Club clarify position in relation to competition format changes...FOLLOWING the announced changes to the format to the EFL Trophy for the 2016/17 campaign, the club would like to clarify its position on the matter.
The new format would see an extended 64-team competition with sides from 16 of the 21 category one academies joining the existing League One and League Two clubs.
In a change to the current knockout format, there will be 16 regional groups of four for the opening round. Each team will play each other once in the group stage, with the academy team getting just one home game. The knockout stages will be single ties apart from the semi-finals, where there will be two legs.
At the EFL’s recent AGM, after much deliberation, Walsall Football club voted in favour of the one-year pilot scheme for the following reasons:
• In its current format, the competition’s appeal is declining significantly in terms of interest from football fans, clubs and broadcast partners. On average, attendances have been dropping year-on-year for the last three years. Broadcast partners who are entitled to cover six games per season have only opted to showcase three fixtures in each of the last two seasons.
• The club viewed the change of format as an opportunity to trial a different format without committing to anything other than a one-year pilot.
• The club reserves the right to vote against U21 teams’ further involvement should clubs competing in EFL deem the new format not viable moving forward.
• The club raised concerns at the meeting about the impact it would have in terms of negative perception by supporters and police costs incurred should clubs draw local rivals and the projected attendance would generate gate receipts lower than the costs associated with the fixture.
• The club also asked our divisional representative to ensure that EFL clubs were not bound to field their strongest team – as per current rules - and could field a side at the complete discretion of our First Team Manager.
• Premier League category 1 sides that enter the competition are allowed to field three outfield players and a goalkeeper over the age of 21 in the same way they can for their league fixtures. This presents an opportunity for supporters to see first team players of Premier League sides feature in the matches.
• Though the club believe this is not the long-term solution, it was the only option put forward and felt it should be explored strictly as part of a single-season pilot scheme.
• In addition to the above, Solidarity payments which EFL teams receive are intrinsically linked to broadcast rights from the Premier League. This format change was a way of strengthening relationships with the Premier League and ensures the EFL have a strong bargaining position in future discussions with our Premier League peers.
The club acknowledges the opinions held by many supporters and would like to reassure fans that the change in format is not a precursor to ‘B Teams’ entering the EFL structure, something the club would never support.
This is an opportunity to explore an alternative competition structure whilst gauging the temperature of the subject amongst football fans for an agreed time frame of one season.