Wealthy and powerful people met in New York this week to make decisions that could affect millions of people without much input outside their tight circles. And we’re not talking about whatever’s happening at Trump Tower.
Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore and other league officials held an unpublicized meeting in New York with American owners of top flight clubs. The summit featured a representative from the Glazer family (Manchester United), John Henry (Liverpool), Stan Kroenke (Arsenal), Steve Kaplan (Swansea), Ellis Short (Sunderland), Josh Harris and David Blitzer (Crystal Palace). British businessman Joe Lewis (Tottenham) was also in attendance.
The meeting covered a range of concerns, but Bloomberg quotes sources familiar with the meeting as saying the big issue was player agents. Club owners, along with executives at Europe’s top leagues and other stakeholders in elite football, are wary of the outsize role agents have in a player transfer market that hit $5 billion this past year. As we wrote earlier this year, Manchester United alone paid upwards of £46 million in agent’s fees between October 2015 and February 2016.
It’s true that club owners are largely acting in their own self-interest; they’re paying a lot of money to individuals and firms who, they feel, aren’t adding value to their own organizations. But that’s not the only problem here. The lucrative opportunities on offer to enterprising agents in the transfer market leaves players open to exploitation, either from their own reps or from third party firms who buy shares in their playing rights. It also leads to situations where moves to bigger clubs are forced through, even in the case of otherwise mutually-beneficial relationships, just so agents and third parties can collect huge fees and blockbuster transfer deals. This dynamic causes transfer fee inflation and creates instability in the player labor market.
FIFpro, the worldwide soccer player union, said they would support regulation that caps agent fees and tamps down on third-party ownership.
“The transfer market is becoming ever more of a moneymaking exercise, where footballers are vulnerable to exploitation by agents or third parties. The U.S. sports model of regulating agents is interesting to FIFPro because it is based on a collective agreement between clubs and player associations.”
While stopping short of calling for regulation, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has previously said he favors publicizing agent payouts for the sake of transparency.
A Premier League spokesperson declined to comment on reports of the meeting.