• Villanova Sports Law Blog

Subtle Motives behind the Premier League’s return to “No Room For Racism”

Image Citation: Players to wear No Room For Racism badge for 2020/21, Premier League News (September 12, 2020), https://www.premierleague.com/news/1820498


By: Luke Pacifici



It is no secret that social justice causes have pushed its way into sports. Sports can be more than entertainment; it is a platform for players, coaches, and organizations to voice opinions and ignite social change. Should this always be the case?

One of the current and most prominent examples of social justice in sports is the alignment between the Black Lives Matter, “BLM”, movement and various leagues. England’s top flight soccer league, the Premier League, is no exception. In fact, players joined in solidarity with BLM for the continuation of their 2019/20 season in July.[1]

However, with the start of the 2020/21 Premier League season, players and officials are donning a badge on their kits with the slogan “No Room For Racism.”[2] While the motives behind returning to this campaign are not public news, one could hypothesize that there is a business decision in play here.


In March of 2019, the Premier League launched their “No Room For Racism” campaign which promoted equality and inclusion across the world of soccer.[3] On July 7, 2020, with the restart of the 2019/20 Premier League season and following the tragic death of George Floyd in the United States, the Premier League gave its players permission to have “Black Lives Matters” printed on their jerseys for all remaining games in the season.[4][5] In addition, players took a knee in solidarity before the start of each game [6]


On September 12, 2020, with the start of the 2020/21 season, the Premier League announced that all players’ and officials’ kits will have a “No Room For Racism” badge.[7] Players may take a knee in solidarity with BLM before the beginning of a match, but that is the extent of the league’s public involvement with BLM.[8] In just a couple months, the Premier League went from blatant, public support of BLM to barely any at all, instead now relying on its “No Room For Racism” campaign.


For the Premier League, it boils down to abstaining from public endorsement of a political movement.[9] Recently, the Black Lives Matter UK Twitter account has come out with a few Tweets about police brutality and Palestine which have prompted criticism.[10] The political advocations are proving to be uncomfortable spots for the league.[11]


Even though the league agrees with the anti-racism message associated with BLM, it is risky for them to align with the organization’s other political aims.[12] Richard Masters, the Chief Executive of the Premier League, stated that “[they’re] drawing a clear distinction between a moral cause and a political movement.”[13] The transition back to a focused “No Room For Racism” campaign while allowing players to take a knee in support of BLM satisfies the goal of pursuing a moral cause.[14]


While it is not necessarily public knowledge at this point, there could be a subtle business motive behind the Premier League’s stance of political neutrality and their “No Room For Racism” campaign. The Premier League gains much of their revenue from broadcasting fees [15] Recognizing that sports is a luxury good and not an essential one, the league is looking to keep their fans happy.[16] When the entertainment isn’t there, fans will go somewhere else.[17] The league will not readily accept the risk of a loss in revenue.


To avoid fan loss, the Premier League might be noting how other leagues handle politics. The NFL, for example, has allowed their players to take a more impactful social justice stand on television. [18] This stand (or kneel) has already affected their viewer ratings. [19] Oklahoma bar owner, Ed Burton, “is willing to take the financial hit by not showing sports if players kneel during the national anthem.” [20] Viewers have grown tired of politics and want to escape by watching sports. [21]


With the Premier League taking this politically neutral approach, it appears they’ve steered on the side of caution. The league may not be willing to risk losing fans by aligning with a political stance. Yet, by placing value on the voices of their players, the league is not fully rejecting BLM. The Premier League could be navigating a moral and political minefield with success.


The season has already started, and so far, there has not been any tremendous outcry against the “No Room For Racism” campaign with the partial support of BLM. With this type of success, the Premier League’s stance could provide a blueprint for other sports leagues looking to maintain a neutral political position while still promoting an end to racism. The only thing that seems to be clear is the Premier League, in addition to other leagues around the world, are treading lightly when it comes to these unchartered waters of political involvement.

References

[1] Mark Ogden, Premier League to display No Room For Racism instead of Black Lives Matter badges on kits, ESPN FC (September 10, 2020), https://www.espn.com/soccer/english-premier-league/story/4178139/premier-league-display-no-room-for-racism-instead-of-black-lives-matter-on-kits


[2] Id.


[3] Players to wear No Room For Racism badge for 2020/21, Premier League News (September 12, 2020), https://www.premierleague.com/news/1820498


[4] No Room For Racism, Premier League News (July 7, 2020), https://www.premierleague.com/NoRoomForRacism


[5] Paul MacInnes, Premier League drops Black Lives Matter badge from shirts for own campaign, The Guardian (September 10, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/sep/10/premier-league-drop-black-lives-matter-badge-from-shirts-for-own-campaign


[6] “Players to …”, supra.


[7] Id.


[8] Id.


[9] Premier League: Black Lives Matter Campaign ‘not endorsement of political movement’, BBC (June 30, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/53242328


[10] Id.


[11] Paul MacInnes, supra.


[12] Mitch Phillips, Premier League, NFL and cricket wrestle with BLM response, Reuters (September 11, 2020), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-race-protests-sport/premier-league-nfl-and-cricket-wrestle-with-blm-response-idUSKBN2621LE


[13] Id.


[14] Id.


[15] David Lange, Premier league football clubs revenue in England (UK) from 2014/15 to 2019/20, by revenue stream*, statista (September 12, 2019), https://www.statista.com/statistics/874020/revenue-of-premier-league-football-clubs-by-stream/#:~:text=The%20majority%20of%20Premier%20League,with%20670%20million%20British%20pounds.


[16] Ben Domenech, As Sports Media Cheers On Athlete Boycotts, Fans Will Walk Away, the Federalist (August 27, 2020), https://thefederalist.com/2020/08/27/as-sports-media-cheers-on-athlete-boycotts-fans-will-walk-away/


[17] Id.


[18] Mike Thomas, Will NFL Fans Really Boycott the League Over the National Anthem?, Sportscasting (September 13, 2020), https://www.sportscasting.com/will-nfl-fans-really-boycott-the-league-over-the-national-anthem/


[19] Id.


[20] Id.


[21] Id.