Friday, February 8, 2008

Premier League Plans to Play Matches Overseas

Few issues in soccer recently have sparked more debate than the Premier League's announcement that they are considering playing competitive, meaningful matches overseas starting in the 2010-2011 season.

Here are the main aspects of the proposal:

1. An additional round of Premier League fixtures, extending the season to 39 games, from January 2011.

2. Four clubs to travel to one of five host cities, with two games taking place in each venue over a weekend (10 matches, 20 teams).

3. Cities would bid for the right to become a host, not for individual matches.

4. Points earned from the games would count towards the final Premier League table.

According to Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, "There is much more detail to follow which we will work on over the next 12 months." The 12 months Scudamore is referring to goes through January 2009, when a final decision on the full proposal will be made.

Scudamore has also said, in part: "I think it's an idea whose time has come. It's an exciting prospect."

Believe me, there are very, very few issues and topics on which I agree with Richard Scudamore. This one, however, I am in favor of wholeheartedly.

Many fans opposed to this, especially those in England, still yearn for and believe in the "romanticism" of the game and they'll fight to do everything they can to preserve it. They believe that the notion of playing games abroad is a slap in their faces, the people who pay their hard-earned money to watch their beloved teams play.

I respect that, I do.

With that said, I think these fans are quite a bit misguided. The reality of the situation is this: The Premier League is the most popular sporting league in the world; the TV numbers don't lie. It has become a global entity with a vast majority of its players (most importantly, its best players) hailing from foreign countries. Half of the 20 league clubs have foreign ownership, either through a family, an individual, or a group of individuals.

This isn't my father's generation of soccer, where mostly everything associated with the Premiership was British and more specifically, English. Fans and players don't interact on a personal level anymore; you're not going to find your favorite player drinking in a pub after a game and you can have a pint with him or whatever the case may be.

There is so much money in this game these days, and the potential for even more money is out there in the global market. The interest is there in Asia, the Middle East, and North America and the last time I checked, the population is greater in those regions than in England, a relatively small country. More population = more potential profit.

That's what many fans don't seem to understand, and I think they're jaded in that regard. This game isn't about the fans anymore, and it's that simple. It's a business, and the objective of a successful business is to make money. In order to make money, you have to go where the money is and if that hurts the domestic fans in the process, so be it; the chance of worldwide profit far outweights the negative reaction at home.

You know that the fans who don't like this proposal will still come to the Premiership games in England. They need their soccer fix and I don't blame them. Even if a small portion of those fans decide that playing overseas is the last straw and they won't attend matches any more, there are many more fans who will gladly take their place in the stands.

The bottom line is money. If fans opposed to this global plan don't agree with that, that's obviously their prerogative. That will only hurt them in the long run though; it's a lose-lose situation for those people. Trust me, the game will move on without them. Why not embrace the fact that the game is so popular and more and more people want to experience that firsthand?

You can't blame owners and chairmen for wanting to make money. In our daily lives, isn't our goal to make money and live a good life? That's our goal isn't it? That's the whole point of the concept of work. It would be hypocritical to deny these businessmen that same objective simply because it offends you personally.

Think about it. No games are being taken away in England; fans there will still be able to attend 18 home matches a year and because of the relatively short geographical distances between cities, can probably go to a couple away matches as well. What's the harm of playing one additional game a year overseas? Again, I harp on the fact that there is no "romanticism" in the game anymore. It's not about sentiment and emotion, it's about making money.

The sooner people come to grips with that, the better.


steviethek said...

As an American EPL fan, I dream of going TO England to watch EPL games in their proper grounds, with the two teams’ fans - part of what makes the EPL unique. These new games wouldn’t be ‘genuine’ from that perspective.

Would the fans in New York come out to see Fulham? Would they sing "James Bullard, Bullard... he's better than Steve Gerrard... he's thinner than Frank Lampard... James Bullard, Bullard" to the tune of "Que, Sera Sera"? I think not!

Some of the EPL teams came over here for friendlies and I think that’s fine - perhaps even have EPL vs. EPL teams in off-season friendlies, but not League matches. There’s such a thing as squeezing the Golden Goose too hard.

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