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Was The Premier League’s 39th Game Such A Bad Idea?
7 months ago
Needless to say, the global appeal of the Premier League is massive. It now reaches a worldwide audience of over a billion people, which is just over one in seven people on this planet.
It is thought to be worth over £625 million just in overseas television rights alone. The Premier League also has the most diverse range of nationalities playing for its clubs. In the opening two days of this Premier League, 244 players were represented from 51 different countries; this is significantly more than the Spanish, German or Italian leagues. I won’t bore you with any more statistics, but you get the point.
In February 2008, the FA rejected proposals from the Premier League to introduce a ‘39th game’ into the top flight calendar. The main arguments from Richard Scudamore were that TV money, gate receipts and as a result, transfer budgets would all increase.
Additionally, he believed the Premier League would become more pluralistic as a result of the smaller clubs gaining the exposure they are not necessarily accustomed to in England, and his final argument was a way of rewarding the loyalty shown by fans across all continents who buy the shirts every year, and subscribe to the foreign channels to tune in to the games from thousands of miles away. Manager of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger was one of the very few managers in favour of it, suggesting that we are giving back to the 90 per cent of Premier League supporters.
Despite this, Scudamore’s suggestions were dismissed almost as quickly as they were recommended. The former chief at the FA, Lord Triesman said the idea was not sustainable. Sir Alex Ferguson said it was impossible to make room for it in the calendar and that it went against the principles of the Premier League. However, the ultimate argument against the 39th game was that it is just a money-making exercise.
This point is key as well as Premier League clubs are already taking the opportunity to maximise their income in pre-season. It has now become custom for the top Premier League sides, and more invariably the lesser sides too, to fly out to America or South-East Asia and appease their adoring fans for another year in return for a couple of meaningless friendlies. Therefore, it makes one question, is an additional competitive game actually necessary?
Anyway, four-and-a-half years have gone by since those arguments were theorised by the Premier League chief and the matter seems to have dissipated in the mainstream media. However, I can’t help but see that there is some value in expanding the game out of England. Granted, the realists among us will accept that the Premier League and its 20 clubs would be great beneficiaries of such a suggestion.
But if you take your realist hat off for a moment and replace it with your romantic one, then surely there is something to be said for rewarding the people who play a huge part in making the Premier League the enthralling league that it is. Sometimes we get so caught up in the economics of circumstances that we forget the human side to it. And I believe in this case, we would be making huge steps to empowering the people who need a bit of hope and enjoyment in their lives the most.
Rugby League in this country and especially the NFL in the US is a shining example of how branching out can improve the success of the sport. Since coming to Wembley on an annual basis in 2007, the popularity of American Football has grown significantly with more channels vying to show it and more people tuning into to watch it. The success of the sport in this country has grown to such a large extent that there are currently discussions, albeit at an early stage, of a British based NFL franchise.
I think Scudamore’s suggestion of the 39th game was just not thought out properly. One of the great books written on this subject is by Anthony Melvin and others entitled ‘The 39th Game: Premier League Plays at Imperialism’ which was written in the aftermath of Scudamore’s suggestion. In the book the authors generally accept that the 39th game is a bad idea. Not just for the reasons that have been already alluded to previously in the article, but also for the fact that in their angst not to make English fans too angry, the Premier League will offer games such as ‘QPR v Manchester United’ or ‘Norwich v Chelsea’ rather than your ‘Grand Slam Sundays’ that appear on Sky Sports once or twice a season.
But interestingly, they do accept that if the Premier League don’t act on branching the game out of their borders, then they could leave themselves in ignorant isolation and as a result make the EPL a less attractive product overseas. The book argues that sooner or later, either the French, German, Italian or Spanish leagues will experiment with this, and it may be to the detriment of England’s greatest league.
This is why I would say the 39th game wasn’t too far off the mark, it just wasn’t realistic enough. The book offers its own solution to the problem. They believe that the implementation of a Premier League cup competition may suffice as a reasonable alternative to the 39th game. So all Premier League games remain intact within the borders, but there would be an opportunity for the 20 clubs to fly off to Australia, America, China, wherever it may be, and play in a competitive tournament which has little effect on the domestic standings.
This may seem as a fair solution. However, one could argue that this sort of competition already exists in the form of pre-season friendly tournaments anyway so why bother? I also believe that Sir Alex Ferguson’s argument about space in the football calendar is a valid one. With those in the professional game already unhappy at the amount of football all-year round, where would we find the space to play these Premier League tournaments?
So I would love to hear fans opinions on three questions in particular. Should the Premier League just diminish any thoughts leading towards branching matches out of England altogether? Secondly, are there any justifiable reasons for playing in other countries? And thirdly, if so, what suggestions do you have as a suitable alternative to the failed 39th game idea?
Written by Matt Read
This blog does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of footytube or its partners.
7 months ago
I don't understand - if every club played one extra game that wouldn't really be fair in the title race would it? Last season, City and United finished equal on points. Let's say they had one more game the week after. What if United got to play Wigan (for a third time that season) at home, and City had to play Chelsea (for a third time that season) away? An extra game would leave the schedule unbalanced, right?
Or am I just totally misinterpreting it? Lol I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. Thanks in advance
7 months ago
While I dismissed the idea entirely when the issue came out a few years back it actually might not be a terrible idea. As someone who has lived outside the UK I know that there would be loads of fans in Africa and Asia that would love to see Premier League teams playing in their countries. It would be a good PR campaign and like you said if we don't do it some other league will and they will feel the advantages of doing so.
The problem I see is that it is unrealistic to play a 39th Premier League match. No matter who plays who it become to controversial when there are valuable spots up for grabs in the table. However, I think it could be a good idea if perhaps instead of a Premier League match they played something like the Capital One Cup final outside the UK. It isn't really a big trophy (although a trophy nonetheless) and it can give smaller teams (maybe even non-Premier League teams) a look into regions of the world where they might never have been able to advertise. Likewise maybe each of the FA Cup semi-finals could be played abroad. The FA could make is so that the two legs are played in either one or two cities (preferably in the same region) within a week. I'm sure that would give English Football massive exposure. The FA Cup Final itself would be too valuable to supporters in the UK, in my opinion, for it to be realistically hosted anywhere except Wembley (Old Trafford or The Emirates Stadium could also work).
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