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Pros & cons of global Premier plan

The Premier League's global plans have its supporters and detractors
By David Ornstein and Pranav Soneji

English football stands on the brink of its most radical shake-up since the introduction of the Premier League in 1992.

Sixteen years after the launch of a breakaway top tier, another landmark decision could revolutionise the face of football.

On Thursday the Premier League clubs unanimously agreed to further examine a proposal to extend their season to 39 games by staging a new round of competitive fixtures outside the UK from January 2011.

With opinions divided, BBC Sport examines both sides of the argument.

ADVANTAGES OF GLOBAL EXPANSION

While the Premier League plots its course to infinity and beyond, the man in charge of American football's British arm is already fine-tuning his sport's expansion outside of North America.

Alistair Kirkwood, the NFL's UK managing director, was instrumental when gridiron made history and staged its first regular season game outside of the continent in October 2007.

He is also in a minority of Britons who appreciate why Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has made this incredibly ambitious - and equally controversial - step.

New York Giants quarter-back Eli Manning in action at Wembley
In 10 years time you need to ask yourself whether you want a fanbase of 200 to 300 million or three to four billion

NFL UK chief Alistair Kirkwood

"I'm not really surprised at these potential theories being discussed," Kirkwood told BBC Sport.

"Given the way that sports fans consume their media and how the media works, the NFL had to come up with a way of reaching out to more people and show the best possible aspect of our sport.

"That's when we came up with the concept of competitive games outside of America."

When NFL league commissioner Roger Goodell described the first regular game outside of North America as one of the highlights of the 2007 season, it was not only for the benefit of good PR.

The 82,000 sell-out game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants at Wembley in October earned London more than 20m as 10,000 visitors flocked in from the United States for the game alone.

But, more significantly, the game was broadcast in 212 countries in 21 languages, figures that justify the NFL's decision to scale unchartered territory.

Super Bowl XLII - won by the unfancied Giants in Phoenix - was seen by an estimated 93.2 million people in the US alone - the NFL's second most-watched domestic broadcast in history.

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Add the many millions of people, potentially one billion, tuning in from abroad and you have a product just itching to earn dollars, riyals or Yuan from Arizona to Australia.

"If you are trying to increase the amount of popularity across the world, directly or indirectly it increases the revenue in the game," said Kirkwood.

"More money to reinvest in the game means you can attract better players, improve stadiums and facilities.

"Ultimately, no matter how major sports are structured, the vast majority of activity will still continue to be in home markets and giving a great experience for the home fans.

"It's not all about making money. It could, over the next few years, make sports leagues and teams more exciting."

Kirkwood argues that global expansion is an inevitable evolution for sport, just as multi-national companies spread their influence around the world two decades ago, the Premier League is following suit.

NFL fans with Italy and Scotland flags at Wembley
NFL fans flocked from across Europe to see the sport at Wembley

An increasingly competitive industry means each sport will need to keep innovating to stay one step ahead of the chasing pack in the future.

"In 10 years time you need to ask yourself whether you want a fanbase of 200 to 300 million or three to four billion," said Kirkwood.

"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.

"Sports bodies and leagues will be challenging themselves and thinking out of the box."

DISADVANTAGES OF GLOBAL EXPANSION

The Premier League's 'big four' teams - Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool - are box office attractions no matter where they go in the world but would some of the other teams pack the rafters at the 93,000 capacity Rose Bowl in Pasadena?

Alexei Lalas, who is the general manager of Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Galaxy, is sceptical.

Two fans sit among a bank of empty seats
If you remove a home game from any set of fans you are disenfranchising the very people this game is built on

Kevin Roberts, Sports Business Group

He said: "They can come over and play these games and people can come and check it out but I think they are going to leave the stadium more often than not thinking: 'I can get much better value and more excitement by going to see my Galaxy play'.

"We do not have a monopoly on rubbish soccer - it's played all over the world."

LA Times sports journalist Graham Jones agrees with the assessment made by Galaxy's chief.

"If it's two lower-level teams who are not really fighting for anything and haven't got any big-name players, it's not going to draw more than MLS draws now, which is 15,000-20,000.

"Just because it counts for points back in England doesn't mean it will mean anything over here."

If the 20 clubs in the English top tier decide to give the controversial plans the thumbs up, they risk further alienating their domestic supporters.

However, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham said: "The Premier League brings great benefits to Britain but its success today is established on the tradition of local club support, built up over generations. The game must never forget its roots."

The cost of attending a top flight match in England has jumped by about 600% since 1989.

While the division's current 2.7bn television rights deal has prompted some Premier League clubs to reduce their ticket prices, discontent among supporters who feel they are being priced out of football continues to grow.

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"In principle, it sounds like a great idea - bring more money into the clubs - but on the other side, people will say they are already making enough money," Reading's American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann told BBC Sport.

"I think our team made 50m last year so how much more do they need? That's what the fans are going to say because they have season tickets and they want to see every game.

"If a game is in Bangkok they are not going to be able to see it."

Kevin Roberts, the executive director of Sports Business Group, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "If you remove a home game from any set of fans you are disenfranchising the very people this game is built on.

"Part of the Premier League's great brand value comes from the passion of the crowd that watches your games. You can't mess with your customer base and the customer base is the fans of these clubs."

A final decision on the proposals will not be made until January 2009 and a plethora of potential stumbling blocks must be addressed.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter
Fifa president Sepp Blatter could get involved as the idea evolves

If the Premier League becomes a 39-match season, will the foreign match be included in a season ticket and, if so, how do clubs expect their season ticket holders to attend the match?

Will kick-off times be arranged to suit both the spectators in the stadiums and the supporters watching their teams on television in England?

Time must be spent travelling and acclimatising to the foreign city's climate but what if this interfered with Champions League or Uefa Cup commitments or duties with the international teams?

There is a distinct possibility the Premier League could be heading for a collision course with football's world governing body Fifa as well as Europe's Uefa.

"It's going to be difficult to get this off the table because the games are going to be played in countries which are members of Fifa and by their constitution Fifa have to be very protective of domestic football," said Sports Business Group chief Roberts.

"Already the Asian Football Federation is up in arms, spitting blood about their relationship with top European clubs that come there, play friendlies and disappear taking the money but leaving very little."




see also
Keane backs overseas games plans
08 Feb 08 |  Premier League
Mixed reaction to overseas plan
08 Feb 08 |  Premier League
Premier League going global
07 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
UK mission for NFL
29 Oct 07 |  American Football
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


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