Friday, 8 February 2008

The Beautiful Game.

Yeah, this is going to be a football-oriented post, so look away now if that's of no interest to you.

The Premier League is considering a change in the league timetable to introduce one extra match per team per season (taking the total to 39 per team) to be played abroad in one of five designated 'host' nations, with the result counting towards the points total for the season. The move is designed to allow the League to 'showcase its product' in foreign markets, since the market in England has become saturated.

What staggers me most about this suggestion is the sheer bare-faced cheek of the Premier League in opting to change the structure of the competition simply in order to make more money. There is no argument for the improving effect this change will have on the English game, on the League as a competition, on the quality of football played, or on the enjoyment for local fans. Indeed, the BBC Sports editor is quoted as saying: '
Some fans may feel aggrieved, but their concerns will be outweighed in the eyes of the clubs by the financial advantages'. The only reason this change is being contemplated is that the League has realised that it could be making even more money than it currently is by auctioning off the right to host two Premier League games to the highest bidder.

The example that keeps being given in the media is that of the recent playing of an NFL match at Wembley, but I don't really feel that this is a particularly good comparison. Firstly, London as a city did not have to 'bid' for the right to host the game, competing against other cities in terms of facilities and price. Secondly, the game itself was part of the normal running of the NFL season - there was no change to the way the tournament worked in order to accommodate a game played abroad, they just did it.

And this point is the one that I think is the sore point among English fans opposing the changes. Being relegated is an awful fate, and one which teams fight tooth and nail to avoid during the close season. It is hard enough to look back over the season as a fan and think about all the points dropped, but it would make it much harder if part of that retrospective included the fact that you had to fly to Australia to play Manchester United in the middle of a season, while your bottom-of-the-table rivals nipped over to France to play some fellow strugglers.

Sport can never be fair, there are always injuries, disallowed goals, dubious offsides etc., but these are unavoidable parts of any competitive sport. Much worse in my mind is the idea that the points (or even the goal difference) separating teams at the end of the season might have come down to balls being drawn out of a hat. That a deliberate decision is being made by the League to make surviving the competition slightly less down to good footballing ability and slightly more down to luck. Is there any other sporting competition in the world that violates a round-robin system with additional deliberate unbalancing?

It would be less of a problem if it were a rule like "all teams must play one 'home' game and one 'away' game abroad", with the fixtures decided at the start of the season. This would not remove the cheek of the money-grubbing desire behind the scheme, and there would still be issues with choosing the games involved - no one wants to play a six-pointer after a 12 hour flight - but the sanctity of the competition itself would be intact. The balance of the fixture list would be maintained, and relegation would be, if no less painful, at least marginally easier to swallow.

Better yet, how about we play exhibition matches and inter-league tournaments in other countries during the summer, how about we enter the teams into international club competitions and screen matches so liberally around the globe that it would sometimes be easier to see a Newcastle game on television if living in Holland than living in the UK.

Oh, wait, we're already doing all of those things. I guess we're just not getting the 'brand identity' out there enough, though. Ugh.


Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

I mostly dispise football, for many reasons, the biggest probably being the rediculous amounts of money that go into the sport. I for one don't see why someone who plays football for a living should get payed x million pounds a year, what difference would it make if they made 30 or 40 grand a year instead, like normal people (depends on the job, I really have no idea on the average wage). It seems however that FIFA or whoever the hell controls this travesty of finance, doesn't feel like they're getting enough money. obviously they haven't quite managed to buy that continent they've always wanted.

There are no doubt more lucrative sports in America, but football takes the biscuit in England, surely the players don't need that much money, if they enjoy playing football, surely they wouldn't mind doing it for a smaller wage, or are they all just money grabbing idiots like the people running the corporation?

That probably sounds all very harsh, but when you consider the incredible amounts of money being pumped into entertainment (which not everybody in England enjoys) and they the severe amount of poverty both in England and elsewhere it makes you wonder what the hell we're doing as a country to end these problems as it seems like we're just trowing money into a giant smokescreen that stops us from seeing what's really important.

I'll now dismount from my self righteous horse and let it trample on me.

This isn't a dig at you, Patrick or anyone else for that matter, for enjoying football, it's aimed squarely at the people controling the money.

TheTelf said...

Footballers are paid that much because people are willing to pay them. No one says "I think Ronaldo should be paid a hundred grand a week because he works 200 times as hard as the average person", but paying him that much ensures that he stays with the club, which earns the club 50 million a week in media rights. And the media are willing to do that because 200 million people will pay them a pound a week to watch him play on their TV.

Those numbers aren't researched, and hence probably way off, but my point is that no one controls (or can control) their wages. If someone offered me a hundred grand a week to do something I enjoy (because it would make them an even stupider amount of money), I don't imagine I'd complain that it was too much money and that they should offer me less.

I have as much problem with capitalism as the next man, but put wage caps in place, and footballers will move to foreign teams, the game will take less money from media rights, and the whole industry will suffer. No one in the business will therefore support wage caps. (Unless you can get every country to impose them, but if you can do that, I think there are bigger problems you could be solving).

I'd like to see more money going from clubs into development in their local area (esp. sports facilities), but beyond that, I'm not sure there's really much a capitalist society can do about it.

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

ahh the media, how I loath them.

I'm hardly going to be able to change the way the world works, but it is still a ridiculous amount to spend on a sport, as you say it would be good to see stuff happen in the teams local area, but they like to spend it on more players and bigger stadiums so they can get more people to pay them money to watch matches. grrr. I'll shut up.