept increased parachute payments from the Premier League.

By accepting the new deal, which also increases ‘solidarity’ payments to League One and League Two clubs, the league could now see a Premier League ‘elite’ of around 25 to 28 clubs, with three teams swapping over at the end of every season.

While the Premier League will point to the increase of the payments to League One clubs to £325,000 a year and League Two clubs to £250,000, they will find it much harder to rise through the divisions again.

From next season the three teams relegated from the Premier League will receive £48million over four seasons, and the real winners in this deal are those top flight sides fearful of relegation, such as Bolton Wanderers.

Their chairman Phil Gartside called for a consideration of a two division Premier League in 2008, and even advocated having no relegation from that second division, now, in all but name, he has got his wish.

While the parachute payments may have started as a worthy attempt by the Premier League to stop clubs from falling into trouble when they are relegated, they also reward failure and allow some clubs to chance their arm with financial mismanagement, all along knowing that relegation will bring a way out of their troubles.

The difference in TV revenue per club from the Premier League to the Championship is estimated to be around £50million a season, a major blow for any club to cope with, but then clubs should not be budgeting for a Premier League TV deal if they aren’t certain of their status.

All Premier League contracts should have clauses such as those inserted by Sunderland, where players faced a 40 per cent wage cut if they were relegated. That would ease the financial burden on the wage bill, by far the biggest outlay a club faces, and would ensure clubs could cope on much reduced parachute payments, instead of increased deals.

On the other side of the coin to Sunderland is their north-east neighbours Newcastle, who clearly didn’t consider relegation a possibility and few, if any players had an automated wage decrease written in to their contracts.

The first £12million installment received by Newcastle last year, under the old deal, would have been vital to the club in keeping stars such as Kevin Nolan, Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez, but is it fair that they had that to fall back on, having failed to budget for relegation.

In a statement released by the Football League they said the discussions over the payments by club chairmen had been “frank but constructive” and said that many clubs had “expressed concerns about the proposals”, but considered acceptance the only viable way forward.

That may be because the Premier League had reportedly threatened to take away the parachute and solidarity payments if the offer was rejected, a clear attempt to force the Football League’s hand.

Clubs relegated from the top flight next season will receive £16million in their first two seasons in the Championship, meaning they should be expecting to finish in the play-off places at the very least, and have a good go at automatic promotion.

As well as Blackpool this season’s Championship play-offs included Leicester, only promoted to the division last year, and Nottingham Forest, who finished 19th in the previous season.

If this new deal does end up creating a group of teams who simply swap division every few years and a group of half a dozen teams who dominate the Championship, then the loss of stories such as those at Blackpool, Leicester and Burnley last season, will be something every football fan will mourn, except those dining safely at the top table.

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