The backers of the proposed All-Island League have decided on the proposed format for the initiative which would see all-island champions crowned through a knockout competition.
This would happen at the end of a split season where the League of Ireland and Irish League would retain independence by declaring their own champions.
The group has conceded however that the Covid-19 crisis could impact on the financial projections and sponsorship potential that was used to sell the project to clubs across the island.
Kerry businessman Kieran Lucid has driven the plan to merge the leagues north and south and has been involved in a lengthy consultation with clubs and other stakeholders that was then guided by Dutch experts Hybercube and their assessment of data provided to them.
“The study has shown that there is large upward potential for the game on the island, and this format would give the game a significant lift,” the All-Island League Advocacy Group said in a statement.
The Irish FA has indicated it would not sanction the participation of their clubs.
Backers ‘do not know how Uefa would respond’
Hypercube have completed the study that they were commissioned to do and have dispersed their findings to clubs, who along with the IFA and Football Association of Ireland must now decide whether to accept the proposals.
The concept would require the two associations to come together and form a new company that would govern the project with Uefa support.
Lucid’s team say they do not know how Uefa will respond until they are asked.
After pitching a variety of scenarios which included a fully-merged cross border season and alternative versions, they have reported that one particular scenario was the clear winner in the Hypercube survey of the clubs.
In this idea – entitled Scenario 4 – the two Premier Divisions north and south would each have 12 teams in their respective top divisions and play out two rounds of fixtures within their own jurisdiction, 22 games in total.
At that juncture, the top six teams in the Irish League and the top eight sides in the League of Ireland would go into a new 14-team league called the ‘Golden Round.’
‘King of the Island’
The bottom six in the Irish League, the bottom four in the League of Ireland and the top two in the League of Ireland First Division would enter a ‘Silver Round’ which would settle relegation issues.
They would play one round of games – 13 fixtures each – with the points accrued going towards a new ‘King of the Island’ table (a working title at this stage and not confirmed) and also added to the existing points tallies in their own leagues.
This would therefore lead to domestic champions and runners-up being crowned for the purpose of maintaining the current number of European participants – thus offering a solution to a major source of opposition which would be the loss of Uefa revenue.
Meanwhile, the top four teams to secure the most points in the ‘King of the Island’ standings would go straight into the quarter finals of all the overall competition.
They would be joined there by four teams to emerge from clashes between the next six clubs down and the top two ‘Silver Round’ performers.
Ultimately, this knockout phase would result in one team being crowned as the champions of the island.
Financial projections ‘negatively impacted’ by Covid-19
The backers of the All-Island league say the next step is for the clubs to formally request that the idea is sanctioned by the associations north and south and UEFA.
They would then go to market and seek broadcasters, sponsors and public funding.
A league season starting in late spring/early summer and finishing around New Year’s Day is the most popular option.
The coronavirus stoppage has naturally halted the timeline targets which was geared towards a 2021 kick-off.
“There can be no doubt that the financial projections made in the study will be negatively impacted, at least in the near term,” says the statement.
“As the situation is still evolving daily, what is more difficult to estimate is the scale of the impact. It is reasonable to expect that match day income, which forms a higher percentage of clubs’ income here than in the larger leagues around Europe, will be depressed for some time, and it is likely to have a dampening effect on sponsorship opportunities over the coming six to 12 months.
“These are headwinds that all of football must face, but this does not change the fact that ‘Scenario 4’ presents a more compelling sporting and financial proposition than the current formats, and this will remain so in a post-Coronavirus climate.
“Moreover, given that the projections are based on a five to ten year horizon, there is every reason to start planning now for the long term health of the game, and to be hopeful for when restrictions are lifted.”