Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish questioned the continued use of VAR in football, explained the outcomes of the proposed renovation of Selhurst Park, and had his say on the latest round of Premier League television rights while speaking at the first Sport Industry Breakfast Club of 2018.
Speaking to sports broadcaster James Pearce at the BT Centre, Parish explained that the club hoped to progress with the upgrade soon. “For various reasons we’ve had massive under-investment in infrastructure over the last 30 years. By redeveloping the stand we have some fantastic nods to the heritage of the club, and the new stand design has been fantastically received. South London is really finding its identity now and there’s massive regeneration going on in the area. We want something fantastic being beamed around the world when we’re on television.
"The stand has been there since 1924, so it’s overdue a bit of a change and hopefully in mid-April we'll get the go ahead," added Parish, with the pitch-size also set to be increased in order to fit guidelines for international tournaments, such as the FIFA World Cup.
The plans, expected to cost between £75m and £100m, will increase capacity at the London-based ground from 26,000 to over 34,000, with the renovation also providing new facilities for the community and look to transform the matchday experience for supporters.
The chairman added that the opportunity to sell naming rights was being explored.
The Community Club
Parish said the club was keen to work with its community, stretching from the stadia upgrade, the role of the academy and engaging the South London audience.
“As the elite club in our area, we’re a focal point for young people to go out and enjoy sport.
"14% of all English Premier League players come within a ten mile radius of Selhurst Park, so we have an extraordinary catchment area. Everything about Crystal Palace is inner-city and inner-London, and we provide an opportunity for the kids that can’t necessarily get to the bigger clubs’ academies.
“We’re a local club in terms of the opportunities we can give these kids. My aim is that even if they didn’t make it as a professional footballer, I want everyone to look back and think ‘I am a better person for being there.”
Speaking to a room of senior sport industry figures, Parish raised concerns about the increasing use of VAR following a number of controversies around the use of the technology over the last few months.
“Honestly, I'm worried about VAR (Video Assistant Referee),” said Parish. “We're going down a dangerous road with those delays. Sport is a soap opera...and you'll lose those fringe fans if people are spending five minutes debating a replay.
“We have it for five key decisions at the moment, but you know the eventual outcome is just going to be more VAR. The worry is I can't see an end to it. Even if it goes well, we'll only end up just extending it to further uses and other decisions. The controversy is, and should be, part of the game."
Earlier this month Sky and BT finalised deals worth £4.464bn for five of the seven available broadcast packages for Premier League football, with the new agreements covering three seasons starting from 2019/20.
While the value remains high compared to other sports and leagues, the total price has dropped from the previous round of sales. Parish commented: "This deal is indicative of how good the last deal was. Nobody imagined we’d get another increase like last time. Maybe the league outfoxed the broadcasters last time, and maybe this time we got a bit of our own medicine. To be honest a lot of the OTT platforms – Netflix etc. – are doing pretty well without sport! The hope is we’ll be in a different situation in three years time with those types of providers. The fees were probably over the top last time and now we’re at the right amount of money, which is never a bad thing, and the international market could balance it out anyway.
"We waste a lot of money in football. There are debates about how we keep more money in the game, agent fees...I don't think a slight tightening of purse strings is a bad thing. We’re seen as a target for clubs in Europe to sell to, and we've all got a bit lazy in the Premier League by buying exposed talent."
Parish was also outspoken in support of the current format of distribution of the rights fees, with some clubs looking for a larger slice of the pie.
“It has to stay competitive. Nobody wants to watch someone destroy a club 7-0, it’s not intoxicating. Take F1 for example. The big teams got all the power, demanded more and more money. And now there’s a spectacle where there’s one or two teams with a chance of winning a race, and people are switching off. If we make it less interesting…it is not in the long term benefit of the league."
In 2010, while still owning advertising agency Tag, Parish acquired Crystal Palace FC, the football club he supported from childhood, and admitted it was difficult to not let the heart rule the head.
“It’s easy when you’re winning. It's a lot harder when you're losing to see the same outcome, but we have a good plan going forward. There's nothing like sport to make you look stupid. Football will cut you open and lay you bare - it's tough but what else would I rather be doing? You have to remember how many people would want to do it if they were given the opportunity. You have to make sure you do the best job you can while you’re there.”
Parish recently gave his backing to the club's ladies' team, after they applied to join the FA Women's Championship, the new second tier. Palace Ladies are currently third in the southern division of the FA Women’s Premier League, but the FA Women’s Super League is being restructured from the 2018/19 season and new members are being invited to join.
“I’m ashamed with some of the lack of support for the women’s team. We need to look at the constraints of it, and get the income aligned with the money we’re spending…[but] nothing epitomises Palace more than our women's team. They punch above their weight in everything they do and every competition they play in."
The Sport Industry Breakfast Club is the industry’s number one networking event series with four content-led networking breakfasts over the course of the year. Each event welcomes up to 200 guests from across the industry for an interview with a panel of leading figures from the world of sport and business.
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