Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of talk about the future of football by the ‘suits’ behind the scenes at clubs who most of us think know little or nothing about our beautiful game and what it means to us. Yesterday’s comments regarding league structure caused a big stir, I thought to myself I would love to tell these moneymen ‘quit your jibber-jabber’ and hoped Mr T would crash through their office wall in a tank, running them over in the process. It seems all they want to do is want to change our game so they can make more money and have bigger profits for shareholders.
Fans have been up in arms over the latest claims from Richard Beaver or Bevan, whatever, that foreign owners want to see the end of promotion to, and relegation from, the Premier League and just have a core 20 clubs that battle it out each year. Bevan’s full quote was: “There are a number of overseas-owned clubs already talking about bringing about the avoidance of promotion and relegation in the Premier League”. This notion is another way football clubs can maximise revenue opportunities based on a model that is successful in America and give these businesses/clubs security as they will have no fear of dropping out of the top league.
The idea of having a ‘ring-fenced’ league system, as proposed by the mystery overseas owners, is common place in American sports like the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball League (NBA). The only chance of seeing a new team in either league is via a franchise team that is formed to either capitalise on unchartered territory or to make more money than a team makes in a current location.
The NFL and NBA are two sports that have come over to England to stage games in a bid to increase awareness, popularity and obviously revenue. The NFL long discussed the possibility of a ‘17th game’ for all sides that would be played outside of America, but due to complications they couldn’t make this happen. These are the type of opportunities American sports teams explore in a bid to maximise profitability. With the influence of owners from the juggernaut that is American sports in the Premier League, every possible money-making opportunity will be explored.
As well as this ‘ring-fenced’ league notion, we have seen the other ideas banded around like individual TV right sales and the proposal of a ‘39th game’ in the Premier League, but things have been becoming ‘Americanised’ for a long time with American methods like the sale of stadium sponsorship, additional shirt and short sponsorship and more emphasis on corporate hospitality.
It is the more noticeable, more radical changes that scare us fans but these changes have been coming for years with the influx of the world’s top businessmen into football. This type of owner is a ruthless businessman who knows how to make money and is intent on the maximisation of profits.
Liverpool’s Ian Ayre has recently been criticised for his comments that Liverpool should be in control of their own TV rights as they are currently missing out on revenue they could be making by selling their own rights to a worldwide audience. He is right, they are missing out by being part of combined Premier League package, but we play a team game here to keep the Premier League as one of the strongest in the world.
Liverpool are one of the few clubs who have the history and current popularity to sell their own TV rights worldwide, which is why they were an appealing investment to American John W. Henry and the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) group in the first place. The overhaul of Liverpool has already begun with significant changes to the way they recruit players and this is just the start of Henry and FSG turning Liverpool in to a well-run profitable business machine.
I don’t know why fans are surprised, surely we all saw it coming, but maybe we think football rather than business. Manchester United are another club with American owners and have previously had relationships with American sports broadcasters who aired exclusive MUTV footage in the States. This type of deal will be more commonplace and we have seen recently Manchester City agree a deal with YouTube so they have more control over its own TV content worldwide.
Manchester United have also looked at capitalising on their Asian popularity by having the option of floating on the Singapore Stock exchange, one of the more wealthy areas of Asia. This is just another example of maximising profits and making more money, but fans have no real widespread opposition to this.
America lead the way in running successful sports teams; you can tell how far we are behind them as many of our football clubs still face the threat of extinction due to financial difficulties – these problems are a thing of the past in American main-stream sport. Over the past 10 years football in general has boomed and teams have started to pay wages on the scale of American sports teams and there is no doubt in foreign owners eyes that the revenue opportunities are potentially bigger in football than they are in American sports. These opportunities need to be capitalised on by reaching a bigger global audience as we have a big product but are only a small country.
In a way it is what we all wanted, the vast majority of supporters would want a billionaire from America, Asia or the middle-east to come in and buy their club-it’s even happened to Leicester, fans want success. This latest comment is nothing, the FA and Premier League have dismissed it, it won’t happen in the foreseeable future, but as more and more foreign businessmen invest in English football and football worldwide, these kind of suggestions could be nothing compared to what lies ahead, so get used to it.
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