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Premier League supports a soft Brexit, while the FA seems to prefer a hard one

Posted by Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz (Admin) 10 months ago

It’s your typical weekend in England. Supporters are gathering outside of the football stadiums to support their beloved teams. In London, Arsenal hosts Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium, in what is regarded one of Premier League’s classic clashes between two powerhouses. Ninety minutes later, Arsenal fans walked out of the stadium particularly gloomy after a 3-1 defeat. However, a new storm is brewing affecting not just Arsenal, but the league as a whole: Brexit. Sebastian Contreras and Alexander  Kuziw write about the impact of Brexit on the Premier League.

Brexit is one of the most profound changes the UK will ever encounter, affecting a lot of industries, including the entertainment industry. One example would be the football industry, more specifically the Premier League and its access to European football players. This not only applies to the Premier League, but also individual clubs, that rely heavily on European players and access to European audiences. So how will Brexit impact the Premier League?

Visas, permits, and recruitment practice

The Premier League is the most lucrative football league in the world, with a total revenue of £4.4bn in the 2016-17 season, according to Deloitte, a multinational consultancy firm. Part of that success can be attributed to the league’s recruitment of the most talented footballers on the planet, regardless of nationality. Many of the league’s clubs, such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have greatly benefitted from such a strategy, especially by recruiting many EU nationals.

However, the prospect of a hard Brexit may put the league’s status in jeopardy. Firstly, the current immigration system allows complete freedom of movement of labour, which applies to professional football players. But a hard Brexit would entail that EU footballers would have to follow the same immigration procedures as non-EU citizens. This means applying for a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) by the Football Association (FA), in order to receive a Tier 2 or Tier 5 sportsperson visa. Notwithstanding an apparently straightforward process, the FA requires certain criteria to be met, such as the percentage of games played with the player’s national team, as noted in Figure 1. Also, this requirement has to be met two years prior to the application and one year prior, for players under 21.

Figure 1.0

These intrinsic procedures could undermine the attractiveness of the Premier League across the EU. Decreasing the talent pool available to the league’s clubs could potentially decrease the chances of signing high-calibre players like Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portuguese national, who previously played for Manchester United. This would also entail the loss of the Premier League’s popularity internationally, which could damage the future prospect of future investments. In fact, according to one of the league’s most respected voices, Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s Manager, Brexit could threaten the financial stability of the league and, therefore, decrease the team’s revenues.

FA vs Premier League

Lastly, another source of conflict may arise between the FA and Premier League. The former has a more optimistic perspective of Brexit, as it could push for allowing talented young English players to make it into the top teams of the Premier League. The logic behind this is to enhance the English national team’s possibilities to win major trophies, such as the World Cup. The FA Chairman, Greg Clarke, emphasised the FA’s goals to recruit the world’s most talented players, while making sure that English players are prioritized over middle-lower ranked international players. This would definitely resonate with the views of Chelsea fans who, according to an online poll by AskFans; supported the Leave campaign by 61% followed by Everton and Tottenham, who both supported leaving the EU at 57%. Conversely, teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal, favoured heavily to remain in the EU, by 62% and 66%, respectively.

This optimism contradicts the Premier League’s objective of ensuring that the league remains competitive, as well as increasing the chances that English teams win major European tournaments, like the Champions League. Moreover, Chelsea fans may have enjoyed the club’s latest successes, but Chelsea would certainly not be as competitive if it lost talents like Eden Hazard or Thibaut Courtois, both Belgian nationals, who have greatly contributed to the team’s successes. In short, it appears that the Premier League is supportive of a softer form of Brexit, which would grant the league access to the European football market, while the FA seems to prefer a harder Brexit.

Considering how intertwined the Premier League is with European players, industries such as telecommunications, merchandising or any other commodity the league produces will certainly be affected by the prospect of a British exit from the EU. Perhaps in a year’s time, Arsenal fans will be gloomier about the effects of a hard Brexit on their team, rather than losing again to Manchester United. 

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Generation Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Sebastian Contreras and Alexander Kuziw are MSc Students in EU Politics at the LSE European Institute.

This post was edited on Feb 11, 2018 by Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz

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Comments (3)

Olivia Fitzpatrick says... 9 months ago
I comepltley agree with you here
Evie J says... 9 months ago

If there was a hard Brexit would players from the EU such as Hazard no longer be able to play in the Premier League? 

Eduardo Scheuren says... 3 months ago

Many of the Premier League's best players are EU citizens (De Bruyne, Hazard, Eriksen, Pogba) and they definitely bring a huge entertainment value to the league. A hard Brexit can give young English players a chance to make a name for themselves but I feel the Premier League can lose its value with a lack of European players who bring a lot of flair to the league.

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