League revamp could see bottom three relegated

A revamping of the SSE Airtricity League which, if implemented, would see the bottom three clubs in the top tier relegated as early as next season.

And the final Europa League place decided in a play-off — is one of the main recommendations of the long-awaited League Consultation Process Report which was released last night.

The report further proposes that for the following 2017 season, the existing 12-club Premier and eight-club First Division format would be restructured as 10-club, two-division league, with the Premier Division splitting into a top six and bottom three after three rounds of games.

Under the new system, as now, the team finishing bottom of the top flight would be relegated and the winners of the First Division promoted, but the remaining promotion and relegation issues would be decided in a round-robin format between the eighth and ninth-placed teams in the Premier Division and the runners-up and third-placed teams in the First.

The Europa League play-off game, as envisioned, would become the new climax to the domestic season, taking place after the FAI Cup Final.

Among the benefits of the new structure, according to the independent report, would be a more sustainable league, an increase in the number of games with more at stake and more focus on Europa League qualification, all of which it argues would provide a “significant opportunity to positively market and position a ‘new’ league.”

In tandem with these proposed changes, the report also responds to a recurring complaint of league clubs by recommending an increase in prizemoney for the league in 2017 — and a more even redistribution of the prizefund across the Premier Division — preceded by an incremental increase next season.

The 75-page report — which is based on the input of over 200 people with various stakes in the domestic game — makes 18 recommendations, covering everything from marketing and broadcasting to community involvement and ground improvements.

In his introduction, author, consultant Declan Conroy, argues that the focus in Irish club football needs to shift to the medium and longer term.

“Unless a more strategic approach is taken,” he warns, “we will be back again soon with unsolved and unresolved issues.”

Conroy, the project director for the successful bid to bring Euro 2020 games to Dublin, made a 90-minute presentation to the FAI board when delivering his findings on Tuesday of last week and then did the same for club representatives who gathered to receive their copies in Abbotstown last night, following which the report was made available to the public via the FAI website. This morning, Conroy is due to brief the media on his findings.

Speaking last week after his first sighting of its contents, FAI chief executive John Delaney said that he wouldn’t put a timeframe on the implementation of any of the report’s recommendations.

“Whether all of it, some of it, or most of it gets implemented will be through the debate that takes place once it’s put out to the public,” he said.


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