Writing the Premier League Rule Book – An Interview with Jane Purdon, Director of Governance of the Premier League


Published 23 January 2015 | Authored by: Sean Cottrell

The success of the Premier League (PL) is widely attributed1 to the record-breaking sale of its broadcasting rights both domestically and internationally, the proceeds of which are distributed between the PL.

However, whilst the increasing value of PL rights has undoubtedly helped the PL to become one of the world’s most successful sports leagues it does not tell the whole story. The infrastructure, procedures and processes that underpin the PL has helped it to become one of the most lucrative and successful leagues in the world; the corner stone of which is the PL Rule Book2, which “serves as a contract between the League, the Member Clubs and one another, defining the structure and running of the competition”.2

Therefore who better to shed some light on the Rule Book than one of the people who have been instrumental in the success of the PL and the development of the PL Rules - Jane Purdon, Director of Governance of the PL. Jane is responsible for, among other things, drafting and updating the Rules to ensure it is “fit for purpose”. Jane has been at the PL for 10 years, 3 years in the role of Director of Governance. Before joining the PL, Jane was the Club Secretary of Sunderland FC. In this interview, Jane explains the governance structure and processes of the PL and provides an insight into the role of Director of Governance within a sports league.

I would like to thank Jane for taking the time out of her schedule to give this interview. As stated it in previous articles it is through the sharing of knowledge and experiences of those within the sport and legal sectors that we can continue to improve the access to and understanding of sports governance, regulation and law. I hope you enjoy reading this interview; comments and feedback are welcomed as always.

 

What does the role of Director of Governance entail?

Basically, I look after the rule book, which is like the bible for how the PL is organised, how it operates and how clubs operate. My role is to ensure it remains fit for purpose and that it evolves as our business and sporting needs evolve. We don’t regulate just for the sake of regulating. From time to time, I conduct a review to make recommendations as to what can be removed; it is not always about expanding the rule book. I then make sure it is fit for purpose and that the rules can be properly enforced. Within that, I have special focus on club governance, which includes:

  • Who can and cannot become a director or owner of a club;
  • Issues arising from player transfers (including third party ownership);
  • Club finances;
  • Agents; and
  • Difficult or complex transfers, etc.

As the person in the “Rule Book Corner”, I can get drawn into discussions about many different things. One minute I can be speaking to my colleagues in the Youth Department about something, and the next I can be speaking with colleagues in the Broadcasting Department about something else.

 

Who is responsible for writing the Premier League Rules?

It is a staged process: each club has the authority to propose rule amendments, as does the Premier League executive. Following any proposal there will be a period of consultation and, should it get the point of being voted on by the clubs, the Premier League’s articles of association provide that at least 14 out of our 20 member clubs must approve amendments to the rules.

The annual general meeting, which takes place in early June of each year, is our main club forum at which we discuss and seek clubs’ consent to proposed amendments to Premier League rules.

 

Can you tell us more about the process of deciding what is or is not included in the PL Rules?

Our job is to make sure we are giving effect to what the clubs want to do; that is where the skill lies in my job. However, it is not as simple as going to a meeting and simply saying “this is what we want to include or amend”. Our work on preparing the amendments starts well in advance of this. Our rule book aims to be responsive to changes in key areas of the PL’s and the clubs’ businesses and operations. If new rules are necessary, then we will undertake extensive consultation with clubs for as much as 6-12 months before seeking their approval to the final drafting. Then, when we get to the final voting meeting, clubs are aware of what the rule is about and there can be an informed debate.

A good example of this is the youth development section of the rules, designed to give effect to the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).4 I am very proud of my work on these rules. As you will appreciate, it is rare, as a lawyer, that you get the chance to draft something from scratch. Normally, there is a precedent that you can draw from, or you can see what other sports have done in the area. On this occasion however, with regards to the technical drafting, I had to start with a blank piece of paper, which was a little scary. The clubs were quite clear on what they wanted the EPPP to do, so my job was to take the policy and the extensive literature in the policy sphere and turn that into new rules. I knew the rules had to be written in clear English, as I knew that 90% of the people reading them would not be lawyers, yet they still need to be able to see at a glance what is expected of them and what they are required to do.

The whole drafting process, through to the final vote, took a year.

 

How does the consultation process work?

The consultation with clubs is at high level (with chairmen and chief executives) and those club staff who have relevant knowledge and expertise in a particular area. For example, amendments to the rules concerning media will be discussed with clubs’ communication officers. Amendments to the rules concerning Youth Development will be discussed with club academy managers and heads of education; amendments to the medical rules are discussed with club doctors. In addition, the PL has a Legal Advisory Group, made up of a small number of senior club lawyers, which discusses the direction of travel and the actual drafting of all proposed amendments to the rules. Our aim is to ensure that the rules give effect to the will of the clubs.

 

How does the Legal Advisory Group feed into the consultation process?

We discuss with them the direction of travel and the technical drafting. From a technical, lawyer’s point of view, I find the group useful, as they will point out if something is unclear in the drafting. I find them a great sounding board. Sometimes, you can draft something without realising it is ambiguous. They are a great resource. It also gives me comfort to know that we have people involved with clubs to let us know if we are getting something wrong from a policy point of view.

 

Concerning the drafting process, what are the key components that you need to address?

If we take the EPPP as an example, there was a non-legal policy document written by the specialists and experts, so I knew where they wanted to end up, what standards they wanted the clubs to live up to and therefore what should become the rules. However, there is a little more to it than that, because technically, from a drafting point of view, you have to make sure legally that it is robust; part of that is making sure the rules are crystal clear.

If we take another example, look at section K of the rule book, on stadium facilities. It’s written in huge detail, and includes for example, the technical requirements for stadia broadcasting requirements. The key point is that, if you are a stadium facilities manager, and you think you need to upgrade the floodlights, the rules tell you exactly what is required.

 

What where some of the new and/or amended rules for the 2014/2015 seasons?

Key rules that have been introduced this season include amendments to the medical rules, in particular regarding the treatment of head injuries during matches and training.5 In addition, amendments were made to the youth development rules as the Elite Player Performance Plan entered its third season. The intention of the EPPP is to revolutionise the training of young players in Premier League clubs with a view to developing more and better home grown players. We are never complacent about it; rather, it is always evolving and always changing as experience and the knowledge of our leaders in this area develop.

 

How have the Rules evolved over the course of the Premier League?

The rule book is a living, breathing and evolving rule book. We are proud that it is quick to respond. The circumstances which drive changes to it are usually positive: the growth of our business, the growth of our clubs, etc. I am sitting at my desk [as we speak] where I can see every rule book dating back to the 1992/93 season, and the first one is about a quarter of the size of the current rule book. That doesn’t mean quantity equals quality, but it does give some indication of how complex the business has become. Clubs are now operating in areas that we would have never dreamed of in 1992. EPPP is one example; another is that we didn't have the Owners’ and Directors’ Test, and we now have very complex rules about club finances, profitability and sustainability. It has become far more sophisticated.

 

With regards to the Owners’ and Directors’ Test, what can you do if someone falls below the standard after they have been approved?

The identity of the ultimate owners of every Premier League club must be disclosed both to the Premier League and publicly. The information can be found on each club’s website. Each person who is either a director of a club or who owns 30% of it must also go through what is called the Owners’ and Directors’ Test. A person is prohibited from becoming an owner of 30% or more of a club, or from becoming a director, if he or she had been subject to one of several stated disqualifying events. These include a wide range of criminal convictions, having been a director during two football club insolvencies, having been struck off by a sports governing body or a professional body (anywhere in the world, provided the court/body in question ran proper process) or in other circumstances set out in section F of the rules.

 

How important is it for the sport that clubs are obliged to behave in accordance with Owners’ and Directors’ Test?

Personally, I think it is important that we can say to the world and particularly the fans that these rules exist. It gives assurance to all our stakeholders.

 

How important is the structure of the distribution model of the revenue generate from the sale of broadcasting rights to the success of the Premier League?

The rules set out the method of distributing the fees received from the licensing of the Premier League’s broadcasting rights amongst the league’s 20 clubs. The formula has not changed since the Premier League was established in 1992. Thus, UK broadcasting money is split as follows:

  • 50% is split equally amongst all the 20 clubs;
  • 25% is paid out according to each club’s finishing position in the table at the end of the season; and
  • 25% is paid out according to a club’s appearances on live TV (subject to certain guaranteed amount to each club under this heading).

The money received from overseas sales of our broadcasting rights is split equally between the 20 clubs.

The net effect of this is that the Premier League distributes central revenue more equitably than any other professional football league in Europe. The model rewards sporting success while also guaranteeing a significant amount of broadcasting revenue to each club. It enables those clubs in the lower half of the table to compete, adding to the vitality of the League.

In addition, the Premier League pays parachute payments to relegated clubs, makes direct contributions to each Football League and Football Conference club, and extensive investment in good causes, school sport and grass roots football

 

Given the importance of broadcasters to the PL, how does the Premier League balance the requests from broadcasters for more time with the managers and players without impacting on their performance for their clubs?

The rules clearly set out the media commitments that we expect of managers and players for our central broadcasters. These can be found in section K of the Rule Book. One of the key aspects of these rules is to ensure that the requirements to give interviews to broadcasters are distributed fairly amongst the players of a club. I think most managers and players understand the increasingly global appeal of the Premier League, and that in order to support this and give our national and international fan base the kind of direct content they desire that they must undertake these interviews. Certainly, the requirements in this regard were strengthened and codified at the start of last season, and clubs’ record of delivery in accordance with their terms has been excellent.

 

Who decides which terms are included in the standard Player Contracts (Form 25) and how have these contracts changed over the years? 

The standard player’s contract is agreed via a body called the Professional Football Negotiating and Consultative Committee.6 This body is made up of representatives from the Premier League, the Football League, the PFA (the players’ union) and the FA. It is a body that has served football well in delivering its remit, which is to consider all questions concerning players’ terms and conditions of employment. It is a body of considerably long standing and has led to great stability in relations between employers (clubs) and employees (players).

It is a good forum to discuss issues relating to player employment, terms and conditions and wider issues effecting player employment. It works, we haven’t had a history of lengthy and disruptive industrial dispute in football in this country and that is largely due to the successful functioning of the Professional Football Negotiation and Consultation Committee.

 

Many leagues around the world do not publish their rules and regulations. How important is it that your rules and regulations are published on your website and accessible by the public?

Well, on that point, I often joke that our rules are crowd sourced. If there is a mistake, I invite people to contact me! No one has yet, but personally, I would rather know if there is a problem as we want the rules to be as good as they can be. More widely, we want our stakeholders to know exactly how we and the clubs conduct ourselves under the rules: there are no secrets about that and so we are very happy to have the rule book on the website.

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Jane will be speaking at the LawInSport Conference on the 26th February 2015. To find out more about the topics and speakers at the conference click here.

 

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About the Author

Sean Cottrell

Sean Cottrell

Sean is the founder and CEO of LawInSport. Founded in 2010, LawInSport has become the "go to sports law website" for sports lawyers and sports executives across the world.

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