Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Was McLeish sacked for poor results or poor ratings?

Money talks louder in the Premier League than in most professional leagues in the world and the recent figures released of the TV revenue earned by the top English clubs reveal that  fortune does not favour the moribund as Aston Villa saw their share of the revenue decline by £7 million from last season.

While Newcastle United's swashbuckling and successful football under manager Alan Pardew earned them an additional £7 million, the midlands club paid a heavy price for an uninspiring season and one is forced to wonder if the decision to part company with their manager Alex McLeish was taken with the decline in TV revenue firmly in mind.

You will find it tough locating a Villa fan who regards the departure of McLeish from Villa Park, yesterday, as bad news. While it is important to remember that it is not possible to view the full picture, his appointment seemed, on the surface at least, to be ill conceived.

The former Scotland coach had been doing a bang up job of identifying himself with the kind of football more suited to a sleep unit. Even so, Mcleish could have reinvented total football, signed Lio Messi and held regular tactical séances with Valeriy Lobanovskyi plus Rinus Michels in public and he still would have been given a maximum of two defeats by the fans before getting on his back by virtue of the fact that he was managing the hated Birmingham City, only last season. While I’m all for giving managers a fair crack, it would be difficult to argue with any anti McLeish sentiment, whatever happens on the pitch. Sometimes football is not about results and it would have been impossible for McLeish to have been accepted at Villa Park.

But the football under his management was by common consent, ineffective and boring. No doubt the erstwhile coach will defend his methods and found himself working under difficult circumstances. However, his critics will point to clubs which, in principle, have fewer resources than Villa such as Norwich and Swansea but provided a more entertaining and effective approach to the game. The results were bad, the football was dull and the drop in TV revenue is perhaps as much an indicator of Villa’s decline as their league position.

Commercial TV companies will always be governed by ratings. Aston Villa are a big club with a national and international support. If you put Villa on the telly, the viewing figures should be decent, irrespective of where they are in the table and how well or poorly they are playing. However. their TV income has dropped due to a reduction of appearances on the Box and that must surely have something to do with the fact that they have been difficult to watch.

Here then is a link between entertaining football and TV revenue. This is by no means the only reason why a team does not get TV coverage but one could make the argument that it is a factor. If the club Chairman, Randy Lerner, took this into consideration when making a decision to make a change it is likely that it will be a consideration when deciding upon McLeish’s replacement. If that is the case then the new manager’s brief maybe more than just winning games but entertaining, not only the paying public (I’ve not seen the home attendances but I’d be willing to bet that they are down) plus make the team more attractive to a potential TV audience.

I may well be putting two and two together to get five but the idea of a manager getting sacked because of declining TV revenue has a certain appeal if you're the type of person who chooses to adopt a Dystopian narrative to the economics and culture of the Premier League. Like a bad TV show, McLeish wasn’t so much sacked as cancelled.