In 1992 English league football came to an end. The twenty-two members of what was then the First Division voted to leave the Football League as a body when presented with the prospect of deliciously huge television revenue numbers. For seven of those teams, it was an incredibly smart, if callous, business decision. For the others, the decision not to share television revenue with the rest of the Football League has cost them. If you believe a federation of members should be for the mutual benefit of all its members, then the English Premiership has failed. This should have been reasonably foreseen, since the only way for a club to take advantage of the Premier League structure is to never, ever be relegated. Seven teams have managed that, so far. Not entirely coincidentally at all, six of those seven teams currently occupy six of the top seven spots in the league standings - Aston Villa is the underachiever. Four of the original twenty-two now play in the third tier - Sheffield United, Coventry, Oldham, and Milton Keynes. Why any of those four voted, in effect, to kneecap themselves for the the greater glory of Manchester United was not recorded. Perhaps they simply thought relegation happened to other clubs. Leeds United were defending champions of England when they joined the exodus - the first of many financial decisions the club would live to rue, but barely.
The exception, Manchester City, illustrates exactly the kind of strategy needed for a team outside the Premiership to join and stay. Manchester City are only one of two teams to be promoted into the Premiership and eventually win the league title - instructively, Blackburn Rovers were the other, having bought themselves the title in 1995 then promptly falling apart.
The Premiership was successful in making English teams competitive in the Champions League...assuming that was a worthy goal and that the Premiership was necessary to accomplish that. English teams, apart from an unfortunate gap of five years or so, were not exactly helpless in UEFA competition before the Premiership came along.
What the Champions League has created the over-class of the Premiership, making English football into the kind of oligarchy seen on the European continent. Expanding the tournament to allow non-champions did more than create comedy - it allowed rich teams a continued means of revenue they would not have otherwise earned, enabling them to expand their advantage over their competition. Liverpool is the outstanding example of this.
What has been more insidious, however, is the creation of a class of teams that do not have the resources to compete in the Premiership, but thanks to the Premiership have more than enough financial power to re-promote. Crystal Palace has been promoted to the Premier League four times. Hull City, not exactly the most popular or successful club in England, has been promoted twice in six years. West Ham has been promoted in three times. Leicester has been promoted three times and are working on a fourth. West Bromwich Albion were promoted four times in nine years. When Queens Park Rangers, Norwich and Swansea all survived the 2010-2011 season, it marked the second time in Premiership history that all three promoted teams would remain for more than one season after promotion. (Unless Cardiff City turns it around, it won't happen this season, either.) Despite spending at least one season, sometimes several seasons, in the lucrative Premiership, twelve teams have gone into administration after leaving it: Crystal Palace, QPR, Bradford City, Barnsley, Derby, Leicester, the team formerly known as Wimbledon, Leeds, Southampton, Coventry, Ipswich and of course Portsmouth, who even went into receivership while in the actual Premier League.
Do fans benefit from the current system? Only if one buys the idea that the top ten or so teams in England are more popular than the other hundred-odd put together - attendance totals argue otherwise. Or, alternatively, if fans of other teams nevertheless are willing to put their interests aside so that the top ten, or five, teams in England can make long runs in the Champions League...in which case, I would politely ask said fans what, in fact, they are fans of. If Manchester United - hm, seems like they're about to be a bad example, but anyway - if Manchester United winning the Champions League makes you happy, maybe you should go ahead and be a Manchester United fan.
If it makes you happy as a fan of English football, well, consider that out of the teams that have never been relegated from the Premiership, and out of the Big Five, AND out of the top seven teams in the standings right now, only two aren't owned by citizens of corrupt foreign kleptocracies. Tottenham is owned by something called ENIC, which sounds like something that should be stranding astronauts in space in a Kubrick science fiction film, and Everton is part-owned by one of the guys behind Planet Hollywood. No, not someone you ever heard of.
Yet while the commitment to the good of English football of money-laundering thugs like Roman Abramovich and Stan Kroenke can be highly doubted, when the Premiership was formed, none of those men were involved. It was a fully domestic con, by Englishmen against Englishmen. And if, as a fan of English football, you're happy with a permanent underclass of minor league teams, that's an opinion you will have to justify in your own words.
Of course, a new team can join the Big Four or Big Five, just the same way that Chelsea and Manchester City did. Problem is, that's pretty much the only way to join that club - with a cash infusion from outside the club that differs from buying an American sports franchise in, well, no useful way I can see.
The obvious solution is revenue-sharing, which can be strong-armed by the Football Association with easy justification and easier enforcement. Without the competition provided by the member teams of the FA, the Big Five or Seven or Ten are nothing. Threats by those teams to split off permanently are a bluff, because the FA could simply declare the recalcitrant clubs to be outlaw teams, void their player contracts, and award titles - and Champions League places - to clubs that showed more interest in the common good. Had the FA done so in 1992, the world would be a happier place today, but there's no reason they could not do it effective in August - or April.
To me at least, there don't seem to be many useful arguments against revenue sharing. If England is the only country in Europe to implement it, their Champions League success will be imperiled.
This only matters if you are, or support, a team that competes in the Champions League, or intends to. As we have seen, that's a small and diminishing number of teams.
A solution to that, of course, is revenue sharing across UEFA. Barcelona and Real Madrid were not voted into the Champions League, after all, but qualify by beating other Spanish teams. While it's doubtful that Spain, for example, would have the gumption to force Barcelona and Madrid to share - those teams probably are more in fact more important than every other team in Spain put together - theoretically the united power of UEFA could force the change from outside. UEFA banned English clubs (with good reason) from the Champions League, and those teams weren't exactly powerless peasants.
But, power unused is no different from weakness, and we have absolutely no indication change will come from either the clubs, the federations, or the fans. European football is headed for a caste system that would make the Eloi and the Morlocks look like a Robert Owen colony. It defies belief that it's really in the best interest of the game to only have five, or fewer, viable teams per country. But that's been the path for twenty years now, and the protests couldn't be heard during a moment of silence in a church with three seats.
Yet talk about putting an MLS team in Atlanta, and people go nuts. Soccer fans, I tell you.