League lobby push begins as ITV Digital crisis grows

The Football League has begun a lobbying campaign to convince the Government of the need for a contingency plan that could save a raft of clubs from bankruptcy.

Head of communications John Nagle confirmed that early discussions had taken place in an effort to save lower division clubs from going out of business.

ITV Digital last week said it could not honour in full the remaining £178m of its broadcast rights contract, threatening the future of many clubs.

This week, the company was facing its own battle for survival. As PRWeek went to press, the firm was understood to be on the verge of applying to be put into administration.

It is estimated that at least 25 clubs in the Nationwide League risk bankruptcy should media giants Granada and Carlton - which jointly own ITV Digital - evade liability for the money, due to be paid over the next two years.

Nagle said the latest moves were part of regular discussions between the league and the Government, but added that concerns about the fate of clubs and the impact on local communities had risen to the top of the league's agenda.

With the crisis enveloping ITV Digital, efforts have intensified since any attempt to recover monies from Granada and Carlton would lead to a lengthy legal battle.

Nagle suggested that the league's efforts would seek to highlight the value of football clubs to local communities. 'It is not just a commercial matter,' he said. 'The loss of these clubs would have a serious effect and damage the fabric of communities. There are not many places left where 8,000-plus people can gather.'

The move by the league comes as pressure mounts on the Government to take action, with Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs demanding it intervene to ensure Granada and Carlton pay up in full.

Sports minister Richard Caborn has so far agreed only to act as an intermediary between the two parties.

The Football League has received the backing of the Professional Footballers Association, which will meet with the league next week to discuss the situation.

PFA deputy chief executive Brendan Batson said no official discussions with the Government had taken place but the union had been contacted for guidance on the implications for clubs of the TV millions being lost.

He said scores of union members face disaster if their employers go to the wall. It is understood the PFA is likely to support any Football League campaigns.

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