Job spec for English Independent Football Regulator revealed amid last-minute lobbying

An advert for the new £130,000 a year job has been posted on the government website as lobbying efforts by the game’s elite strike a desperate note.

The specification for the role of chair of the new Independent Football Regulator has been posted on the UK government website. The appointment will be made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the deadline for applications is midday on May 16, 2024.

The appearance of the job specification is further indication of confidence that cross-party support will pass the Football Governance Bill into law within weeks, and the government is determined to press on with practical arrangements.

The details are encouraging for those who believe English men’s football (soccer) needs strong, independent regulation. Candidates are required first and foremost to have a “Strong understanding of economic and financial regulation”, with “A credible understanding of the business of football” listed second.

No football insider

This confirms the successful candidate is unlikely to be a football insider, and the fact that the role will be based in the northern city of Manchester further indicates a determination to separate the office from the football establishment in London where the Premier League and Football Association are based.

The role is for three days a week at an annual salary of £130,000 ($162,000), and the initial appointment is for a term of up to five years. Up to three NEDs are being recruited in a parallel process.

In the White Paper that led to the setting up of the new regulator, the government wrote “Government intervention is needed to effect this reform. This is because the free market does not properly account for the full social value of clubs to their fans and communities, and industry self-regulation has remained inadequate despite countless opportunities to reform, and plenty of time to do so.”

Analysing the proposals in March last year, leading sports lawyer Nick De Marco KC said: “The Regulator’s scope will be limited primarily to financial sustainability and good governance.” The emphasis on knowledge of economic and financial regulation shows that has proved to be the case, and may focus minds swayed by attempts from within the game to portray the regulator as political interference in sport.

Alongside the two essential criteria listed above, the person specification sets out the following requirements for candidates.

  • A commitment to the five principles of Government’s Better Regulation Framework, with particular focus on proportionality.
  • Proven track record in developing a strategy to drive impact and delivery.
  • Proven track record of successfully chairing a board with a strong understanding of corporate governance.
  • Excellent communication skills with the ability to be an accessible and engaging ambassador for the organization.
  • Experience of dealing with intense public scrutiny, and ability to influence high level stakeholders within government, Parliament, the media and football sector.
  • A commitment to the economic and social value of football and commitment to the strategic priorities of the IFR, to improve financial sustainability of football clubs, and protecting the cultural heritage of football clubs for their fans.

As well as those areas of expertise, the successful candidate will be expected to have;

  • experience of setting up a new organization;
  • leadership of major projects from initiation, through development and to delivery and;
  • experience of designing and implementing investment strategies in a regulated environment.

The role description is to “oversee the initial setting up of the Regulator, including recruiting the CEO, as well as sitting on the Panel for other Ministerial non-executive appointments to the Board”.

“The Regulator’s scope will be limited primarily to financial sustainability and good governance.”

Nick De Marco KC, Blackstone Chambers

The chair will also be “responsible for ensuring the IFR has the resources it needs to effectively and efficiently discharge its functions and duties. The Chair will then be responsible for leading the Board in ensuring the IFR effectively fulfils its statutory objectives as well as maintaining and developing strong relationships with government, Parliament, football bodies and other major stakeholders.”

And the advert says: “The aim is to have a Chair in place by summer 2024, appointed initially as Chair designate, and formally taking up the role when the Bill receives Royal Assent.”

Premier League under pressure

The letter comes two days after a blunt letter from Caroline Dineage MP, the chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters. The League’s failure to agree a financial redistribution settlement with the rest of the English men’s game had already exasperated a government not normally predisposed to intervention in such matters. But it was the latest attempts to lobby against the Bill that prompted Dineage’s ire.

Through a series of adverts in the Politico London Playbook, and an article in The Times, the Premier League had been warning of “unintended consequences” of regulation on a sporting competition that was “the envy of the world”. Yet when he gave evidence to the Committee in January, Masters had said that lobbying against the bill would be “pointless”.

Dineage’s letter read:

“Dear Richard,

“Following the publication of the Government’s Football Regulation Bill, I am writing to give the Premier League the opportunity to set out its concerns about the legislation as drafted. 

“During our hearing on football governance and the continued failure to agree a financial settlement for the game on 16 January, you told the Committee that it would be “pointless” to lobby MPs on the Football Regulation Bill when it is published. Since then, the Premier League has advertised for a week in Politico London Playbook to warn that “we must guard against unintended consequences” and you have written in The Times asking MPs and peers “to protect the game” warning that “it is a risk to bring politics and lobbying into football”.

“Given your expectation in January that the Bill would be passed by Parliament, the coming weeks and months provide an opportunity to ensure that the legislation is in the best possible shape to support the entire football pyramid once it completes its parliamentary scrutiny. With that in mind, we would welcome the Premier League’s views on specific aspects of the Bill that could be improved, beyond the very broad concerns in the representations made so far.

“The Committee would be grateful for a response to this letter by 30th April.”

GRIP comment

The day after Dineage sent her letter, a “senior source with knowledge of discussions” was quoted on the Politics Home website as saying that: “The Government has been warned the Football Governance Bill could risk England’s participation in the World Cup and the country’s elite clubs from taking part in the Champions League”.

The claim that world governing body FIFA would step in was greeted with incredulity by people with knowledge of ongoing discussions. And Martin Calladine, a football business writer who has appeared on the GRIP podcast, tweeted: “FIFA has allowed the Saudi government to own four clubs in the Saudi top division but will kick England out of the World Cup for having an independent regulator. Will they really?”

That story followed a claim that looked to have been briefed into the sports media that ‘football clubs will be handed a £106m ($132m) bill’ for the regulator. On closer examination that £106m bill turned out to be £10.6m ($13.21m) per year between the 20 Premier League clubs, or £530,000 ($660,000) a year each. For context, the league’s highest-paid club executive, Tottenham Hotspur’s Daniel Levy, received a salary of £3.58m ($4.46m) and a bonus payment of £3m ($3.74m) according to the club’s latest set of accounts.

The Premier League appears to be engaged in increasingly desperate attempts to whip up opposition to the Bill among MPs. And appears to be getting nowhere fast. Its claims that any attempts to redistribute money throughout the game would lead to unsustainable spending in the rest of the game, together with its insistence on the robustness of the Premier League’s economic model, should also be considered in the light of figures compiled by football finance expert Kieran Maguire.

With each of the 20 Premier League clubs now having submitted their latest set of accounts, he estimated totals across the division as follows:

Revenue: £6.1 billion ($7.6 billion) – up 11%.

Operating losses: £1.23 billion ($1.53 billion)  – up 44%.

Player purchases: £3 billion ($3.74 billion)  – up 57%.

Player sales: £0.98 billion ($1.22 billion)  – up 17%.

Transfer debt: £3 billion ($3.74  billion)  – up 62%.

That paints the sort of picture that might concern a regulator with a brief to improve sustainability and a strong understanding of economic and financial regulation.