London, United Kingdom, Apr 3 – The Premier League’s highly-paid players have become an unwilling target amid the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with government officials wading in to tell stars to take pay cuts.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock used the government’s daily briefing on the crisis on Thursday to tell players to “make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.”
Talks are ongoing between the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), Premier League and English Football League (EFL) with the players’ union accepting they must “share the financial burden of the Covid-19 outbreak.”
However, by waiting three weeks since football in England was suspended on public health grounds, the players and the Premier League may have already lost the PR war.
“If you are out of sync with society at the moment, that’s a huge mistake,” Adrian Bevington, English Football Association’s former director of communications, told PRWeek, the trade magazine for the public relations industry.
“You have to maintain that feeling of empathy for where we are and the seriousness of the situation.”
The decision by four Premier League clubs to use the government’s furlough scheme, designed to protect jobs at stricken companies, has been met with a government backlash.
Tottenham, Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth plan to use government funds to pay 80 percent of wages of non-playing staff up to a maximum of 2,500 pounds ($3,100) a month.
The average salary for a Premier League player is three million pounds a year, according to the latest Global Sports Salaries survey.
Julian Knight, who chairs the British government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, accused those clubs of living in a “moral vacuum”.
David Lammy of the opposition Labour party and MP for Tottenham said: “It’s criminal that Premier League footballers haven’t moved more quickly to take pay cuts and deferrals.”
The Premier League’s huge popularity worldwide has driven up players’ salaries on an exponential scale over the past 20 years due to a boom in television rights and sponsorship.
However, that could all come crashing down if fans and sponsors are turned off by the stand off at an already difficult time for the game financially.
“It is going to be imperative for everyone in the sports industry –- clubs, players, managers, commercial partners, sponsors -– that they really dial into the mindset of people coming out of this,” added Bevington.
“It is such a difficult time and will be a challenging environment for so many people economically and healthwise. They’ve got to get that right.”
– Political football –
However, there is also frustration among players that they are being used a pawns in a political battle.
Premier League players are being encouraged to follow the example of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Atletico Madrid where players have taken pay cuts to protect other staff members.
Many in England have already made huge contributions to help their local communities.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford has teamed up with charity FareShare to help feed at least 400,000 children, while an anonymous Liverpool player has donated £25,000 to Alder Hey hospital.
Yet, the players are questioning why they and not many billionaire owners of clubs are being told to foot the bill for the salaries of non-playing staff.
“We are aware of the public sentiment that the players should pay non-playing staff’s salaries. However, our current position is that -– as businesses — if clubs can afford to pay their players and staff, they should,” the PFA said in a statement.
Tottenham’s decision to furlough 550 staff on Tuesday came on the same day it was revealed chairman Daniel Levy was paid seven million pounds last season.
According to the Sunday Times rich list, Tottenham owner Joe Lewis, who resides in the Bahamas, saw his wealth surge to 4.4billion pounds last year.
“The same criticisms are not being made of the banking industry, not being made of hedge fund managers, they are not being made of lawyers who charge £10,000 a day, accountants, or off-shore funds which avoid paying tax,” football finance expert Kieran Maguire told AFP.
“Joe Lewis himself is worth over four billion pounds, (but) we are having a go at Harry Kane who is a guy with a career that is going to end at 35.”
At a time of huge public spending to shore up the National Health Service (NHS) and economy, there is also an argument that a cut in player wages could be detrimental to the public purse.
“What contributes more to the government, the NHS/police,” tweeted former Stoke and Ireland striker Jonathan Walters.
“A PL player taking a pay cut that stays with the clubs owners or paying more than 45 percent tax through PAYE on a large salary which goes directly to the government.”