Most of you might have heard about the Premier League’s plan to increase the number of games to 39 and play the extra game abroad. I am not sure what many of you think, but to me this is one of the most arrogant decisions ever made by the Premier League. Now I am not saying that it is a bad business decision. The potential at overseas markets are huge, especially for clubs like United. In fact, if a mid table side played a ‘big four’ team abroad, they will attract fans because of the presence of the big four club. Due to the neutral nature of the venue, I would assume that the gate receipts will be split equally — which is only fair. The clubs will stand to make more money — which is all there is to it, really.
But all that is besides my point.
The decision to send clubs abroad, to me sounds so wrong on many other levels. Before I say anything let me make it clear that I don’t live in England. So I am, as one would say, an overseas fan. I would love it if United came to play in my city, but when it comes to competitive games I have my reservations.
For one, the hypocrisy that I have seen here is so blatant. More money being pumped into clubs would mean more money for the clubs to spend on transfers. With pressures to perform and find relatively cheaper talent, clubs will still continue to look abroad, in their constant quest to compete and stay in the Premier League, and spend on players. Unlike what Scudamore says — that the money will be plugged back in to boost youth development — there will be a constant need for ‘ready made’ players that the extra money would enable clubs to buy into. So any dreams of seeing more English talent play in the Premier League can be safely dumped. And for this, thank the authorities who pride themselves at doing their level best to improve the quality of English footballers.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I am not particularly keen on seeing England do well, or badly for that matter. My greater concern is for the good of our club, and the authorities that govern the league that our club plays in. This lack of coherent thinking in the Premier League is of grave concern to me. And it’s not just the league, Steve Coppell — someone whose made his concerns on the English talent pool very public — has also backed this. Even surprising was Roy Keane’s support of the plan.
The other thing I get from people supporting this plan is when they start throwing fancy words like ‘free markets’, ‘globalization’, and ‘football clubs as products’. It is also extremely tempting to compare it with the NFL, when they played a game at Wembley. But no. Free market concepts don’t necessarily apply to sport. In fact, even the NFL follow a regulated structure where the draft system attempts to regulate and alter the players that a certain team can select.
Moreover, there is a temptation to suggest that there wasn’t an uproar when the Giants played the Dolphins at Wembley. There is a reason for that too. American clubs are franchises, started under the auspices of a regulatory board — like the NFL for American Football — by private parties launching them as business products first, a team second, and fans came finally. Football clubs in England or Europe, started independently, and with fans as the focal point. Football first, money later. Yes, now you see that they have evolved to viable businesses, but the fans who religiously attend games and pay for the gates, are still at the heart of them all.
Which brings me to this final point: The league’s decision to have an extra game abroad, is one way of saying, ‘Thanks for the support all these years, but we would rather play in Tokyo now so that we sell a few thousand shirts more. So fuck off!’ to the season ticket holders.
How popular do you want the English Premier League to be? Isn’t it already in your face wherever you go? What about the billion pound deal with Sky? Wouldn’t that also swell with time and inflation? If it was awareness, wouldn’t pre-season friendly tournaments help?
Who are we anyway at the end to talk about this? The suits made the decision and, barring some really significant developments, the clubs are sure to jump ship and play in Perth, or Jakarta, or Beijing.
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