Doncaster Rovers CEO Gavin Baldwin has been talking to the Doncaster Free Press about the possible wage cap in League One, with a few new angles that we haven’t previously discussed on here.
The recap, League One and Two are considering imposing a salary cap on their member clubs, initially thought to be £2.5m and £1.5m. That was discussed on the site here, with Clive also having some input.
“Although £2.5m and £1.25m have been mentioned as the caps for L1 and L2, 75% of clubs in each division need to vote in favour so it’s possible that in order to get that percentage the eventual caps will likely be higher,” he said. “It’s very possible that even at the Championship level we will see salary caps and squad limits introduced. The aim is that there will be as simple as possible regulations across the EFL.”
A wage cap is an obvious step to prevent clubs from overstretching and then going bust (think Rushden and Diamonds), but also to help keep divisions competitive. For instance, if Mansfield Town are driving up wages in League Two, even if they can afford to, it means other clubs looking to be successful also drive up their own spending. If they don’t, the fear is they may remain solvent but uncompetitive.
How many times have we as Imps fans seen comments such as ‘the chairman needs to get his chequebook out’ when discussing signing a player? Solvency, for many years, was something we took for granted as other clubs spent big around us. I think our current owners offer transparency that allows us to see that the rhetoric is backed up by fact, unlike maybe ten years ago when some fans thought we were just unambitious, or that old adage ‘we don’t want promotion’. How many times did I hear that as a kid in the early nineties? Too many.
Football is taking a long, hard look at itself and whilst some will see the current crisis as an opportunity to outspend others, many want a solution to the escalation of wages. However, it does appear that it might not be as straightforward as simply putting a figure on a salary cap (bonuses, signing on fees and all). Gavin Baldwin has revealed that there are a couple of alternative options being considered.
“I think there will be some form of control [for next season],” he told the Doncaster Free Press. “Whether it will be a definite figure, with a cap of between £2m and £3m, or whether it will be a percentage of revenue is the big debate at the moment. You’ve got the bigger clubs who are obviously arguing against the solid wage cap because they’re saying it should be based on the revenue generated, which would give the greater flexibility.”
This is where the first ‘grey area’ could come in. I argued for a while that bigger clubs, such as Sunderland, should be allowed to spend more money if they generate it legitimately, but does that leave the door open for the Dale Vince’s of this world to simply throw a huge ‘sponsorship’ deal at his club and inflate their turnover? That would negate the salary cap and allow FGR, Fleetwood and Salford to simply keep on spending big, leaving the others trailing in their wake. I suppose, if the EFL member clubs are able to, a proposal which was based around matchday revenue could work, stadium intake etc, but would that go against the spirit of the smaller clubs being able to do well? At least a flat salary cap allows the likes of Rochdale and Scunthorpe, teams with relatively low crowds, to still attract investment and live the dream, but in a fair manner.
“There is another theory at the moment that there should be an individual player wage cap, so no player can earn more than a certain amount of money,” added Baldwin, who went on to discuss how he favours a revenue-based model.
“This is my opinion, I understand the argument for capping salaries on a percentage of revenue,” he said. “That allows you to be ambitious off the field and on the field and therefore have the best possible team. A league cap across all teams almost reduces the incentive to work hard off the pitch.
Personally, I could also argue that a revenue-based model would be a fair way to approach the situation or one of the fair ways to do it. I can see how a club that attracts 30,000 fans would want to be able to spend their money and succeed but look at Sunderland as an example. They had a retained list yesterday that ran to 61 players (released and retained), so are they using their additional revenue wisely? They didn’t finish top six either, so where is the advantage in them being able to keep turning over players for fun? Same with Ipswich Town, spent decent money last season but couldn’t mount a decent promotion challenge.
I know many of the arguments are around wages rising and clubs being desperate to keep up, but my bugbear is (and always has been) clubs trying to outspend their rivals by ‘unfair’ means. Look at Rushden as a great example, came out of the non-league scene and outspent other clubs to become a success, but when Max Grigg died, they crumbled. Would the people of Rushden rather still have a National League South side, a hub of the community. Would Forest Green fans, the ones who saw them play Rainworth Miner’s Welfare in 1982 at Wembley, not the middle-class bandwagoners of 2020, rather have a ‘proper’ team or the virtue-signalling statement club they have right now? Maybe, some will be okay with right now, but what if Vince gets bored and moves on? What then? Do the fans of Forest Green, the ones who went with their Dad’s 20 years ago, really deserve to be at the behest of one man?
I also look at clubs like Halifax Town who had a proud record of league football, but who were squeezed out by being unable to compete financially with their rivals. York City, Wrexham and Stockport all spring to mind too; ‘proper’ clubs with a decent fanbase who lost their league status so that Fleetwood, Crawley, Rushden and Salford could spend their way to the Football League, despite turning over low crowds. Seriously, Fleetwood are on the verge of the Championship and yet we have more season ticket holders than their average crowd, which is boosted by visitors such as Ipswich, Sunderland and Blackpool. Football is about the fans and these clubs that buy their way into league football often don’t have the support to back up their ambition.
Do you know who, in my opinion, should be challenging for a play-off spot in our division? Crewe, Bradford, Swindon, Doncaster and us, or teams of the ilk who get good crowds every week and, to some extent, are managed well off the field. Gavin Baldwin believes a club’s salary cap should be based on its revenue and I can see a sound argument in that, but it must be based on a model that discounts rich owner input and only takes into account money generated on a matchday or by legitimate sponsorship deals forged with proper partners, not sham arrangements with a wealthy owner.