Premier League fans need to embrace change and play away, far away
The concept of playing Premier League matches abroad is back in the news agenda and although it has received a barrage of negative reaction I’m behind it.
I’m in support because from a personal level I’d love to see Sunderland play competitively abroad, with current form it might be my only chance. The pre-season friendlies just don’t cut it and a trip to a full 100,000 capacity stadium stateside would be a fantastic experience. I’m sure the good lady wife would love a family trip to see the Black Cats abroad!
I’ll hold my hands up, I’m not a season ticket holder, but I do understand the frustration of the supporters that haven’t missed a match in 20 years. As difficult as it might be for these die-hard fans we do all need to look at the bigger picture.
It is widely agreed that the Premier League is the ‘best league in the world’ and receives the biggest broadcast revenues of any football league, in excess of £2billion of the £5.5billion TV rights income is generated abroad. But how long can this last? Like any switched on brand the Premier League is simply looking to move forward, to take advantage of their status, keep ahead of their rivals and maintain the majority of the broadcast income.
We’re in a far better position to embrace this than we were six years ago when the idea was unceremoniously shot down. The extra round of matches was always going to be a difficult concept to organise, but to play a round of regular season fixtures abroad is manageable and an open goal for all concerned whether it be the Premier League, the clubs, their respective sponsors.
Gary Lineker has commented on Twitter about it and while I’m normally on board with the opinions of Leicester’s finest, on this occasion, after I googled avarice, I am standing firmly on the other side of the fence.
I think Gary has a point regarding affordability for fans and yes it is a marketing exercise to drive revenue but taking all into account I believe the positives outweigh the negatives. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things that they’ll miss one home game every other season, is that such a sacrifice? All of the games will inevitably be screened live for all and won’t they indirectly benefit overall from the increased income and opportunities to the club – a bigger transfer kitty, improved squad and performances perhaps? In truth I cannot see the Premier League or the clubs taking away the perceived ‘big’ matches from UK fans anyway.
I’m sure that if the plan gets the go-ahead then the clubs and the Premier League will strike a plan to placate the fans. Greg Dyke’s FA Commission reported back earlier in the month to request £250 million of funding to revolutionise grass roots football with improved coaching and the introduction of 3G pitches in 30 key cities. An obvious compromise between fans and the Premier League would be to see a percentage of the overseas match profits allocated to this grass roots initiative, we’ll be winning the World Cup in no time!
In addition to incremental broadcast revenues the move is also another open door for the clubs themselves to drive their global supporter base, to engage with existing sponsors and to add to their sponsorship portfolio worldwide, they are a business after all. Manchester United for example have over thirty regional partners worldwide and are always looking for more, the pre-season friendlies in the Far East can only generate so much additional revenue.
Importantly for all concerned we have a success story, albeit in a different sport, to follow. The NFL International Series has seen sell-out Wembley crowds and a sharp increase interest in the sport in the UK over the last few years. Three regular season matches will be played in 2014, the Jacksonville Jaguars have signed a four year deal and the talk about a London franchise increases year on year.
Although this does not exactly mirror the Premier League plans, teams aren’t forced to sign up, the NFL has been embraced by UK audiences and generated incremental income for clubs and the league. When the International Series started at Wembley in 2008, NFL was the 17th most watched sport on Sky Sports, it is now the 6th most watched sport.
Football is THE global game and the Premier League is quite rightly thinking big to take advantage of this, maintain its position at the top of the tree and ultimately benefit the clubs and the fans. So, let’s share the best league in the world, but just a little bit.