The big pic­ture

Premier League needs more than just its top teams to be a global hit.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOOTBALL - By paul wilson

Any­one in­volved in english foot­ball these past 20 years or so knows two things. one is that you can­not stand in the way of progress, the other is that progress is ac­tu­ally spelled G-R-e-e-D. So if the big clubs want more of the over­seas tele­vi­sion money that has climbed from noth­ing to colos­sal pro­por­tions on the back of their fame and suc­cess over the past cou­ple of decades, one imag­ines that even­tu­ally they will find a way to get it, even if it is dif­fi­cult at the mo­ment to en­vis­age 14 Premier League clubs vot­ing for a change that would dis­ad­van­tage most of them.

Liver­pool’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Ian Ayre, makes a valid point when he sug­gests that the huge growth in tele­vi­sion subscriptions in Asia and the Mid­dle east has not been fu­elled by peo­ple want­ing to watch Bolton or Ful­ham ev­ery week, but by sup­port for teams such as Manch­ester United or his own. Fair enough, though there is an­other way of look­ing at those fig­ures. If the Premier League is com­fort­ably the most watched league in the world, with an es­ti­mated 70% of the global TV mar­ket for foot­ball, then part of that suc­cess must be due to its suc­cess as a league.

Clubs such as Chelsea, Liver­pool and United may be driv­ing the global in­ter­est, but since they can­not play each other ev­ery week peo­ple must be tuning in no mat­ter who hap­pens to be pro­vid­ing the op­po­si­tion.

In other words, clubs such as Wi­gan and QPR, and even Black­pool or Hull City in re­cent sea­sons, still have a part to play. What ap­pears to be unique about english foot­ball is that while the re­sult in a game be­tween United and Wi­gan or Chelsea v Ful­ham may not be all that hard to pre­dict, the game it­self may not be all that pre­dictable and the en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor can still be quite high. That’s not to men­tion games in re­cent sea­sons be­tween Black­pool and Liver­pool, say, or Hull and Arse­nal, where the re­sults were not pre­dictable at all.

This week­end brings the north-west derby be­tween Liver­pool and Manch­ester United, al­ways one of the most ea­gerly awaited fix­tures in the Premier League cal­en­dar if rarely in re­cent years as high-pow­ered and rel­e­vant an event as the in­creas­ingly grip­ping show­downs be­tween Barcelona and Real Madrid. But be­cause of the way tele­vi­sion money is dis­trib­uted in Spain – the model that Ayre and Liver­pool would like the Premier League to copy – in­ter­est falls away sharply once the lead­ing lights are pit­ted against those who are in La Liga merely to make up the numbers.

This is not in­tended as an at­tack on the qual­ity or depth of the Span­ish league, but it is pos­si­ble to sur­mise merely from the tele­vi­sion view­ing fig­ures that even Barcelona are not must­watch ma­te­rial if they are only play­ing Getafe or Le­vante. Whereas the more eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of funds be­tween english clubs means that most have not only de­cent play­ers but foot­balling per­son­al­i­ties who are recog­nised around the world – think of Tim Cahill, Joey Bar­ton, Shay Given, Peter Crouch, Danny Mur­phy and many more – and an english Premier League game will gen­er­ally be well-con­tested and ex­cit­ing un­til the end.

There are ex­cep­tions, of course, and Black­burn’s col­lapse at old Traf­ford last sea­son comes read­ily to mind, but it is quite easy to show the com­pet­i­tive strength of the Premier League in sta­tis­tics. Manch­ester United won the ti­tle last year de­spite win­ning only five games (of 19) away from home. That may have caused Sir Alex Ferguson some dis­com­fort, yet that there were 14 op­po­nents who ei­ther held or beat the cham­pi­ons on their own ground speaks vol­umes for the close-knit na­ture of the english league.

For pur­poses of com­par­i­son, Barcelona won 14 away league games last sea­son. Real Madrid, run­ners-up in La Liga, won 13. Mi­lan won Serie A by win­ning 11 times on the road, as did Borus­sia Dort­mund in the Bun­desliga. In Por­tu­gal, An­dré Vil­lasBoas won the ti­tle with Porto af­ter se­cur­ing 13 away wins, quite an amaz­ing stat given that Por­tuguese teams play only 15 away fix­tures, though not one that nec­es­sar­ily has view­ers in east Asia set­ting their alarms for ap­point­ment tele­vi­sion.

This is what the Premier League has with­out realising it, and what some of its mem­bers are now dis­cussing throw­ing away. one might have thought that the teams at the top of the Premier League pile al­ready have more than enough money and have no real need of fur­ther com­pro­mis­ing their do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion by claim­ing more, though it needs to be re­mem­bered that Liver­pool are not quite in the same fi­nan­cial clover as their im­me­di­ate ri­vals. While not as skint as ever­ton – who is? – they have not en­larged their sta­dium like Arse­nal and Manch­ester United, and have not the pri­vate back­ing that Chelsea and Manch­ester City can rely on.

It is easy to un­der­stand why they would like to cash in on their name and their fame, be­cause they were un­lucky enough to do all their con­quer­ing of europe in the 1970s and 80s, when name and fame was mostly all suc­cess brought. They have been some­what un­fairly ac­cused of ne­glect­ing to build their brand dur­ing the good years, in the way that Manch­ester United did so im­pres­sively in the 1990s and Arse­nal and Chelsea have been do­ing since, but Liver­pool never had the mon­ey­mak­ing ma­chin­ery and guar­an­teed global ex­po­sure of the Premier League be­hind them when they were beat­ing off the likes of Ip­swich, Wat­ford and Southamp­ton to win their host of ti­tles. (And United, Arse­nal and ever­ton, of course, I don’t mean to be­lit­tle Liver­pool’s achieve­ments, but few things il­lus­trate how times have changed bet­ter than Wat­ford fin­ish­ing run­ners-up.)

As a mat­ter of record, in the 16 sea­sons since Black­burn’s one-off ti­tle in 1995, not only has the ti­tle been shared be­tween a mere three dif­fer­ent teams – United, Chelsea and Arse­nal – but only two more teams have man­aged to fin­ish sec­ond – Liver­pool and new­cas­tle. Manch­ester City’s third place last sea­son rep­re­sented the first new face in the top three since Leeds sur­prised Liver­pool in 2000. So it is not quite true to say changes to the dis­tri­bu­tion of for­eign TV rev­enues would con­cen­trate power in the hands of just a few clubs and cre­ate an un­al­ter­able elite at the top of the league. That much has al­ready hap­pened. yet, de­spite every­thing, what goes on in the 15 po­si­tions be­low the top five is still pretty en­ter­tain­ing, im­pres­sively com­pet­i­tive and greatly en­joyed by the ma­jor­ity of fans, even though most are re­signed to the fact that it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to win any­thing of note any more. That is quite a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act, and for all the many things that are wrong with the greed busi­ness, the Premier League is still rated around the world and mas­sively pop­u­lar through­out all the lev­els of foot­ball in this coun­try.

The main prob­lem with the Liver­pool pro­posal is that it im­plies that 14 or 15 clubs in the league are rel­a­tively unim­por­tant. They are not. It is per­haps just as well that 14 or 15 clubs will have to agree be­fore any­thing can change. – Guardian news & Me­dia 2011

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