Observations on the latest Premier League statement

6th April 2020 Sports Law

Season not yet voided

Premier League confirms it cannot resume at beginning of May but intend to resume when they can.

That is consistent with FIFA/UEFA current collective view and they have already brought heat on Belgium for breaking rank to conclude season early.

It is also the path of least resistance. Delaying cancelation also delays potential legal actions from clubs like Leeds

Whilst sporting integrity may have played a part in the decision there is no doubt the Broadcasters will have put some pressure on firstly in terms of the potential damages/compensation that may be triggered on basis the rights holder i.e Premier League has not delivered a Premier League season and secondly there may be an immediate mass reaction of subscribers to cancel their subscriptions.

Overlap of player contracts ending/Transfer window with current season

It is almost inevitable now, however, that the season will not conclude by June 30th when several players contracts will end. Further several players moving to Europe have signed pre-contract agreements.

Some player/agents may insist on moving clubs and some clubs may insist on releasing players on July 1st . The relevant body FA/EFL/EPL may seek to bring in rules to vary the June 30 date. That will put their regulations at odds with English contract/Employment law and the governing bodies cannot override the law of the land. If they seek to sanction players that will be challenged.

Equally if a player tries to back out of a pre-contract the club they were moving to may object and legal issues of force majeure and frustration will determine the dispute.

Therefore if we resume some teams may have depleted squads and some may be strengthened.

Players wage cuts

The Premier League have said they will consult with clubs and players with regard to players taking a pay cut.

That is not a surprising statement given the general public mood on the subject but is as far legally as the Premier League can go. The Premier League and clubs cannot unilaterally reduce the players wages. Incidentally they cannot unilaterally place the players on furlough. Employers are putting to employees that the alternative is redundancy but that cannot really apply to players even if justified on economic grounds without paying up the full contract as players are on fixed term contracts.

The best argument in reality, apart from the moral standpoint, is that if the players do not agree the club will go bust and so the players will lose their employment anyway. That is why the PFA have said each club should be looked at differently. Of course if a club goes bust it is the club staff who suffer most as the players will simply become free agents. 

The key component of furlough is the employee cannot work but they can train. Given the training grounds are closed that means training alone. A players contract is about so much more than just playing football though and if a player has been furloughed the club should not be using that player commercially. Also there is an interaction between the player’s contract and their commercial endorsement deals and the players are unlikely to have been furloughed from those sponsorship contracts.

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Stephen Taylor Heath is a Partner and Head of Sports Law located in Manchesterin our Corporate and Commercial department

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