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Gap Between Championship And Lower Leagues To Widen

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The Championship will get a big boost next season from a new television contract, but the gap between it and the lower divisions of the Football League will widen. This may revive talk of a two division Premiership with no or limited promotion to the lower leagues. A new contract will increase the broadcasting income of the Football League from £32m a year at present to £88m. Under a long-established formula, Championship clubs will receive 80 per cent of the extra money from BSkyB and the BBC, but League One and Two will receive only 12 per cent and 8 per cent respectively. At present Championship clubs receive £1m each in television income a season, League One teams £375,000 and League Two sides £250,000. The figures for next season have not been finalised but the breakdown is expected to be around £2m for the Championship, just over half a million for League One and about £400,000 for League Two. The Football League's answer to critics is that the disparity is 'nowhere near the gap between the Championship and the Premier League, and yet you see a club like Hull reaching the Premier League and doing well.'

Small clubs argue that the task of reaching and remaining in the Championship will now become more difficult, and the game's hierachies even more fixed. There is certainly evidence to support such a trend, although other factors apart from television income are at work. Some ten years ago smaller clubs such as Crewe Alexandra, Gillingham, Grimsby Town, Rotherham United, Stockport County and Tranmere Rovers could not only reach the second flight, but were able to stay there for at least a few seasons. In the last two seasons, clubs of a similar size are doing much worse. Southend were relegated after only one season in 2006-7, while Scunthorpe and Colchester United came down last May after one and two seasons respectively. Doncaster Rovers are struggling this season (although Nottingham Forest, a much bigger club, are not doing much better). Mark Maguire, managing director of Stockport County, says an immediate effect of the TV deal is to make League One clubs 'desperate' for promotion this season in order to gain the extra money immediately and not be left behind.

John Bowler, the chairman of Crewe Alexandra, thinks that the increasing number of foreign owners makes getting rid of promotion and relegation more likely because such owners have 'less affinity with our national game' and less regard for the role smaller clubs play. However, scrapping promotion and relegation would provoke a major fans' revolt as it is out of line with British sporting tradition. Reverting to the traditional model of two up and two down is more likely. Indeed, when there was a third division north and south, only one team from each league could escape each season which did not make for a very interesting competition and led some clubs to stagnate. However, one has to remember that there are some major challenges that many of these small clubs face. Crewe and Stockport have to compete with the two Manchester clubs; Gillingham and Southend with the nearer London clubs (especially Charlton and West Ham respectively); Rotherham now play in Sheffield and have to compete for fans with the Blades and the Owls. Only Grimsby are really a 'stand alone' club (and they actually play in Cleethorpes). Not everyone can be a big club and not everyone wants to be.