The Premier League is considering paying the police up to £10million – in what is being viewed as a controversial attempt to allow clubs to play ‘risk’ matches in lucrative late television slots.
Mail Sport understands top-flight officials have been moved to act amid a growing reluctance from forces to cover games between rivals – at which there is a higher probability of trouble – later in the day.
The Premier League declined to comment but sources insist that no form of payment could guarantee kick-off times and add that a range of options are being considered ‘to support police in keeping match-goers and communities safe’.
However, should such a deal go through, it may well prove highly contentious. One source described it as ‘nothing but a sweetener’ and ‘yet another example of the Premier League and its clubs trying to buy their way out of trouble’.
It remains to be seen how the money would be distributed and whether the proposed payment would be a one-off. One option could be to make a central payment with the cash then distributed to the forces impacted by the matches in question.
Premier League is considering paying police up to £10m to play high risk matches in late slots
Manchester City’s match with Liverpool next month was brought forward after police concerns over crowd behaviour
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Deals with broadcasters at home and in the US are thought to be central to the competition’s thinking, according to those with knowledge of the situation.
Earlier this month, Mail Sport revealed that the Manchester City versus Liverpool fixture on November 25, which Sky wanted to show in the 5.30pm slot on Saturday, had to be brought forward to 12.30pm after concerns were raised by the police over crowd behaviour.
Last season, Chelsea were allowed by safety chiefs to play against Manchester United in what is seen as the prime-time Saturday slot – but only after United’s visiting allocation was cut in half from 3,000 to 1,500.
The long-held view of police and local authorities’, who issue essential safety certificates, is that later kick-off times allow fans to spend more time drinking and therefore increase the likelihood of issues. An increase in disorder over the past season has done little to change that position.
However, bringing games forward has an impact on audience figures, not least across the Atlantic where interest in the Premier League is surging. On the East Coast, 12.30pm kick-offs take place at 7.30pm (aside from a week of the year when the time difference is four hours instead of five), while on the West Coast – home to the big markets of Los Angeles and San Francisco, most potential viewers would be asleep.
‘Broadcasters pay incredible sums on the understanding that it’s ‘any game, any time’ outside of the 3pm blackout,’ the source explained. ‘But that is clearly not the case. Any kick-off time has to be given the green light by safety officials first and that is never a given.
‘Should this payment be made it would appear to be nothing but a sweetener – yet another example of the Premier League and its clubs trying to buy their way out of trouble. The police force is not a private service and you would have to look at whether such a move would have a knock-on effect on policing communities. This is about money.’
While it would undoubtedly raise questions over ethics, such a move would be unlikely to face government opposition, with any extra investment in an overstretched police force expected to be seen as a positive.
The move followed crowd disturbances during December’s Carabao Cup tie at the Etihad
Over the 2019-20 season Premier League clubs made a £3.6bn contribution to Treasury coffers in tax and there is an increasing frustration at what is being perceived as a lack of flexibility when it comes to staging games at different times.
From a police perspective, there remains considerable annoyance over the fact they have to foot the bill for services provided outside the footprint of the stadium – which they feel are clearly caused by the staging of a match.
In a key 2017 Court of Appeal case, Suffolk Police were told that they – and not Ipswich Town – were responsible for the £500,000 cost of keeping order on roads by the Portman Road turnstiles. That decision and the ongoing situation around grounds across the country is known to rankle with senior police officials.
Talks remain ongoing. Data released by the Home Office last month showed reported incidents of disorder at matches in England and Wales had risen 60 per cent compared to the last full season before the Covid pandemic.
Arrests were up 59 per cent, while pitch invasions rose by 127 per cent on 2018-19.
The Premier League have introduced a minimum one-year ban from home or away fans for anyone found guilty of entering the pitch or using pyrotechnics.
Chelsea hosted Man United in a late match last season after the visitors allocation was halved
A spokesperson for the NPCC said: ‘The most recent costing exercise this year showed that policing subsidises football to a significant extent, and the impact of the Ipswich ruling costs forces an extra £41m per year.
‘Policing has had to increase its commitment to football to address increases in disorder, and has significantly increased the numbers of arrests and banning orders to keep football safe for the vast majority of fans.
‘Any increased funding to close that gap is welcome, but it must be sustainable and should not be linked to kick-off times.
‘Any policing considerations of when games kick-off are based on public safety and the capacity of forces to deliver wider core roles within their communities. Safety must always trump commercial interests.’