UEFA must change the way it distributes Champions League money, with Europe’s elite clubs now having “the right to win,” said Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish.
Parish was in Brussels on Monday along with officials from four other English clubs for the launch of the Union of European Clubs (UEC), an organization which seeks to give a voice to more than 1,000 professional clubs on the continent.
While Parish accepts the strength of the Premier League’s broadcast deals mean the distortion caused by European earnings is less stark in England than in other leagues, he believes action is vital to prevent the ‘gerrymandering’ of the Champions League by Europe’s top clubs .
“We have six, now probably seven, teams (in England) where the amount of capital they have is unlimited or huge compared to us, and qualification for European football is next to impossible,” he said.
“Maybe the Conference League is possible. I’m not saying it’s bad to be in the Premier League by any means and I’m sure if I understood more people’s problems, I would understand how lucky we probably are.
“But by the same token it still doesn’t quite feel like a meritocracy. And with the coefficient, it seems more and more like there’s a two-tier Premier League – there’s a top half and a bottom half and that disparity is only going to get bigger and bigger unless we put in some rules to try and control it. .
“You’re faced with the situation where people have become so empowered to win – literally empowered to win – that they don’t accept any system that questions the status quo or threatens it, and I think that’s what we really need to look at across Europe.” .”
Parish described the coefficient system as “the true manifesto of (Champions League) gerrymandering”, with UEC general secretary Dennis Gudasic saying that of the €22bn in revenue earned from club competitions over the past 25 years by UEFA, 34 percent had ended up in the hands of just 12 clubs.
Currently 30% of Champions League revenue is allocated to the 32 teams that reach the group stage based on their ten-year table, which is based on how that team has performed in Europe over the last decade. The highest ranked team earns 32 times more than the lowest ranked club. A further 15% is awarded on the size of the television market pool in the country where the club is based.
Representatives from 103 clubs were present in person or online at the UEC event, with Aston Villa, Brentford, Brighton and Watford represented by the other English clubs.
The UEC believes that there are around 1,400 professional clubs in Europe that have no say and that they should be represented on UEFA decision-making boards in the same way as member clubs of the European Club Association (ECA).
The UEC says that only 130 clubs have voting rights within the ECA.
Parish said Palace was “extremely open” to joining the UEC, adding: “We feel we are not represented anywhere at a European level. We are missing a voice. And we accept that we are just a voice, but we feel that we should be heard. So it’s definitely something we’re very interested in.”
Parish also said UEFA’s position as regulator and trader was “a conflict of interest”.
“I think it’s very difficult to have a situation where a governing body and a regulator organize tournaments that compete with you,” he said.
“I think there needs to be more separation of ‘church and state’, if you will. The people who organize the tournaments and the people who regulate them, and who tax those tournaments for the greater good, should be two different people. I think being one body seems like a huge conflict of interest.
Parish said there was a “mismatch” between the level of solidarity between the Premier League and the wider pyramid and how much UEFA has paid its non-participating clubs.
He said 17% of Premier League earnings currently went outside the top flight and said it was “the right thing to do” for this increase, predicting it would rise to more than 20% due to “pressure ” on the top flight to do more.
An independent regulator for the English game should have supportive powers to impose a financial settlement on the Premier League and EFL if the bodies cannot agree one on their own.
Parish said he believed the government was “well-intentioned” in trying to set up a regulator, but warned of the risk of it becoming politicised.
He highlighted a report from Athletic that appeared to highlight government pressure on the Premier League to approve the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle.
“There seems to have been some pressure on (PL) to allow it,” he said.
“And I think, certainly for us, it’s quite dangerous with all the politics we have in sport without real politics going into it, and we have nation states and government deciding what’s right and what’s right and wrong in football.
“So that side of things is slightly concerning. Hopefully we can manage the influence of the regulator and keep it fairly focused and fairly narrow. But we’ll see where it lands.