Premiership debate four points for away win

Radical changes to be discussed at Premier League annual meeting as fears grow that there are too many boring games

Denis Campbell, sports news correspondent
Sunday May 29, 2005
The Observer

Premiership clubs could receive four points for an away win under plans to be discussed by team bosses who want to make games more entertaining.

The radical idea will be floated at this week's Premier League annual meeting, which will hear calls for dramatic changes to address rising concern that there are too many boring, irrelevant matches.

In a briefing note to chairmen before this week's gathering, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has listed the many challenges that clubs face if the Premiership is to safeguard its status as the world's most popular and most lucrative league. It is a summary of areas of concern identified by the league's Attendances Working Group, which was set up last November to examine whether the increase in the number of matches shown on Sky television - up from 106 to 138 - and prices charged by clubs were affecting crowd levels.

The issues include 'quality of football - negativity, formations, less attacking play' and what many clubs believe is the closely related issue of 'competitiveness of the League - predictability, including points structure'. The recent decline in the number of away fans, the increased number of matches moved from Saturday 3pm kick-offs to suit television and negative impact of misbehaviour by players and managers are also on the agenda.

Several club chairmen and chief executives told Observer Sport yesterday of their fears that the tendency for teams to opt for safety-first football, deploying only one forward in a cautious attempt to avoid defeat, was producing too much dull play, leaving fans frustrated.

'Last season more and more teams played 4-5-1,' said one chairman. 'It may help them pick up more points than they might otherwise have got and increase their chances of staying up, but it's often not exciting. There are too many irrelevant, unmemorable games, especially involving teams in the middle of the table who won't get relegated or get into Europe, and especially towards the end of the season.'

Another chairman said: 'This trend towards 4-5-1 is understandable - the financial consequences of not surviving in the Premiership are serious - but it cannot be good for the Premier League in the long run. There are signs that, combined with the saturation coverage of games on TV and the cost and hassle of attending matches, this could make some fans stop coming.'

Encouraging the visiting team to attack by awarding them four points for a win is one of the ideas to be discussed. Concern about the attractiveness of the Premiership will be heightened by the revelation that matches televised by Sky suffered a 10 per cent fall in their average audience last season. Official figures from the British Audience Research Bureau published last week by TV Sports Markets magazine show that an average of 1.224million viewers per match tuned in during the 2004-05 season, a drop of 9.7 per cent on the previous season's 1.356m.

Club executives say that, with 32 further fixtures being shown and league rules requiring each team to be screened a certain number of times, a loss in the quality of some games shown - and reduction in the average audience - was inevitable. However, league chiefs are heartened by the fact that the total number of viewers watching live games over the course of the season has risen. It went up from 89.5m in 2003-04 to 107.7m, an increase of 20.4 per cent.

The annual meeting may also hear rumbles of discontent about the way the Premier League share out broadcasting revenue and claims that clubs below the unofficial Big Four of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool get too little. But new figures from the League, revealing how much each club earned last season, show the gap between the top and bottom clubs has narrowed. Chelsea, the champions, received £30.7m, while Southampton, who finished bottom, were paid £18.4m.

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