Premier League Change Management

Yesterday I watched a fascinating documentary about how the English Premier League became such a dominant football force across the globe. In just twenty years TV rights exploded from around £3m, to £2Bn. Utterly incredible.

More Than A Ball Game looked at how the league was formed. There were all sorts of politics stifling progress. 92 clubs all having equal votes, a League body fighting the self-styled guardian of the game, television firms possibly acting in cartel, and some very powerful, ego-fuelled personalities all over the place.

The so-called group of Big Five clubs met in secret to try and forge a brave new world.

During 1990-91, they formalised plans for a breakaway league. A pivotal meeting was due at The Park Lane Hotel. To chair it, they asked Rick Parry. He’d apparently impressed when he recently ran the failed Olympic bid by the city of Manchester. So was well versed in invisible and fraught political machinations.

With all major clubs and administrators in attendance, Parry felt he should pursue a two-point agenda;

  1. areas of concern
  2. desire for change

He started out by negating the fears around a destructive “dash for cash” thrust, instead emphasising how reorganising the management of the game was the primary goal.

His idea worked.

He never explicitly set these two items as his agenda. The real agenda had only one point on it. To form a new league. Yet those two points were how he went about chairing the forum.

His format got all the issues out in the open straight away. And then countered these with why change was so necessary.

He then received the help of the Deputy Chief Exec of the FA (the other admin body aiming to help make it all happen). Pat Smith proved the clincher. She is credited with giving a “Churchillian” speech.

When the about-to-be excluded clubs were wavering, she said ‘change is going to come, whether you agree today or not, it will come back to you, in which case, surely it is better to be part of managing that change today, rather than fall victim to it’.


And what a compelling message for anyone trying to push through any solution-selling based change.

Rick Parry’s surreptitious agenda slant, marry it with Pat Smith’s call to arms and you’re surely halfway there…

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