Brighton chief's stance on player wages amid pandemic and Premier League pay-per-view
Brighton chief executive Paul Barber believes the thorny issue of Premier League player wages is an easy target for politicians and media as Albion try to navigate their way through one of the most challenging periods in their history
The Premier League announced last Friday that matches not already earmarked for live coverage would be available on Sky or BT pay-per-view, at £14.95 per match.
The move has been widely criticised and many loyal fans feel they are being exploited at a time of increasing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Once again it raised the issue of how clubs operate with player wages once again high on the agenda.
"It is a complex issue," said Barber. "As ever one which makes for good soundbites from politicians, good copy for some sections of the media, and of course healthy debates amongst some fans.
"The politicians appear to forget how much of player salaries go into public coffers. For example, here, at Brighton, we contributed £54m in taxes the season before last, with a large chunk of that from taxes on player wages.
"Footballers pay a huge amount of revenue into government coffers."
"As for players taking cuts in their wages as yet we haven’t had to revisit that. It will be the chairman’s call if we do. Player contracts are fixed term and guaranteed."
On the first weekend of October, all matches were televised by either Sky or BT.
It had been hoped that grounds would be up to one-third full for those games, but the Government’s decision to scrap the return of fans from October 1 due to a rise in coronavirus cases meant the Premier League needed to find a way to screen all the games.
All 92 matches of the restarted 2019-20 season were televised, with 33 of those games made available free to air.
Barber however feels that matches - outside of those already selected for live broadcast - cannot continue to be given away for free.
"In a football club, players are our most significant assets," said the deputy chairman. "We need the best possible players to be competitive. We are also in a competitive market when it comes to securing and retaining the services of the best players.
"I think the vast majority of fans appreciate that. We were very careful with the money we spent on fees, wages and agent costs."
Top-flight clubs voted 19-1 in favour of the pay-per-view scheme on Friday - with Leicester the only one to vote against. Clubs are desperate to boost their income while the stadiums are empty.
"I cannot dress it up, we have been badly hit by the pandemic," said Barber. "We were already budgeting for a large loss. But the important thing is that we are coping, adapting and being creative to cut back costs and look at new revenue streams.
"One of those revenue streams, while we can’t allow fans to come into the stadiums, is to generate revenue from pay-per-view matches.
"One certainly won’t come close to replacing the other, but it will help us in the short term.
"Somewhat ironically, I was receiving messages and reading many comments from fans suggesting we should have been doing even more transfer business," Barber said. "And then it has come full circle with some fans criticising us for the cost of the business we have done.
"In some cases I have received emails from the same fans on both subjects! Our job is to get the balance right and I think at Brighton we did just that."