DUNLAVY: F1 chaos is lesson for football
FORMULA One is pretty dull.You get models, film stars, sheikhs and princes. You get an hour of glitzy build-up. Then you get 70-odd laps of tedium as the bloke with the best car leads from flag to finish. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve started watching a race, only to wake up an hour later to find everyone in the exact same position. And gone back to sleep.
So the chances are, most football fans met this week’s news regarding the demise of Team Caterham with a disinterested shrug.Who cares, right? This isn’t football.
But we should care. And we should be angry. Because the carnage at Caterham is an object lesson in what can happen when a sporting body allows its richest teams to run the show.
Formula One is a sport that rakes in £1bn a year. Half is looted away by commercial rights holders.The other half goes to the teams.
That should be more than enough to keep ten competitive teams in business.Yet thanks to some outrageous contractual agreements, it is almost all carved up by a handful of fat cats.
Ferrari get £56m just for turning up. They also share an exclusive £187m pot with McLaren and Red Bull, while Mercedes receive £18.5m. The reason – and this isn’t a joke – is that these teams are ‘historically important’, which is a bit like arguing Liverpool should pocket more prize money than Man City just because they won a load of titles when people were still playing backpasses.
This leaves the smaller teams to get by – or not as it has transpired – on loose change and charitable donations.
Everyone in F1 knew the smaller teams were struggling. Everyone knew there were only two ways to save them. One was a mandatory cost cap.The other was a fairer distribution of revenue.
But did the big boys care? Of course not.Whenever any measure to increase competition was mooted, they used their power to block it.The governing body was too weak to resist.The little teams –
with their little engines – went to the wall.
It’s easy to dismiss this as racing’s problem, but don’t for a minute believe Premier League clubs aren’t doing exactly the same thing.There is no difference between a bigger engine and better players.There is no difference between Ferrari and Man United. So, the worst excesses have been resisted. Remember when Bolton chairman Phil Gartside proposed a twotier, 36-team Premier League with no relegation? Or when Liverpool director Ian Ayre argued that Liverpool should be allowed to negotiate individual TV rights like Real Madrid or Barcelona, a decision that has turned La Liga into an annual two-horse race.
Yet injustice is rife. Parachute payments ring-fence the elite, filling the pockets of former members while simultaneously encouraging Football League clubs to run up debts chasing the dream.
Of the Premier’s League’s £5.5bn broadcasting revenue, just 6.8 per cent is given to the Football League.The rich stay rich, the poor are cut adrift.
It is now inconceivable that a team could get promoted to the top flight and win the title three years later, like Derby under Clough or the Leeds class of ‘92.
We will never again see a club like Wimbledon rise from NonLeague to the summit of the game.
The game may be faster. It may be a better spectacle. But money has made it way more boring than 20 or 30 years ago.
Sure, you can argue that the Premier League is no charity. But as F1 is finding out, sport needs its tadpoles as much as its titans. Sponsors are deserting all but the best teams.Viewing figures are plummeting. Soon, the same two teams will win the title every year and the goose will stop laying its golden eggs.
For them, it is almost too late. For football, it is not. I hope the powers that be see Caterham, see a halfempty grid at Melbourne in March and realise that greed is not always good. I hope one day we see the Premier League’s riches spread around the 92.
But like Ferrari and Red Bull, I fear self-interest will win through. And that today’s Caterham will be tomorrow’s Oldham or Accrington.