Football Sponsorship Levy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 7th April 1998.

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Labour, Lincoln 3:35 pm, 7th April 1998

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a Football Levy Board with powers to impose levies on football organisations and to allocate sums for the benefit of association football. Parliament needs to take a lead, where others have failed, to tackle the ever-growing financial divide between super-rich clubs and the rest. If action is not taken soon, dozens of smaller clubs may go to the wall, dragging down with them the prosperity and well-being of the local communities that they represent.

I welcome the Government's commitment to supporting our national game through committing £20 million to the Football Trust to improve the stadiums of clubs below the Premiership, and I welcome also the action to tackle racism, but hon. Members on both sides of the House, as evidenced by the 155 hon. Members who have already signed my early-day motion, want to be able to applaud the Government for more. My Bill seeks to offer that opportunity through the establishment of an independent representative board to distribute television money more fairly.

If politics is to re-empower the disempowered, replacing disillusion with faith and commitment, football is as good a place to start as any. My Bill tackles the whole unfair business of football wealth. Football is awash with money. In the past few years, hundreds of millions of pounds have come into the game through lucrative sponsorship deals, stock market flotations, merchandising and, above all, television deals. That television exposure has been the key to unlocking the millions from those other sources, with the lion's share of the money going to Premiership clubs, which set themselves up as an elite group to cream off Sky TV money.

I do not wish to offend hon. Members who support Premiership teams, but the Premiership was founded on greed. As time passes, we see also the greed of people who have a passion for making vast amounts of money, rather than for football. That is a source of aggravation and despair for fans of Premiership clubs, who want football to flourish and to be given back to the fans.

This problem runs the length and breadth of Britain, but, if we consider the example of England and Wales, we can contrast the £200 million a year broadcasting money that is shared between 20 Premiership clubs, with the £20 million a year that is shared between 24 division one clubs, leaving the crumbs of £5 million to be scattered among the 48 divisions two and three clubs: for Lincoln City £104,000; for Spurs £10 million. At a meeting tomorrow, Nationwide first division clubs will seek to grab a bigger slice of the television cake. That cannot go on.

If the already uneven distribution of broadcasting money becomes even more uneven, genuine competition will be stifled throughout the game. Football thrives on competition. It depends on the art of the possible. With the right mix of skill, tactics, stamina, luck and sound finances, a small club can clamber up the football mountain.

The smaller clubs are being clobbered in many ways. The knock-on effect of the rich clubs being made richer by television wealth is the upward spiralling of wages and transfer fees. I hope that hon. Members do not begrudge top-quality players the rich rewards that they deserve, particularly in such a short career, but the upward spiral of wages means that smaller clubs living on the edge have to offer wages that they can ill afford, because if they do not, somebody else will. On top of that, midweek televised football reduces the gates at the smaller clubs while the top clubs benefit.

Why should we be bothered about smaller league clubs—the Lincoln Citys, the Burnleys and the Bournemouths? There will be plenty of others to support, and hours of football on the television to enjoy. The reason why we should be bothered is my motivation in bringing forward the Bill.

Smaller clubs make a unique contribution to the economic and community life of their towns and cities, as I have seen in Lincoln. Around Lincoln City, affectionately known as the Imps, after the mischievous Lincoln imp in the cathedral, is a whole industry which touches our lives beyond the outcome of the match.

However, let us not minimise the impact of winning or losing on a community. At the most recent home game, I felt a dampening of the spirits at the Imps' 1-0 defeat at the feet of Colchester. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) will not support that point. Some say that losing a game is like losing an election. It is not; it is worse.