The proposition for a 39th Premier League game, to be played abroad, was deemed impractical and unlikely in 2008, and any chance of it resurfacing was buried in 2010. Though public opinion was strong against the initial idea, we now find ourselves faced with the possibility of one of the 38 regular season games to be played overseas in a moneymaking scheme that just won’t seem to go away.
As a football fan, there isn’t really any way to look at this impartially. So, from the viewpoint of someone who dearly loves her club and wants the best for its players, as well as values the integrity of the league, this is, in short, a terrible idea. But for overseas supporter, is there a shift in perspective?
Globalisation in many cases is an excellent thing, and as a supporter living overseas, it is what allows me to be part of the mass consumption of the Premier League week in, week out. But where do you draw the line? Of course, if the Blues were to come to the US to play a match here, it would be brilliant, as it presents an easy opportunity for me to see Chelsea play, while spending far less money doing so.
But isn’t this precisely what preseason tours and tournaments are for? Obviously a 38th game scenario would hold added commercial and financial value, so from a business perspective-and thereby, the club’s- it’s excellent. Furthermore, realistically, many supporters outside the UK can’t make it to England during the season to see their teams play, and for those who do, you don’t need to tell us that there is a notable difference between a competitive fixture and a friendly.
Of course, one cannot help but draw a comparison with the recent NFL International Series annual trip to Wembley, in their attempt to market American football and increase its appeal outside of the US. In fact, the structure of the 38th game plan holds many similarities to various possibilities the NFL has investigated in its expansion strategy.
But how many of American marketing ideas should we actually want to copy? It is a country of extreme commercialisation, more prevalent in sport than anything else. There’s baseball, the National Pastime, which loses its magic if you’re above the age of 8 and not particularly statistically-minded or obsessive about numbers; has breaks between innings, with the highlight the stretch after the seventh; but otherwise completely lacks atmosphere, barring the random moments when fans are prompted, by a refrain of music, to yell CHARGE, clap, or, worst of all, partake in a Mexican wave. Basketball, though fast paced, allows for timeouts, breaks after each quarter, and cheerleaders. And let’s not forget the pinnacle sporting event of the year, the most overhyped game to take place in the history of sport, and utterly consumed by sponsorship, adverts, and a halftime show: the Super Bowl.
Don’t get me wrong. When I can be torn away from all things football, I enjoy watching other sports, and will even attend these games from time to time. But the culture gap is so large, the difference so palpable, that I often have difficulty understanding what to do at these games, how to enjoy these sports, how to tolerate the silence, all while escaping the bombardment by products, soft drinks and merchandise.
I digress slightly, and Americans reading this should not think I am a Euro-snob. But, to be fair, how much more can the game be commercialised while still maintaining its authenticity and ethos? Anyone who has been to the Etihad knows what the infusion of that looks like in England, and it is less than desirable, garish almost, trying too hard.
What could a mid-season trip abroad do to the squad? Think back to Chelsea’s Club World Cup trip to Japan in December 2012; factor in all the travel considerations for players and supporters alike. It would have been an honour to win that trophy, but all in all it was a meaningless disruption to our regular league schedule (not unlike the international breaks). Only in this case, we’d have to care about the results, as it would be a league match. Think about how playing midweek in the Champions League-or Europa League-can significantly impact a club’s League campaign, particularly in a squad that lacks depth.
The chief executive of the Bundesliga, Christian Seifert, seems to understand this as well. Although he agrees that, from a financial standpoint, it might be a good idea to play all over the world, he stresses that the supporters who regularly attend the games would have to travel, and should it be an important game and the majority of supporters cannot make it due to it being somewhere in Asia, it would have a major impact on the team.
So you can add on faithful supporters who will miss out on a match they would otherwise have attended, and a somewhat diluted fanbase. In short, a 38th game holds a clear financial gain for clubs, especially those chasing foreign markets to offset Financial Fair Play, but for the matchgoing supporters, it is merely another way in which they are being shafted.
Without going too much into the cultural differences between sports fans in America and football supporters in England, although the nature of the support is quite different and does not necessarily involve loyal supporters who attend matches, home or away, every week, they still share the belief that the fans are the lifeblood of the club, and the more in the stadium each week-and the happier they are-the better for the game and the team they love.