With reports starting to circulate of the infamous 39th game overseas being considered by the Premier League it’s worth asking the question, just how global football is becoming and where will it end?
At face value, a 39th game abroad may seem a fairly simple idea with little implication. However, like everything in the business world football is constantly evolving and on global scale, as every owner and chief executive seeks out new ways to increase their clubs revenue streams. I myself find it hard to believe that, if they went forward with the idea and one extra game was successful, the powers that be wouldn’t start thinking “What if we do 2 games a season overseas? Or 3…”
With teams now travelling across the globe for pre-season tours and international matches (e.g. the recent superclasico) being played far from either nation’s capital, it is clear that international interest in football is at a fever pitch. The World Cup in Brazil this summer was a strong indicator to the beautiful games growing popularity. You don’t have to look much further than Team USA. The teams exploits were impressive; none more so than Tim Howard’s record breaking performance against Belgium. However, the most notable performance from the United States at the tournament was not on the pitch but off it. Apart from the host nation, no other supporters outnumbered those waving the star spangled banner. Considering that a large part of the country rejects ‘soccer’ for its own homegrown sports, the fact that they are still able to gather more fans than nearly all other teams at a World Cup speaks to the size of the country and therefore its potential to dominate footballs international scene. Maybe it will be solely called soccer one day… I dread to think.
This summer in Michigan, Manchester United played Real Madrid in front of a crowd comfortably exceeding 100,000 and dominated by Manchester United fans. This speaks to not just to the popularity of football in America, but, the popularity of Manchester United and therefore the Premier League in market with a potential for exponential growth. Football supporters can get into an argument of which of the top European leagues is the best, what cannot be denied is that the Barclay’s Premier League is the most popular. The money paid to be able to broadcast Premier League games reflects this; it has created a league with the largest depth in quality in world football. There are teams in the bottom half of the table who could outspend some of Europe’s most elite clubs.
With this in mind, if the Premier League clubs started playing this 39th game overseas and the attendance’s were higher than they’ve had all season at home, generating higher gate receipts and merchandise sales etc. what then? It is more than likely that a Chelsea v Manchester United game played in front of 100,000 in America is going to be more financially rewarding than a 40,000 sell out at Stamford Bridge. The fact its football clubs we are dealing with doesn’t change the fact these foreign owners are greedy businessman with no real attachment to local area the ‘company’ they bought was based in. If it was any other type of company and they realized that it was more financially prudent for them to open their headquarters in a new growing market, the necessary steps would be taken to achieve this. This 39th game could be the opening of the door for Chief executives and owners to take the already incredible revenue figures to new heights
Foreign ownership in Premier League clubs is common now as well. Manchester United are owned by the Glazers out of Florida, Liverpool are owned by Fenway Sports Group out of Boston, Manchester City owned by Sheikh Mansour out of Abu Dhabi and Chelsea owned by Roman Abramovich out of Russia. What if these owners use the 39th game to play out of their homes? The Glazers play Manchester United’s game out Tampa Bay’s (the NFL team they own) stadium, Fenway Sports Group play Liverpool’s game in Boston, Sheikh Mansour wants Manchester City’s game in Abu Dhabi etc. Could they decide that they would rather their club played out of their home? Why would they care about the local fans when they could move somewhere with a new, larger set of ‘local fans’? Could the 39th game be the first step towards the creation of a global league?
These questions I am posing are dealing with hypotheticals, but, who is to say that they won’t become a reality? The pace at which we are advancing almost daily across industries is frightening and why should football be any different. The game has changed in many ways from its humble beginnings; from not having any substitutes and keepers not wearing gloves to implementing state of the art goal line technology, to mention a few.
The game has now become a commercial juggernaut on a global scale. As a result, in years to come the local clubs we hold so dear could be fighting against the games commercial evolution with sentiment alone. They probably won’t be owned by a local businessman, have minimal amount of young local players breaking through the youth system with the increased ability to buy talent from abroad. They could just be a franchise playing wherever, like teams in the NBA. The money being invested in the game from the Middle East, United States etc. could really start to talk, and the Premier League wouldn’t be the only casualty, but, in becoming the leading league in the footballing world it could be the first scalp as the working man’s game becomes the world’s game