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Last Thursday the 20 Premier League clubs decided to look into the possibility of creating an extra round of matches that would be played outside of England. In this plan the extra round would be played in various cities across the globe. Cities wanting to host the matches would bid for the right. Overall that is another 10 games to be played that would be played in 5 different cities.
Why would the Premier League consider such a radical adjustment to their domestic schedule? Certainly the Premier League had to take notice when the NFL and NHL staged regular season games in England recently which drew huge crowds. The Premier League also knows they have some of the highest earning revenue clubs in the world. The recently released list from Deloitte, a business consultancy which compiles a list of the world's highest revenue earning football clubs, lists 6 English clubs in amongst the top 20 of highest earning clubs in the world. Clearly it seems that the Premier League sees an opportunity to increase revenue even more.
When I first heard of this I had to step back and think about it because quite honestly I do not know if I am for it or against it. On the surface the plus is that supporters of particular teams may at last get to see their heros actually play a competitive fixture live without having to spend the money to travel to England. The first negative I thought of is how to pick which teams play. Right now the Premier League season is arranged that each team plays all the others home and away for a nice neat 38 game schedule. Adding a 39th fixture introduces all sorts of problems. One article I read suggested that the league hold a draw to determine the match ups for this 39th fixture. To me it seems that this will do nothing but fuel controversy. For example say Fulham, who are fighting relegation this season, get drawn to play a third time against Manchester United for this 39th match. It seems reasonable to assume that United will be an overwhelming crowd favorite whereever this match is held. Fulham would face an uphill battle and perhaps their relegation also depends on what happens to Wigan Athletic. Maybe Wigan get drawn against a more beatable foe such as Newcastle United. Is it fair to Fulham? Doesn't seem so to me.
In the short term there has been opposition to this proposal. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the body which governs the sport in Asia is against the plan. AFC President Mohamed bin Hamman told the BBC "We'll vote strongly against it. The Premier League is putting money before responsibility and dignity." Other reactions have been lukewarm at best. US Soccer President Sunil Gulati has not outright opposed the idea but has said that the matter should be handled by FIFA and that US Soccer would abide and follow whatever is set forth by the World's governing body. I have not found any official reaction from FIFA but rumors are present that President Sepp Blatter is not to keen to see this happen.
Another aspect of this move that bothers me is how this will affect the domestic leagues in the countries that host the games. The J-League is Japan's domestic top flight and is a relatively young league only starting operations in 1993. The J-League has worked hard to become one of the best leagues in Asia and has certainly raised the level of quality in the Japanese National Team. So I was not surprised by the reaction of Junji Ogura the Vice-President of the Japanese Football Association. Mr. Ogura said "It sounds problematic. We are, in principle, opposed to having Premier League games in Japan as we have to protect our league and clubs. In Japan, we don't allow anyone to play a match that involves only foreign clubs and no Japanese clubs." Protecting the domestic game is a concern. The J-League as well as Major League Soccer have worked to build leagues that foster and develop domestic talent part of that is also trying to build the domestic fanbase bringing in Premier League games may draw fans away from their domestic leagues. Of course the flamboyant General Manager of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Alexi Lalas had his own unique perspective, "They can come over and play these games and people can come and check it out, but I think they are going to leave the stadium more often than not thinking: 'You know what? I can get much better value and more excitement by going to see my Galaxy play.' We do not have a monopoly on crap soccer - it's played all over the world."
So I am still not settled on how to view this proposed 39th fixture. From what I have read it doesn't seem that I have to rush to a conclusion as a decision is unlikely prior to January 2011. Until then C'MON THE ARSENAL! (you knew I had to get that last bit in)