English football’s new independent regulator cannot be a “sledgehammer”, says Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.
It aims to prevent clubs going out of business, give fans greater input and introduce a more stringent owners’ and directors’ test.
“Regulation brings with it many challenges,” Masters said.
“This needs to be a very precise regulatory tool and not a sledgehammer, otherwise it might take football sidewards, or even backwards, rather than forwards.”
The Premier League was understood to be wary of a regulatory body when the proposals were announced in April last year.
The league says it is “vital” a regulator does not lead to any “unintended consequences” that could affect its global appeal and success.
“We need to be able to ensure the things which have made English football so successful over the last 150 years, and during the Premier League period, are not damaged and the sport is fundamentally supported,” Masters told BBC sports editor Dan Roan.
The main purposes of the proposed new regulator will be:
- Stopping English clubs from joining closed-shop European competitions, which are judged to harm the domestic game
- Preventing a repeat of financial failings seen at numerous clubs, notably the collapses of Bury and Macclesfield
- Introducing a more stringent owners’ and directors’ test to protect clubs and fans
- Giving fans power to stop owners changing a club’s name, badge and traditional kit colours
- Ensuring a fair distribution of money filtered down the English football pyramid from the Premier League
Masters said the ability of owners to invest and take measured risks against the background of financial regulation to improve their squads and create a really competitive league is one of the reasons behind the Premier League’s success.
“We don’t want that to be choked off, chilled, to the point where actually it’s starting to affect the quality of our competition,” he said.
“This regulator reports into the government – it needs to remain as independent as possible. We don’t want football to become the ultimate political football.”
However, Masters also added that English football authorities needed to “rebuild trust”.
“We accept some of the things which have happened in the recent past should not have happened, whether that be insolvencies in the Football League or the European Super League as a concept,” he said.
A step too far for Premier League clubs?
Masters says it is “no secret” that many Premier League clubs were opposed to an independent regulator.
“They are some of the most successful clubs in the world and feel this is probably a step too far,” he said.
Crystal Palace co-owner Steve Parish says “a lot of intense detail” will need to be discussed about how the proposals will work, while West Ham chairman David Sullivan told Sky Sports News he thought a regulator was a “terrible idea”.
One of the main purposes of the regulator is to stop clubs from joining a breakaway European league.
A 12-team European Super league was announced in 2021, but the six Premier League clubs that signed up – Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal – quickly withdrew their support after a backlash from fans, football governing bodies and even government.
“It should not have happened. We were very pleased it was dead within 48 hours,” Masters said.
However, the threat of a European Super League remains with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus still pushing the idea, and a new-look format for the competition was announced earlier this month.
A ‘massive opportunity’ for a ‘proper reset’
English Football League chairman Rick Parry says the new regulator provides a “massive opportunity” to have a “proper reset”.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Parry called for changes to be implemented “as soon as we can”.
“In many ways the game is in rude health,” he added. “The problem from our perspective is that there is too big a gulf between top and bottom.
“The first year of the Premier League, 1993, the gap in turnover between the Premier League and the EFL was £11m, it’s now £3bn.
“That’s the disparity, it’s getting wider all the time, and our goal, our mission, our purpose, is making clubs sustainable, long-term future, which means not making them wholly dependent on owner funding, and it means redistribution of revenues hand-in-hand with better regulation.
West Ham chairman Sullivan said the league is a “fantastic export” which provides a good level of support down the football pyramid and does not need “government interference”.
“The government are terrible at running everything. Look at the mess this country is in,” he told Sky Sports News.
“The Premier League is the best run and most successful league in the world. Why does an incompetent government think it will improve things?
“The government are doing this for a PR win. They think it will be good PR to be seen to be backing the ordinary football fan and smaller clubs, but I bet you it won’t get them a single extra vote.”
Parish, who is Palace’s chairman, says it will be “fascinating” to see how the regulator works in practice.
“I don’t think they [the government] really understand how many gravitational pulls there are and how many stakeholders there often are to satisfy,” Parish told BBC Newsnight.
“Generally we all want a better game and we must think of this constructively, work with the government and make it work as best we can.”
‘It is about the greater good’
Last year’s fan-led review was chaired by former sports minister Tracey Crouch following a number of high-profile crises in the sport.
The government initially promised a fan-led review in its 2019 general election manifesto after Bury were expelled from League One following the collapse of a takeover bid, but it was brought forward as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the failed attempted launch of the European Super League in 2021.
The review’s recommendations seek to address concerns over the financial disparity between the Premier League and the Championship, with clubs in the second tier breaching profitability and sustainability rules in attempting to gain promotion.
“There will be some fans – certainly some of Premier League clubs – that will wonder what all the fuss is about,” said Phil Young, chairman of Bury AFC, the fan-owned phoenix club established after the demise of Bury FC.
“It’s a bit like buying an insurance policy and at the end of it complaining you didn’t need it because you didn’t use it – in some of these sorts of things you don’t realise there is a problem until you have experienced it and gone through it.
“Bury football supporters, Macclesfield, other clubs that have gone through the wringer of late – there is a growing number of them – all realise the value of this sort of thing. The value of protecting clubs for their communities going forward.
“It is about the greater good. It is about protecting football, not an individual football club. It is about looking after the interests of everybody.”
Crouch told BBC Radio 5 Live she was “pretty pleased” by the white paper as the “core recommendations” about a regulator have been accepted.
“The Premier League should sit back and reflect on why we got here in the first place,” she added.
“Nothing in the white paper, or indeed in my review, impacts on the competitiveness of the investment opportunities or the wealth or the talent that we expect to see in the Premier League.”
Anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out said it welcomed the proposal of an independent regulator, but it was disappointed there were no plans to oversee the equality, diversity and inclusion activities of English football.
“Football has made steps forward in this area, but without a code for football governance which includes greater transparency for diversity and reporting figures, we will continue to be reliant on goodwill alone, which is simply not enough,” Kick It Out chief Tony Burnett said.
“In order to make change, we need to know what the current landscape is.”
Professor Len Shackleton from the Institute of Economic Affairs voiced concerns about the economic implications of appointing a regulator.
“The Government’s plans for a football regulator will limit investment, restrict competition and hold back development across the leagues,” he said.