12 February 2008
In support of the Premier League’s International Round
You can find football fans
in the oddest places

Am I the only one(3) who finds the idea of Premier League teams playing regular season games abroad rather fun? I think it maybe because I see it as a way that capitalism can win over nationalism.  Up to now the ultimate stage has been the World Cup, an event that seems to do little other than serve up sub-standard football, put the process of male evolution into reverse and squander the talents of greats like George Best, Kevin Keegan and Liam Brady.  What if the ultimate stage was something that was actually quite good and something everybody, regardless of origin could buy into?  And it would give FIFA a well-deserved slap in the face - surely something we can all get behind. If I have one complaint it is about the way the Football Association has chosen to sell the idea.  It is all corporate stuff like “promoting the brand” and “exploting new markets”.  Had it never occurred to these guys that exploiting new markets and hence making more money is a good thing in itself(1) and that therefore the thing to do is to stress the benefits?  Why not: “This will give millions more fans the chance to see their football teams.  It will allow the Manchester United fan in Bangkok, the Arsenal fan in Sydney and the Watford fan in Bangalore the unique experience of seeing their favourite team in the flesh.” One of the crazier arguments against this scheme I heard over the weekend was the one that very few ordinary fans (as in, from the place after which the team is named) will be able to get to see their team when it plays abroad.  The irony seemed to be lost on these people.  This was the very weekend when people were commemorating the Munich disaster - a consequence of the pioneering spirit of Manchester United in entering the European Cup and playing in the oh-so-accessible Belgrade(2)Notes 1.  See Profit is Good. 2.  I haven’t looked up the sums but I would guess that is probably easier for the average Manchester United fan to travel to Sydney now than to Belgrade back then. 3.  See my friend Johnathan Pearce for an example of the vitriol this has induced. PermalinkFeedback (2)Football


  1. Am I the only one

    No, I think it is a great idea. English fans generally have no idea of the extent to which the Premier League is the world’s league already. The truth is that on most of two continents the English Premier League is the sporting league that is most followed. Walk into a bar in much of Asia or Africa and Premier League football is what is on the TV, often not live. When games are live (Saturday and Sunday evenings, corresponding to the early games played at lunchtime in the UK) bars in such places are full of people who are just as enthusiastic as you will find in Europe. I think it is great to give fans in these places the chance to see their teams play live occasionally.

    There is no point whatsoever in playing these games in places like Australia or the US. (There are very few Arsenal supporters in Sydney, whereas there are tens of millions in China). People in such places have other sporting interests already, and little interest in soccer. Where the games should be played is places like China, Malaysia, Thailand, Dubai, and just possibly Japan. (India might be worth a try, but interest is only slowly rising there). There is an argument for playing games in Africa because the interest is there, but the money isn’t really. The point is not to play in places where the league needs to be “promoted”, but to take advantage of places where the game has saturation coverage already. If ten games are to be played in five locations, I would actually consider playing six of those games in China: two each in Beijing, Shanghai, and somewhere in the Pearl Delta (ideally Hong Kong, but I don’t think there is a suitable stadium, so perhaps Guangzhou instead). I think for the other two venues I would perhaps rotate from year to year between Bangkok and KL, and perhaps also between Dubai and Johannesburg.

    The think I find impressive is that the Premier League is talking about making 100 million pounds from these ten matches in sponsorship, TV rights, and ticket sales. That is an awe inspiring amount of money, but having seen the interest in the Premiership in such places, I can believe it.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 20 February 2008 at 05:46am

  2. Wrong. If more and more percentages of games are played in places like Thailand, Dubai or planet Jupiter, then they might as well change the names of the clubs. I think a certain identification with the place of origin matters; it certainly mattered to the founders of these clubs. The point I made in my original Samizdata article you kindly linked to says that associations should try to stick to their founding principles. Now, of course, if new leagues are created, like the European Champions league or whatever, that’s fine.

    I don’t think it is, for example, idiotic of Sir Alex Ferguson, like his predecessor, Sir Matt Busby, to both relish playing in European club competitions while at the same time wanting to be, above all else, an English club with a strong sense of connection to Manchester.

    Posted by Johnathan Pearce on 28 February 2008 at 06:23pm

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