Fan-led Review: Relationships Within The Football Pyramid
The English football league was the first of its kind in the world, created in 1888. The idea of a pyramid of leagues, with promotion and relegation came into being in 1892 with the creation of the second division, of which Birmingham City (then known as Small Heath) were one of the founder members.
Over the years the pyramid has grown to what it is today where, in theory, it is possible for any local amateur club to rise up through this pyramid through successive promotions and reach the Premier league (EPL). This is part of the appeal of English football.
Blues exemplify the importance of a thriving and competitive football league pyramid having finished as high as 6th in the top division in 1956 and as low as 12th in the third tier (56th in total) in 1991. The club have been promoted to and relegated from the top division more times than any other English club, with 12 promotions and 12 relegations and represent the quintessential yo-yo club. Few clubs are better placed to attest to the strength and appeal of the pyramid system than Blues.
However, the integrity of the pyramid system is under threat. The Super League idea was a direct challenge to the idea of a meritocracy, with its largely closed nature and, although this has been seen off, threats remain.
Firstly, at the top of the pyramid – the EPL – success is being concentrated in a smaller and smaller number of clubs. Prior to the advent of the EPL on average 6 different clubs won the League Championship in any 10-year period. Since the advent of the EPL that average of has reduced to just 3.5 different winners over any 10-year period. Similarly, prior to the advent of the EPL the number of different clubs finishing in the top 3 during a 10-year period averaged 13 but, after the formation of the EPL that number started dropping and since 2005 the number of different teams finishing in the top 3 in any 10-year period has fallen to between 5 and 7 clubs with most of those clubs being the ‘Big Six’. Indeed, apart from Leicester City in 2016, one has to go back to the 1999/2000 season to find a team finishing in the top 3 who isn’t one of these ‘Big Six’ Clubs.
What we are increasingly seeing at the top of the EPL is a self-perpetuating elite of teams driven by a concentration of money to a small coterie of clubs. This concentration has been caused by the move to Clubs taking all of their home gate receipts in League games instead of these being shared, the advent of the Premier League TV deals with greater rewards for the top teams and an expanding European Champions League with increasing revenues. From next season the distribution of European revenue will change with much greater importance assigned to the UEFA coefficient of historical performance. This is likely to concentrate money even more to this elite so it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
Secondly for teams promoted to the top tier of English football the chance of being relegated in their first season in the top flight has more than doubled since the advent of the EPL. Since the EPL was formed 43% of promoted clubs have been relegated the next season – this compares to just 18% of clubs who were relegated in their first season in the 18 seasons prior to the formation of the EFL. For promotions to the Championship and League 1, recent research shows that 16% and 22% respectively of promoted clubs are relegated the following season. These statistics demonstrate very clearly how much more difficult it is for promoted teams to survive in the EPL in their first season – both compared to historical averages and compared to promoted teams in lower divisions. This strongly suggests that money is distorting competition in the upper echelons of the pyramid.
Other threats include parachute payments distorting competition in the Championship and the prospect of an EPL2 with reduced promotion and relegation to the rest of the league.
What could be done?
Blues Trust believes that the integrity of the pyramid is important and that actions need to be taken to preserve this integrity. These could include:
a) The introduction of rules to protect the pyramid and preserve the concept of promotion and relegation and kill off any future attempts by clubs to launch a breakaway Super League
b) The redistribution of EPL revenues much more evenly throughout the league pyramid, removing the financial chasm that exists between the EPL and the Championship
c) A ‘tax’ on European revenues of English Clubs of, say, 25% that is also redistributed through the league
We realise that these reforms will be unpopular and resisted by a small number of clubs but significant action is required if the integrity of the English Pyramid is to be preserved.
What are your thoughts?
We would like to know what you think about the football pyramid and whether or not additional measures are required to protect it for future generations.
Please send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org , with subject “Relationships within the Football Pyramid” no later than 18 June 2021.
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