Premier League showers MPs with free hospitality tickets ahead of football regulator bill vote

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The Premier League has stated its opposition to government plans to bring in a football regulator.

The Premier League has bombarded MPs with hospitality tickets and gifts ahead of the first vote in Parliament for a football regulator.

In particular, Labour MPs appear to have been targeted, with Keir Starmer and frontbenchers Pat McFadden, Peter Kyle and Liz Kendall all given tickets in March. The polls indicate Labour is highly likely to win the next general election.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Last month, the government introduced the Football Governance Bill to Parliament. If passed, this would create an independent football regulator for England, install a new club licensing regime and alter the distribution of revenue down the football pyramid. 

The Premier League has been outspoken in its criticism of a regulator, claiming it will “reduce our competitiveness and weaken the incredible appeal of the English game”. Chief executive Richard Masters recently wrote an opinion piece in the Times saying “unintended consequences of regulation generate significant risks”.

Currently, the Premier League decides how much money it will pass down to English Football League clubs in the Championship and below, and also sets rules around spending. However a raft of lower-league clubs getting into financial trouble, or in the worst case scenario like Bury going out of existence, has prompted the government to act.

The Premier League and CEO Richard Masters, right, are hoping to stop Parliament from bringing in a football regulator. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, left, has been the recipient of free hospitality tickets. Credit: Kim Mogg/GettyThe Premier League and CEO Richard Masters, right, are hoping to stop Parliament from bringing in a football regulator. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, left, has been the recipient of free hospitality tickets. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty
The Premier League and CEO Richard Masters, right, are hoping to stop Parliament from bringing in a football regulator. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, left, has been the recipient of free hospitality tickets. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty

It has led the Premier League to butt heads with the EFL, which wants more money to be passed down the pyramid. And ahead of the first vote by MPs in Parliament on the bill, Masters’ organisation has embarked on a lobbying blitz.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Between 25 February and 12 March, Parliament’s Register of Members’ Financial Interests showed that the Premier League gave out more than £12,000 worth of gifts to seven different MPs, including the Labour leader. Starmer was given £3,000 worth of hospitality tickets to Arsenal vs Porto on 12 March, while Tory MPs Therese Coffey and Justin Tomlinson were donated tickets worth more than £1,000 to the League Cup final.

The Premier League gifted McFadden, Kyle and Kendall hospitality tickets to the Brit Awards worth thousands of pounds. Over the last year, the Premier League has made 25 separate donations to MPs, with these seven coming in a three-week period just before the Football Governance Bill was introduced to Parliament. Over that same short timeframe, the EFL gave Carabao Cup final tickets to SNP MPs Stephen Flynn and David Linden worth £700. 

For its part, Labour has pledged to bring in a football regulator if the government fails to do so before the next election. In mid-March, Shadow Leader of the House Lucy Powell said: “The Premier League shelved a new financial settlement for the football pyramid and the English Football League are responding today. Fans in Bury, Macclesfield, Derby, Reading, Scunthorpe and, may I add, Portsmouth, want their precious clubs saved.

Sir Keir Starmer at an Arsenal game. Credit: GettySir Keir Starmer at an Arsenal game. Credit: Getty
Sir Keir Starmer at an Arsenal game. Credit: Getty

“If the Conservatives want to make this an election issue in these places then I say bring it on because let’s be really clear here – if they don’t want to regulate football governance then we will.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As well as giving tickets to MPs, the Premier League has regularly bought advertising space in the influential Politico Playbook email. The advert reads: “As the Government regulates football for the first time, we must guard against unintended consequences that would damage this iconic UK asset.”

Premier League legend and Sky Sports star Gary Neville hit out at the adverts, which are targeted at journalists, politicians and civil servants. He said: “The Premier League stooping to a new low putting paid ads out attacking the New Regulator for football! How to embarrass yourselves and look small!”

Neville, who is a co-owner of Salford City in League Two, has been a long-term advocate for an independent regulator. The Football Governance Bill has been based on the Fan Led Review by former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch. She told the PA news agency: “Good financial sustainability in football clubs is not going to impact competitiveness negatively, I think it’s going to help them thrive.”

The regulator will have a raft of powers to ensure clubs are sustainably run, to force unfit owners to divest their stakes in clubs, to ensure fans are consulted on major issues affecting their clubs, and to block teams from joining unapproved competitions such as the European Super League. Arguably the most eye-catching aspect is the backstop powers it will have to impose a financial settlement on the Premier League and the EFL if they cannot agree on one themselves.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Crouch said the new regulatory body would not impact the game. She said: “What will impact competitiveness is what is happening on the pitch – it’s all the decisions around VAR, or blue cards, that’s the sort of thing that will make the Premier League less attractive, if it were to happen, speaking hypothetically. Not, are all the accounts in order to make sure the football club is sustainable on a long-term basis.”

The next stage of the bill will be the first vote by MPs at its second reading.

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.