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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 17:51 GMT
Premier League going global
By Chris Bevan and Jonathan Stevenson

Premier League

English domestic football could be about to undergo yet another revolution.

On Thursday, the 20 Premier League clubs agreed to look into the possibility of playing an extra round of matches every season - abroad.

The idea comes 16 years after the historic creation of the Premier League, and shows just how much the top flight of English football has changed since that key move in 1992.

606: DEBATE

Here, BBC Sport charts the development of England's national sport to the point where it is now looking to - literally - go global.

THE FORMATION OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE

The Premier League was formed in 1992 when the 22 First Division - as it was then - clubs resigned from the Football League and set up their own division in order to attract greater revenue from television.

The Football Association agreed to the proposal in the belief that it would be tied to a system of excellence that would benefit the national side.

Steve Bruce (left) and Bryan Robson celebrate Man Utd winning the league in 1993
Manchester United won the first Premier League title in 1993

The clubs did it so they could reap the financial rewards and the Premier League soon became a powerful force in the game.

In 1992, broadcasting rights were assigned to subscription television service BSkyB, a move that charged fans for watching top flight football on their screens for the first time in England.

The first agreement between the Premier League and Sky was worth 191m, a figure that has risen dramatically - the last deal for domestic rights is due to run from 2007 to 2010 for 1.7bn between Sky and Setanta.

Promotion alone to the Premier League from the Championship was last season valued to be worth about 60m.

MORE MONEY IN ENGLISH FOOTBALL

The Premier League is already the richest football league in the world, and it is set to get even richer.

Premier League TV rights costs

In 2001, the Premier League made 1bn from the sale of domestic TV rights and 178m from overseas rights.

For the current contract, which runs until 2010, the domestic rights cost 1.7bn and the foreign rights had leapt to 625m - the biggest overseas deal for sport in the world.

Around 100m of that was spent by NowTV to secure the rights for Hong Kong, Showtime Arabia stumped up around 60m for the Middle East and North African market and WinTV spent 50m to show games in China.

The continued growth and huge appetite of the Premier League's worldwide audience is the reason foreign broadcasters are prepared to spend such huge amounts to show English football.

The potential is vast - an estimated audience of one billion watched Manchester United's match with Arsenal in November 2007.

606: DEBATE
Chacor

Premier League games are broadcast to over 600m homes in 202 countries worldwide, and they are particularly popular in Asia and the Middle East.

These figures are likely to be reflected when the bidding begins for the next Premier League TV deal in 2010. Even if nothing comes of the proposals to play Premier League games abroad, the cost of overseas rights is expected to match the domestic price in the near future.

CHANGING OWNERSHIP OF CLUBS

The vast earning potential of English clubs has not gone unnoticed by wealthy investors.

When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in July 2003, he became the first foreign owner of a Premier League side and, although the Russian has not sought to make a profit at Stamford Bridge, he did start a trend.

Ten top-flight clubs - Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Aston Villa, West Ham, Portsmouth, Sunderland, Fulham and Derby - are now wholly or partly controlled by rich individuals from outside Britain.

So why the interest? Try guaranteed TV revenue from the domestic market, solid attendances and a large market for branded merchandise for starters.

The combined revenue of all 20 Premier League clubs last season was a healthy 1.4bn, according to accountants Deloitte.

But the potential for further overseas growth remains - and that is where the bigger money will be made.

The Premier League may be the richest football league in the world but it is still behind the NFL and Major League Baseball in the money-making stakes - both made over 3bn in revenue in 2007.

That might not be the case for long, however. The worldwide appeal of English football means bigger rewards are available, and its explosion in popularity in the Middle East and Asia shows what is possible in the lucrative American market in the near future.

HOW SUPPORT WENT GLOBAL

Long gone are the days when every Manchester United supporter came from Manchester, when every Liverpool fan was a born and bred Scouser.

In 2008, following a football club is almost as easy in Thailand or Hong Kong as it is in England - and that is why clubs are increasingly turning to the overseas market in order to boost their fan base and, sure as night follows day, their revenue streams.

A Liverpool fan in Thailand, for example, would be able to watch Steven Gerrard and co in action at three o'clock (English time) on a Saturday, whereas a UK-based fan would not unless he or she was attending the game due to the nature of the rights package.

You can also watch highlights on games on the internet from anywhere in the world and receive goal clips shortly after full-time on your mobile phone.

Where England's big four spend pre-season

Three of the Premier League's big four have spent their last three pre-seasons travelling across the world in order to take their product to those countries who have a huge appetite for English football.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have between them been to USA, South Africa, Hong Kong, China, Japan and South Korea - only Arsenal have stayed in Europe, with boss Arsene Wenger the exception that proves the rule.

"I don't like the pre-season tours. But I must say we have a lot of proposals. I hope I can resist as long as I want because it is a lot of money that is offered. But I have the final say," said Wenger.

Many clubs have also signed players from these countries - Manchester United bagged South Korea's Ji-Sung Park in 2005, Everton bought China's Li Tie in 2003 and Manchester City took three Thai players on trial last summer.

FOOTBALL FOLLOWING OTHER SPORTS

English football is not the first domestic sport to look abroad, with USA's NHL and NFL both successfully playing competitive matches in England in 2007.

Foreign fans go wild over Manchester United
Manchester United can draw a large crowd wherever they travel

In January, Zenit St Petersburg and FC Moscow from the Russian Premier League revealed they are in discussions over holding a league match at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium.

With the distinct possibility of English Premier League football being played abroad in the near future, it raises questions about the future of football and the national game in the face of such powerful globalisation.

If domestic football is deemed marketable enough to be played on foreign shores, surely the Champions League with its exciting, high quality football will soon follow suit?

Increasingly, the top three or four sports on global basis will dominate. The difference between those and the next tier of sports will be so much greater over a period of time

Alistair Kirkwood

As managing director of NFLUK, Alistair Kirkwood helped bring over the New York Giants-Miami Dolphins game last October, and feels he knows what the future will hold.

Kirkwood told BBC Sport: "In 10 years time you need to ask yourself whether you want a fan base of 200-300m or three to four billion people.

"If you want three to four billion, you have to make tough decisions and look at ways of being creative and possibly sacrificing things.

"Increasingly, the top three or four sports on a global basis will dominate. The difference between those and the next tier of sports will be so much greater over a period of time.

"I'm not really surprised at these potential theories being discussed.

"We may end up with different solutions than the ones we are talking about, but increasingly sports bodies and leagues will be challenging themselves and be thinking out of the box."

In Dubai, the building of a purpose-built Sports City - the first of its kind in the world - suggests they are keen to attract as much top-level sport as they can, with the funds to match their ambition.

The International Cricket Council has already moved its operations to Dubai and the city is keen to start hosting international cricket as soon as possible, maybe even as soon as 2009.

So perhaps someday the Premier League will also move its headquarters elsewhere, seduced by the financial rewards and ultra-modern infrastructure it could benefit from?

Even if it doesn't, and it stays at its residence on Gloucester Road, London, any battle to keep English football just in England may ultimately now be a losing one.



SEE ALSO
Pros & cons of global Premier plan
08 Feb 08 |  Premier League
Top clubs consider overseas games
07 Feb 08 |  Premier League
Mixed reaction to overseas plan
07 Feb 08 |  Premier League
What they say on overseas games
07 Feb 08 |  Premier League
Foreign owners boost UK football
09 Aug 07 |  Business
How to watch football this season
02 Aug 07 |  Football
Premiership entry 'is worth 60m'
02 May 07 |  Business
Premiership in new 625m TV deal
18 Jan 07 |  Business
USA 'should host Premier matches'
26 Oct 07 |  Premier League
NHL circus in town
27 Sep 07 |  Ice Hockey
UK mission for NFL
29 Oct 07 |  American Football


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