Is the Premier League funding ‘grassroots’ football enough?

by James Bayley

Every player in the Premier League starts learning and developing their football in the grass root community, whether it is a youngster or veteran playing purely for the love of the game, a Premier League star, or an England international.

Grassroot level is the foundations of football, without the infrastructure of ‘grassroot’ level coaching in football the Premier League would struggle to have it’s pick of ‘big name’ footballers such as the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney, who have all at some point in the early development of their career as footballers been coached and trained by ‘grassroot’ level academies in our country. But the investment made by the Premier League into our grassroot community is very little considering the billions made by the ‘richest league’ in football.

The Premier League is making more money than ever, its funded billions every season by Sky with the domestic broadcasting rights for next season have been sold by the Premier League for £3bn, combined that with the international rights which are expected to bring in £5bn over the next three years, considering the billions which is bought in by the Premier League every year and the funding it invests in ‘grassroot’ level football surely it should improve the investment in ‘grassroot’ level football if the Premier League wants to develop the future of England on the international stage?

Premier League TV money

The Premier League makes billions from TV money every year

Whilst the professional game continues to flourish mainly due to the lucrative investment from Sky TV, the grassroots community of football is struggling to develop and improve. A 3,000 strong poll of the ‘grassroot’ community carried out by Club Website showed that three out of four amateur football teams are finding the current financial climate difficult and when asked how hard it was their club to raise enough money to help to break even, 48% of the respondents said it was either ‘hard’ or ‘very difficult’, while further 27% said it was ‘not easy but we get by’. The Premier League could play a big role in improving and developing the grassroot community of football even further by investing millions more back into ‘grassroot’ level of our game, for both the future and redevelopment of our game. In the long run the Premier League would benefit from investing more millions into the grassroot community since young players will be coached with better facilities and there be more development made.

The Premier League pride themselves on being “the most sustained investment programme in grassroots sports by any football league in the world” and the Premier League state that “..the grassroots of the game are hugely important to the Premier League. The Premier League invests in the players of tomorrow and is funding a new generation of facilities”. When the financial investment made by the Premier League to projects outside the league it provides funding of £111.6m through its scheme of ‘Creating Chances’; focusing on community cohesion, education, health, sports participation and international ventures but not all the money goes directly into the development of the grass community.

When looking at the financial investment by the Premier League into ‘grassroot’ level of football it’s worrying how little investment is being made by the ‘richest league in the world’. At present the Premier League scheme called ‘Creating Chances’ was set up to provide funding to projects outside the league and provides £111.6m focusing on community cohesion, education, health, sports participation and international ventures but not all the money goes directly into the development of the grass community. In general, around 16% of its TV revenue has gone outside the Premier League over the course of the current cycle, but the majority of that goes to the Football League, and most of that to relegated Premier League clubs. Only around 4% is distributed beyond the Football League to grassroots and community programmes. When this is put into perspective £7m investment across the whole country for all academies and small clubs at ‘grassroot’ level is not enough to develop and improve ‘grassroot’ level coaching. The Premier League invests just £6m on new facilities and a million on kits which funded partly by the Professional Footballer Association. Thousands of ‘grassroot’ clubs and academies across the country need millions of investment from the ‘Premier League’ to finance the building of state of the art training facilities for the young players to train.

Since 2000 the Football Foundation has been seeking to redress the problem of investment at ‘grassroot’ level and have invested £420m into building or refurbishing local sports facilities, with funding provided by the Premier League, The FA and Government. This has developed around 400 new 3rd-generation artificial grass pitches, 700 new changing pavilions and 2,400 real grass pitches. However this is just a small investment needed at ‘grassroot’ level with many clubs and academies across the country needing more funding and development, to help to improve ‘grassroots’ sport infrastructure.

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The criticism of the FA financial part in funding ‘grassroot’ level of our game can not really be questioned but the role the Premier League plays in funding can quite rightly be bought into serious question. The FA have recently launched ‘A National Facilities Strategy’ which was developed in consultation with the Premier League, Sport England and the Football Foundation, as part of the FA’s on-going 150th anniversary celebrations this year. The FA are targeting  improving 3,000 grass pitches across England, building 150 artificial pitches and developing 100 all-weather surfaces, as well as refurbishing changing rooms and toilets on the most dilapidated sites.

Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, said: “With 84% of people citing ‘poor facilities’ as their most pressing issue, the grassroots game has made it abundantly clear where it thinks the priority for investment should be. The FA deserves real credit for engaging with clubs in the detailed way that it has and for setting out a clear plan to tackle the this issue.” But what role is the Premier League playing in tackling this issue?

Since 2000 the Football Foundation has been seeking to redress the problem of investment at ‘grassroot’ level and have invested £420m into building or refurbishing local sports facilities, with funding provided by the Premier League, The FA and Government. This has developed around 400 new 3rd-generation artificial grass pitches, 700 new changing pavilions and 2,400 real grass pitches. However this is just a small investment needed at ‘grassroot’ level with many clubs and academies across the country needing more funding and development, to help to improve ‘grassroots’ sport infrastructure.

Last year, all twenty Premier League clubs handed agents a total of £77m, which is more money then the Premier League as an organisation handed ‘grassroot’ level football, if that money was invested into small clubs and academies at ‘grassroot’ level it could have provided; 250 floodlight 3G pitches across the country for either academies or smaller clubs. If the Premier League just cut its TV deal with Sky by just 10% it would still leave all twenty clubs in the league with an average of £31m annual increase in income, but more importantly that investment taken from TV deals could help to build more than 500 floodlight 3G pitches and providing the ‘grassroot’ level with full state of the art facilities, which could help meet half the aims of the Foundation of building 2,000 new pitches which is enough to meet the training and coaching needs of 120,000 teams at ‘grassroot’ level. It is clubs like Bournville Warriors that the Football Association’s new scheme is designed to help. Research conducted by the governing body has found that 84% of those involved in grassroots football cited “poor facilities” as their main concern. Targets within the new three-year plan include a pledge to improve 3,000 run-down pitches across England and to build 150 new artificial pitches, essential for a country with such long winters.

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Chairman of Bournville Warriors FC, Rob Fleming

The Chairman of Bournville Warriors FC, Rob Fleming illustrates how the lack of financial investment from the Premier League or the FA in ‘grassroot’ level football is damaging and affecting the coaching and developing of youngsters, the chairman finds himself in the same situation as thousands of volunteers up and down the country who work in the ‘grassroot’ level of youth football. Rob Fleming criticises the poor quality of facilities and is a worried man like many other coaches and chairman’s who work first hand in grassroot level side of the game. “We’ve already had more than a quarter of our matches called off this season. Like most junior clubs, we play on council-run pitches, but they’re not well-maintained, they don’t have any money spent on drainage, so we often fall victim to the weather and the kids don’t play. On a Saturday, you’ll sometimes see more than 150 children playing for our teams from under-five all the way up to under-16. Hundreds of parents will be standing on the touchline and yet we don’t have any working toilets. A lot of people are put off because of it. We’ve even had injuries because of the boggy, muddy pitches.”

The Premier League do play a part, with about £189m each year, 15% of its overall revenue, although most of that is in the form of solidarity payments given to the Football League and Conference leagues. Only £45m of the organisations revenue goes to a ‘good cause’ including charities, the advertisement of ‘football in the community’ and educating schools about football. At a time when some players can earn £200,000 a week and a massive £70m a season is spent on agents, those at the top of the game should maybe do more to help and finance the ‘grassroot’ academies and young footballers in our communities better, considering the Premier League consider themselves as “the most sustained investment programme in grassroots sports by any football league in the world”.

In the past the Premier League used to give £20m to the Football Foundation each year, a sum which was then matched by the FA and Government but now despite ever increasing TV revenues from Sky, the funding given by the Premier League has fallen to just £12m. while the Government puts in £10m, which means annual Football Foundation funding has fallen from £60m to £34m in recent years and with that it had a damaging effect on the development of ‘grassroot’ level coaching. In fact, of the £12m the Premier League donates each year; only half of that investment at £6m actually goes to grassroots facilities, with the rest diverted to a Stadium Improvement Fund for non-league clubs. What hope does ‘grassroot’ football have of further improving and developing if the funding given by the Premier League is small?

A petition has been set up for the department for ‘Culture, Media and Sport’ by MP David Crausby to ‘force the Premier League to back grassroots football’. The petition has already received thousands of signatures to call on the Government to ensure that ‘grassroots football receives more financial support from the Premier League’, it should but whether or not the government will force the Premier League to investment  7.5% of its TV revenue towards grassroots facilities, rather than the less than 1% it currently donates to the Football Foundation https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/46134

The Premier League argues its not their responsibility to provide any more finical funding into ‘grassroot’ level, they argue it’s the Football Associations to invest into ‘grassroot’ level more;  but surely it should be the responsibility of the richer organisation to invest more funding. But if the Premier League kept taking that attitude, that they not responsible for financing ‘grassroot’ level football then what hope is there in improving the coaching, development and in the long run our international team in the future?

The Premier League as an organisation makes the point, that apart from grassroots facilities, there are a whole host of other ways people suggest it should spend its money, with calls for it to prioritise youth development and stadium facilities as well as lower ticket prices for games. But one the most important aspects of football are at the bottom with the development of ‘grassroot’ level community, surely that should be prioritised above anything else?

1 Response

  1. Adam says:

    Great read. The Premier League isn’t funding grass roots football enough, it makes billions every season from TV deals but only puts fraction of that back into the grass root community, something needs to be done about it.

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