07 February 2008

Premier League matches in my backyard?

I am an American. I live in America. I would love to see more Premier League matches live, as I haven’t had that good fortune in nearly 5 years.

And I think this is a stupid, stupid idea.

According to BBC (and everywhere else), the main points of the plans are:

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

• Four clubs to travel to one of five host cities, with two games taking place in each venue over a weekend.

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

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

No matter how much I love the Premier League, it is the English Premier League (please don’t sue me, Barclay’s). At least they’re not proposing a disenfranchisement of locals and will make it a 39-game season if they do decide to play abroad, but no matter how much money football brings in, hometown fans, who attend the game, are still the core of the support. And as proven by Liverpool fans during the Gillett and Hicks saga, they can be the heartbeat of a club. [Share LiverpoolFC] [Liverpool Supporters Union]

I feel comfortable enough, as an American and living in the US, to write about Liverpool, the Premiership, and European football from across the ocean. And I still can’t support this proposal.

There are enough games as it is. Liverpool had 58 matches last season. I realize it’s only one more, but when you factor in the far-flung locales and time it takes to travel, it’s more than just another league match.

And there’s enough travel as it is with European competition and international breaks. With the time changes and flights, North America, Asia, and the Middle East can’t even compare to European competition. The only similar comparison is Mascherano’s situation this week, with a friendly against Guatemala on this side of the ocean today and having to travel back for the Chelsea match on Sunday, which Benitez is not pleased about (warning, link also mentions Torres’ injury, so I’m not responsible for broken keyboards).

The preseason is one thing. As is international competition. Despite my dislike of international breaks, especially for friendlies, it’s always an honor to be called for your country. The regular season is an entirely different animal.

Once again, it’s all about money. It’s always about the money these days. Scudamore barely even tries to hide it.

It’s also a slap in the face to national leagues in the countries teams would travel to. Despite my apathy towards MLS, I know tons of Americans, Americans who follow the Prem just as closely, who love the American game. And it’s not as if there aren’t leagues wherever else the Premiership is proposing to play.

Don’t get me wrong; were Liverpool to play in North America, I’d find a way to attend, financial situation be damned. But it still wouldn’t feel right.

If you want more international exposure, get more teams traveling abroad during the preseason. That's when it should be done.

Really, just get me a rational television deal for all competitions (the Champions League and Premiership coverage has improved by leaps and bounds over the past five years, but watching the UEFA Cup, FA Cup, and Carling Cup is still a crapshoot) and decent commentary (too many examples to single just one person out) and I’ll be content. And when I make my next trip to England to see games, it’ll be that much more satisfying.

1 comment :

Dmitry said...

Good blog. I think the Premiership adding a 39th fixture and having teams play international league games is an interesting idea, if not a wholly practical one. The EPL is undoubtedly the most popular league in the world in terms of television contracts and persistent interest among fans from all continents. So it's an understandable wish to promote the EPL brand by bringing it directly to several international destinations. If done correctly, the English game's brand will expand exponentially, and the sponsors and owners and television execs will enjoy a serious financial windfall. The NFL succesfully pulled off its first ever regular season game outside of North America this past season when it staged a festive duel at Wembley.

But there are considerable hurdles to making this work, some which may prove to be insurmountable. The fans, first, need to be guaged, and if there is overwhelming support against such a plan, then the EPL cannot simply ignore and marginalize its rabid domestic fans who essentially make the league so special. Second, but not of less importance, are the teams, managers, and players themselves to consider. Will they be keen to hopping jets to Singapore or Sydney or San Francisco? Perhaps, and perhaps not. But getting the clubs themselves and their managers and players to go along with this radical proposal will be an essential, an d difficult proposition.

Finally, there's the matter of the competition. How will this effect the Premiershiop title race, and will the integrity of the 38 fair fixtures be compromised? A 39th game means each team will have to play one team in the league three times. How will this be determined? Will the top four play each other a third time? That might hold balance, but then there would be disproportional weight given to the cities that host these matches. I have to believe the idea is to spread the big four out across the globe, to assure that each city has a big brand name of English football attracting fans to its site. But how then, to assign the fixtures? Must Newcastle or Middlesbrough or even Tottenham or Reading agree to playing Manchester United an extra time? Blackburn or Bolton against Chelsea...in Miami? And these points matter? A newly promoted team has to play Everton a third time, and it costs them being relegated. Is that a risk a club would sign off on in order to expand the global image of the Premier League?

It is indeed an intriguing proposal, and it may yet prove visionary. But from where I'm sitting right now, I just don't see it. I'm with Gareth Southgate: "Is it April the 1st?"