The All-Island League Advocacy Group ('AIL Group') engaged
the services of Dutch sports data consultancy Hypercube in October 2019, with a view to exploring the possibilities of cross-border competition on the island of Ireland. Hypercube instigated a multi-stakeholder study with clubs,
associations, fans, players, coaches and others invited to take part in the process.
The study completed in March 2020 and Hypercube's final report may be found
here, and its findings explained in the below two videos. The key findings are as follows:
What is the next step in the process?
Now that a format has been settled upon, the next step is for the clubs to seek permission and help from their respective associations to pursue the league if they wish.
Why would our club want to join this league? Can't we just stay as we are?
Based on Hypercube's analysis of club data, macroeconomic & demographic data, and experience with formats across Europe, 'Scenario 4' will bring significant sporting and financial rewards to clubs of all sizes.
When the study refers to Category (Benchmark) A, B & C clubs - what does this mean exactly?
Any given format will have different impacts on clubs of different sizes and sporting strength. As such, based on their sporting performance and other measures, clubs were placed in these benchmark groups to give an insight into how each format impacts them differently e.g. the full season AIL was by far the best format for the A clubs from a sporting strength perspective, but performed poorly for C clubs in this area. It's also worth noting that the categories are not set in stone; they are merely a snapshot at the time of the study.
We are a Benchmark B or C club. In this format, we would likely be in the Silver Round most years. Is this worth it for us?
A lot of thought has gone into this. Here are the reasons why this format is good for your club:
Hypercube's report refers to Sporting Strength. What does this mean exactly?
The website www.euroclubindex.com contains an objective ranking system that was developed by a small group of companies including Hypercube. This system ranks clubs in the top tier of any UEFA member country, and is updated following each match. On this website, you can search by country or club name, and by clicking on a club you can view its ECI history.
Why is this important?
Based on a club's Euro Club Index (ECI), reasonable predictions can be made as to its revenues, attendances and progress in European competition. The objective of a club and a league should be to continuously raise the ECI, due to the sporting and financial rewards that come with it. Hypercube's study makes the following observations in relation to ECI:
When will we know the prize money available in this new league?
Only when the league is approved by the associations & UEFA and taken to market can this be said definitively. From the discussions that the AIL Group has held with the various stakeholders, it is safe to say that the prize money would be a significant improvement above current levels.
The probabilities of progressing through the Conference League - are these for any club to qualify?
These probabilities are for the highest rank club in each country. Since both nations will have more than one club participating, the chances of any club qualifying will be higher.
If we do not make the Golden Round every year, isn't there a danger of us being left behind?
The first job is to grow the cake; the second is to slice it up fairly. The study has shown that 'Scenario 4' will significantly grow the financial 'cake', but it also performs best in terms of competitive balance. For any league, apart from the format, the prize money distribution model determines how level the playing field is. The English Premier League distributes prize money between first and last place at a ratio of less than 2 to 1, whereas in Spain & Italy it is greater than 10 to 1. As such, it is up to the clubs to decide how equitable they want the league to be. Generally speaking, fairer distribution models make for more exciting and competitive leagues.
The Golden round involves 13 matches. Who gets 7 home matches and who gets 6?
This is a decision for the League (i.e. the clubs). It could be decided either on merit according to domestic league position after the first 22 matches, or by random draw.
Our club should make the Golden Round every year. Won't there be increased travel costs?
'Scenario 4' performs well in Hypercube's models when it comes to travel costs. The Golden Round would require clubs to play 6 or 7 matches away from home, on average 3 or 4 of which will be cross-border. So, yes travel costs will be higher, but they should be more than compensated for by the increased prize money and gate receipts.
Will there be government money available for this competition?
The conversation we've had with ministers and civil servants North & South have been positive across the board. The general response has been:
Will there be peace money available for this competition?
Peace Plus is the circa €650m peace fund running from 2021-2027 that has been the primary focus of the AIL Group. The Peace Plus people have informed us that now is the time to engage with the sports departments North (Communities) & South (DTTAS) to ensure that an AIL qualifies for the programme. To this end, we have met with the Minister of Communities in Northern Ireland and the Minister of Transport, Tourism & Sport in the Republic. Our conversations have given us every reason to believe that an AIL would qualify for this programme.
What calendar will be used?
This is a decision for the clubs and the associations. A season starting in late spring/early summer and finishing around New Year's Day enjoyed broad support in the stakeholder meetings.
Our club has concerns about going full-time
There is nothing in this proposal that mandates a club going full-time. The League will be concerned with maintaining high governance standards so that clubs do not spend themselves into difficulty.
What days will matches be played on?
The study showed that Friday nights are the highest attended matches, followed by Saturday. Like any league, this would need to be agreed between the clubs and broadcasters, who will also have a say. Friday nights tend not to be suitable for long distance fixtures.
How many matches will be played in the Silver Round?
The current plans are for a Silver Round club to play 3 rounds of 5 domestic matches, with no cross-border element. However, another option would be to play 2 rounds of 5 domestic matches and 1 round cross-border (3 home, 3 away). This would require agreement from the clubs to incur the increased travel costs of the 3 cross-border away games.
How many legs will there be in the 'King of the Island' knockout stages?
The final would be 1 leg of course, and could for example alternate between the 2 National Stadiums at Windsor Park & the Aviva. As for the intermediate knockout round, quarter-finals & semi-finals, this is a decision for the League, and the Associations due to the Irish / FAI cup schedules. For example, a Golden Round club will have played 37 matches by the end of the King of the Island group stage, so a run to the final in a single leg scenario would give them a 41-match season, or 40 if they finish in the top 4 and proceed straight to the quarter finals.
Who would run the league?
This is not for the AIL Group to say. In all likelihood, a new company would be formed by the two associations, and perhaps UEFA, to run the League and grow commercial opportunities. The board of the League, like other Leagues, would be comprised of club representatives and industry professionals.
What about the cup competitions?
The Irish Cup & FAI Cup would remain unchanged by these proposals. Any impact on the League Cups would be a decision for the clubs.
When would the league be launched?
This is a decision for the clubs, associations and UEFA.
What would be the prize for FAI clubs who do not make the Silver Round?
There is an FAI Bronze Round that gives clubs a promotion bridge to the FAI Premier Division. This is only touched on in the video, but explained in more detail in the pdf. Essentially, 1st and 2nd in the Bronze Round will play 5th and 4th from the Silver Round respectively in a 2 semi final, 1 final knockout to decide who is in the Premier Division the following year. The 12 Premier Division clubs the following year will be:
Are UEFA likely to sanction this league? Could they provide start-up funding?
The honest answer is we will not know until they are asked. UEFA will not respond to half ideas or conjecture - only to a detailed proposal via the 2 associations. The study has shown that there is large upward potential for the game on the island, and this format would give the game a significant lift. What we do know for a fact is that UEFA’s Executive Committee decided in its meeting in March 2012 in Istanbul to “offer to interested associations upon request to study supra-national possibilities” and to allow test pilots on a case-by-case basis. In other words: the door is open.
How does the Coronavirus situation affect these proposals?
This study was concluded in early March 2020 before the lockdown restrictions were put in place. There can be no doubt that the financial projections made in the study will be negatively impacted, at least in the near term. As the situation is still evolving daily, what is more difficult to estimate is the scale of the impact. It is reasonable to expect that match day income, which forms a higher percentage of clubs' income here than in the larger leagues around Europe, will be depressed for some time, and it is likely to have a dampening effect on sponsorship opportunities over the coming 6-12 months. Other pillars of income such as peace funding may be more robust, but again it's difficult to say.
These are headwinds that all of football must face, but this does not change the fact that 'Scenario 4' presents a more compelling sporting and financial proposition than the current formats, and this will remain so in a post-Coronavirus climate. Moreover, given that the projections are based on a 5 to 10 year horizon, there is every reason to start planning now for the long term health of the game, and to be hopeful for when restrictions are lifted.