The Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore, a key unifying figure in its rise to prominence as the most lucrative competition in the world, will quit later this year, an epochal moment that could yet threaten the league’s collective bargaining commitment.
Scudamore, 58, told the 20 clubs at their shareholders meeting in London, including the news in the ‘any other business section’ of the agenda after they had discussed the broadcast deals with Amazon Prime and BT Sport and the new revenue-sharing solution for international broadcast rights.
It is understood that some of his closest confidantes, including the Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, were aware that Scudamore was leaving after 20 years in the job but it came as a surprise to the rest of the club representatives. The Premier League staff received an email telling them of the decision and a media release was sent soon after that Scudamore would quit before the end of the year, bringing an era to an end.
When Scudamore took over the job as chief executive in 1999, the domestic broadcast deal was worth £670 million and he leaves it at £4.55 billion, excluding whatever Amazon has paid. He pre-dates all the major club ownerships and has built his reputation upon years of ever-growing broadcast deals and the ability to bring to agreement a unique selection of oligarchs, Gulf oil billionaires, American venture capitalists and the remaining British owners.
Scudamore has put collective bargaining at the heart of his reign ensuring that the league’s competitiveness has been maintained by a meritocratic sharing of the vast spoils of the television revenue generated from the like of Sky, BT Sport and a huge range of overseas broadcasters.
His successor, who is yet to be appointed, will never be able to wield that kind of influence over the competing forces in the Premier League. One of Scudamore’s last acts was to announce a new revenue-sharing agreement for overseas broadcast deals which are growing quicker than the value of the domestic rights and were previously shared equally among the 20 clubs.
He announced the sale of the two remaining broadcast packages to BT Sport and Amazon Prime, the first partner from among the big streaming corporations. Scudamore leaves with the domestic market finally slowing down having seen astonishing growth in the current cycle of rights, from 2016-2019. The clubs are said to have been reluctant to see him go but accepted his decision.
Were the likes of Manchester United, especially, and also Liverpool and Arsenal to go alone in the future and negotiate their own television deals there would be little doubt that the league’s general competitiveness would be lost forever. Scudamore has kept them all in line by reminding shareholders that it is the power of the collective to provide competition every weekend that is the great strength of the Premier League.
He will see his greatest achievement as turning the league into the most lucrative in the world. He also pushed through the Elite Player Performance Plan which underpins youth development in the professional game’s academy system. He persuaded the clubs to adopt the £30 cap for away tickets. The league also pays around £100 million to community and grassroots programmes a year, including its Football Foundation charity, and another £100 million in solidarity payments to the Football League.
His reign has not been without controversy. His proposal in February 2008 to play a 39th game overseas was conceived to give smaller clubs with little global appeal a share of the Premier League’s huge international audience. Instead it backfired and cast him as the enemy of English football. He was embroiled in a leaked email scandal in 2014.
A Bristol City supporter who previously worked for the Football League, Scudamore has seen the sea-change in ownership from largely British families to a range of the planet’s super-rich. It is his organisation that has investigated the fitness of these owners to buy clubs and tried to keep them on the same page when it comes to their responsibilities to the rest of football.
Buck said that the search for Scudamore’s successor had begun and the new man or woman will be expected to navigate a very different pay-TV market that is likely to feature more streaming platforms like Amazon. Scudamore said that he would spend more time watching his club Bristol City, still yet to play in the Premier League. He said he has no plans to retire.
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