With several media outlets reporting that the Premier League was once again considering the idea of playing competitive matches abroad, Pundit Arena asks, is it really such a bad idea?
In 2008, Premier League Chief Exec Richard Scudamore mooted plans for teams to play an additional 39th competitive fixture in one of five cities across the world. The idea received widespread condemnation from supporters groups, club owners and even UEFA and FIFA. While the ‘39th game’ as it came to be known didn’t come to fruition, Scudamore looks set to reincarnate the proposal.
The additional fixture has been removed from discussions, instead one of the 38 game weeks already scheduled would be used with all matches taking place abroad over a single weekend.
Criticism has already emerged with the Football Supporters Federation issuing a statement saying:
‘The FSF is against the proposals as they have been reported, and will be consulting with Premier League fans’ groups and individuals to formulate an appropriate response.’
But with fears over fixture congestion and how an additional round of games would be seeded now removed, would international games be so bad for the Premier League? Here are three reasons why Scudamore’s idea might not be so stupid after all.
1. Rewarding Overseas Fans
The Premier League is broadcast in over 200 countries with a worldwide TV audience of 4.7 Billion for games. In other words, that’s a lot of people not attending games or living in England that are tuning in week in week out.
Clubs already recognize this demand for foreign matches and there has been a steady rise across the league in pre-season tours. Teams like Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have capitalized on this with Asian pre-season tours whilst since 2003 the Premier League has held a bi-annual pre-season trophy in Asia. Is it not fair to reward this huge fan base with the matches they crave the most?
So much of the League’s demand comes from foreign fans and these fans crave access to teams to the extent that over 100,000 packed into Michigan Stadium this summer to watch a glamorous but meaningless match-up between Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Nothing beats the thrill of live competitive fixtures for sports fans. Arsene Wenger was one of the few proponents of the idea claiming it would give back to 90% of the League’s fans.
2. The Best League in the World…For Now
Today it’s really undisputable that the Premier League is the biggest in the world, touting the most competitive league with the biggest attendance figures in world soccer and the third largest attendance figures of any professional sport. But that title isn’t set in stone and it wasn’t always the case.
Scudamore and co have done a fantastic job in raising the league to its current stature, but it’s an entertainment business that needs to innovate to maintain top spot. The league that incorporates overseas games first will have that crucial first-mover advantage. While the worldwide popularity of soccer is huge there is competition among the top leagues to win the support and wallets of fans in markets such as Asia, India, North and South America.
They stand to gain new supporters, better foreign TV rights and clubs will see their own finances improve through new foreign sponsorship deals. If the money and demand for European football continues to exponentially grow the question shouldn’t be why the Premier League should host games abroad, but why shouldn’t they?
3. Money Talks
Last and most certainly not least there’s the money. Those against overseas games will argue that season ticket prices will drop for clubs as there’ll be less home games. While that’s probably a fair point to make the cash clubs can gain from such a deal would offset this considerably. Let’s look at how this might work.
The big clubs are already very effective at marketing their teams internationally. But for the smaller clubs, it’s an exceptional opportunity to market themselves overseas. Between 2013-16 the Premier League will earn £941m from Asia alone. That’s not to mention the other £1.2 Billion the League will take off of the rest of the world.
These figures only stand to go up if the Premier League can add to competitive fixtures overseas. One thing the League does well compared to a league like La Liga is its equal distribution of TV revenue to clubs regardless of league position. Increased cash from foreign fixtures would likely be spread equally. That means more money for lesser clubs. That’s more money to sign players. That’s more money to pay new players and retain existing players. That makes for a more competitive league which in turn equals….you guessed it, more money from TV rights. These all combine to cement the Premier League’s position as the best league in the world.
The NFL is a shining example of how successful this concept is. Since 2007 the NFL has hosted an international series in Wembley stadium that attracts 85,000 people per match. In recent years the NBA has followed suit. Even Rugby Union have capitalized on the revenue such games can generate, in 2011 Wasps played Harlequins in Abu Dhabi for their LV cup fixture, while in 2012 Saracens played one of their home fixtures in Belgium.
Too often soccer has lagged behind other sports in innovations. The Premier League is a unique position to exploit the global interest it generates to better itself and the clubs that play in it. As news broke of Scudamore’s renewed interest in this idea, Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins, who admittedly wasn’t happy, also admitted it was a financial necessity;
‘It’s a sad reflection of where football is, but unless we are part of that, it’s inevitable we are going to fall behind. We have got to make sure, whether we like it or not, we are on board with it.”
On that note, perhaps it’s time clubs warmed to the idea and begin to figure out how they can make this opportunity work for them.
Sean Curtin, Pundit Arena.