It was barely a month ago when the National League put to bed the rumours of financial instability brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic with the announcement of a 3 month bailout package secured with the National Lottery
Basically, the National League and National League’s North & South are classed amongst football’s ‘elite levels’, therefore they have been allowed to continue with their fixtures during the lockdown while football below these steps (classed as ‘non-elite’) have been ordered to stop by law until at least December 2nd.
However, unlike the lower steps (before the new lockdown), they had to follow the same spectator restrictions as the EFL and the Premier League, in other words, play games behind closed doors and therefore, get zero matchday revenue, which universally is the main source of income for non-league clubs. Sure most clubs have offered paid streaming services (taking advantage of the relaxation of the ‘3pm broadcast blackout’ law) and some have continued to offer matchday programmes (both physically and digitally) but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what clubs would expect to get on a regular matchday.
So when the news came on October 20th of a rescue package of £10million to be provided by the National Lottery spread out over a 3 month period, it was met with a warm reception but that was before the talk began of the task of distributing the money out in a fair manner. This is the model they came up with.
It’s safe to say that this has definitely not gone down well, especially with the clubs that enjoy large fanbases, ill-feeling that came to ahead late last week as eight of these well supported clubs submitted a joint letter calling for a re-think of the bailout distribution and also the resignation of the League’s chairman Brian Barwick.
USING ONE CLUB AS AN EXAMPLE
These 8 clubs (AFC Fylde, AFC Telford United, Dulwich Hamlet, Hereford, Kidderminster Harriers, Maidstone United, Dorking Wanderers & Chesterfield) submitted this letter to the National League last Friday. As mentioned, the main gist of it is that they want the allocation of the bailout money reviewed by a completely independent body and also to call for the resignation of Brian Barwick from the leadership of the National League body.
On the face of it, it might look like a power grab by some of the league’s bigger, most ambitious clubs but when one looks at certain numbers, it’s far from such a suggestion. Infact, one can understand their grievances. Especially as some of the National League’s smaller and part-time sides would be getting almost as much a month as clubs that attract larger gates and revenues that are now lost due to the pandemic.
When I look at it, the biggest example of the funding imbalance I can think of is when one looks at one National League club in particular, and that is Boreham Wood, and when one looks at last season’s average gates, you can begin to see the frustration of some of the league’s bigger clubs.
As you can see, Stockport County are getting average gates of FIVE times more than their part-time rivals from North London. So, in effect on average, the likes of Stockport are bringing in a lot more revenue at home games compared to Boreham Wood. I don’t have exact figures but I’m pretty sure its significantly more based on those gates. Yet when you look at the bailout distribution again, getting just £11,000 more than Boreham Wood seems like an odd share at first glance.
Even the clubs that have signed the letter that are in lower divisions can rightly feel aggrieved too. Especially the likes of Dulwich Hamlet. They get more than double Boreham Wood’s gate on a regular basis yet will be receiving £48,000 a month less.
Infact not only did Boreham Wood have the lowest gate of the entire National League, but their average of 724 was bettered by 15 clubs in NL North and also 10 clubs in NL South. That is 48 of their peers that have higher average gates and with that, higher revenues from other commodities like programme sales, merchandise, refreshments, any lotteries/50-50 draws that take place etc.
I’m sorry to keep bringing up Boreham Wood in this, the situation is of no fault of their own, but when one looks at the distribution of this emergency money, their average gates in comparison to their rivals compared to the money they receive most certainly shows the biggest discrepancy. They are blamelessly one of the biggest beneficiaries of the bailout.
When I look at all of that, then I can fully understand the grievances of the clubs in question that submitted that damning letter the National League’s offices. And as a result, it’s the NL that deserve the criticism for this bailout distribution.
Some might look at it as like the recent ‘Project Big Picture’ where the Premier League’s biggest clubs attempted to use a £250m EFL bailout as a front to change the voting structure to give them more power. However, those PL clubs already have broadcast revenues worth billions to fall back on. This is about compensating clubs for money lost in matchday revenue due to the pandemic restrictions imposed by the government.
Honestly though, no bailout will ever fully replace all of the matchday income streams lost, and I think the clubs who wrote the letter know that full well. What they want ultimately is a fairer distribution based on those lost incomes rather than just current status.
The £10million the National League have received from the Lottery is welcomed for sure, but I have to agree, they have made a mess of it. Here’s hoping the situation can be resolved and that each club can receive an amount that is as close to realistic as possible.
Thank you for reading and remember to stay safe.