Premier League coming to the US?

On Friday the BBC ran a story about the possibility of Premier League games being played in the US – mostly thanks to a soundbite from West Ham (non-executive) chairman Eggert Magnusson and another quote from Arsenal shareholder Stan Kroenke.

I’d like to hear your views on the subject – whether such an event (even a one-off) would be good or bad for the clubs involved and the promotion of football in the US. I was talking about this with the Red Ranter yesterday and we decided to do a debate, arguing for and against the idea (with me basically playing devil’s advocate), and then putting it up to you, the readers, for comments.

So please read both the for and against arguments below and then let us know why you think it’s a good / crap idea.

Playing Premier League matches in the US is stupid and hurts the game

Red Ranter argues against the idea of playing Premier League matches in the US.

This Sunday, a landmark event happens for football fans. I am, of course, talking about American football (NFL) here. This Sunday, fans will queue up outside Wembley to watch the Miami Dolphins take on New York Giants — in a proper NFL game. Disappointments have been expressed by respective fans in the US about such a thing happening. As this article on Timesonline quotes,

However, reactions in Miami have been less favourable, and not only from Dolphins fans, who will lose one of only eight guaranteed home games next season; South Florida’s large community of exiled New Yorkers had been looking forward to a rare visit from the Giants. Although the Dolphins and the New York Jets are divisional rivals and play each other home and away every season, the Dolphins and the Giants play in different conferences and have met in Florida in regular-season games only twice, in 1993 and 1996.

“I’m sure this is great for London, but it absolutely sucks for us Giants fans in Miami,” a contributor to a Giants fan website wrote. “I live two miles from Dolphin Stadium and I’ve been looking forward to going to this game and I’m telling you this would’ve been like a home game for the Giants. I agree with the concept of expanding the NFL, but this was the wrong game. New York-Miami rivalry is the best there is.”


Honestly, though, living in the US has taught me certain things about sport here that differ from that in England (or anywhere in Europe for that matter). For one, the fan following in the US may not evoke the kind of emotions football (soccer — from here on I will call it soccer to distinguish it from NFL) brings out from fans. We all know how fiercely fought contests the Merseyside derby or the North London derby games are fought. Not just among players, but also rival fans. In Italy, fan violence, although bad in general, is an integral part of the whole atmosphere that builds up into contests.

To be fair to the Americans, they have their share of rivalries. In baseball, you have the Red Sox and the Yankees — extremely fierce rivals. And you have similar stuff in the other American sports. But most clubs in the US are franchises; shops that are set up by single owners who sell entertainment to the paying public. And just like other businesses, they do shut up shop and shift to a different part of the country. A recent instance was when Houston Oilers jumped over to Tennessee and rechristened themselves as Tennessee Titans. Nice feeling if you are a fan living in Houston, watching the Oilers every season, no? How would it feel for a Gooner, for instance, to see his club shut up shop and move to umm, I don’t know, off the top of my head… Manchester, and change its name to FC Manchester or something like that?

But that’s not what we are talking about are we? We are talking about stealing a prospective home/away fixture for a team whose fans visit the club for years, soak in the atmosphere of the stadium, where the players hear their fans yell out inspiring chants, egging their team on. While it is one thing increasing ticket prices and pricing out the regulars from the stadium. But it takes snatching the game away from the fans to a whole different level if you deprive them of a game that they look forward to with great interest. Let’s face it, the Premier League wouldn’t move Arsenal vs Derby to the US, if they wanted to. They would rather move Arsenal vs Manchester United or something like that — thus leaving expectant fans out in the lurch.

The Premier League is what it is not just because of Sky or lucrative sponsorship deals. It is what it is because of the fan base of the clubs that have grown organically over long periods of history. It is the reason why, despite the huge number of clubs that dot the country, a surprisingly small number of them have only gone bust. You will still see fans in the terraces of smaller clubs, be it Grimsby Town or Coventry City. Soccer fans in Europe are unconditionally loyal to their clubs through thick and thin, and it would be an enormous disservice if their heart and soul is ripped out of them and planted in a different country. Be it the US, or even Ireland.

The real passion shown by fans in American sports is sadly not in Professional, but in College football (which is very commercial otherwise. It is beamed on national networks and sports channels like ESPN). Generations of alumni travel miles to bring their grandsons to games of their alma mater. Ask such college football fans if they could accept moving their teams to some other distant state (leave alone country) to play college football and they would give you a stare like you’ve never seen before.

And that’s also why foreign ownership — with the likes of Eggert Magnussen, along with the new crop of American owners — worries me.

The Premier League is good as it is. It is the biggest soccer league in the world in terms of viewership and money. And as one Premiership spokesman, thankfully, said:

“I just don’t see it happening, with the way the league is structured – on a one-home, one-away basis – you would damage the integrity of the competition by fiddling with the dynamic of the League.”

Premier League clubs should play in the US

Surely any idea that aims to promote the Premier League and bring in more fans and revenue merits at least some consideration?

The willingness of US sports authorities to make the trip over the pond and have NFL teams play a competitive fixture stands in stark contrast to the conservative refusal of the Premier League to tamper with the current system. On the surface (and indeed, when you consider how it affects the fans) it’s a strong argument – why should you take two teams, leave their 70k fans behind (assuming that we’re shifting the Pool vs Man Utd from OT over to the US), put the players under unnecessary stress, all in the name of the not-so-mighty dollar?

We must move away from what Eggert Magnusson has said and look at it in a more realistic way.

You can’t play a league game in a different country. It’s retarded to the point of painting E Magnusson and Stan K as complete asshats. However, think of it in on a broader perspective – how could you bring the Premier League to the US without forcing the teams to play league games there and upset the fans (who are an integral part of the sport, no matter what you say)?

The first thing that comes to mind is to have several times make the trip over the pond to take part in a tournament, a mini-league of sorts, as part of their pre-season. Imagine Liverpool, Manchester United, West Ham and Everton spending 2 weeks in the US playing a tournament as part of their pre-season. In terms of increasing exposure in the US, this is perhaps the best thing second to improved TV coverage (which is nowhere near as good as US-based Premier League fans want it to be).

Preposterous? It requires some organisation and a willingness to cooperate, but in the long run this makes sense in terms of finances and – to be fair to other pre-season opposition – getting players in shape. Having your players go up against Premier League opposition in the pre-season may increase familiarity but there’s no substitute to Premier League opposition if you want your players to be ready for…wait for it…the Premier League.

The money from such a tournament, plus the exposure for the clubs and the Premier League in general, makes this a natural next step (as long as they can sort out the logistics). An Arsenal vs Manchester United game would generate more interest than a Liverpool vs Milan game.

League rivalries can be transfered across the pond, even if league matches cannot.

We shouldn’t reject the idea out of hand just because the actual suggestion is unreasonable. The general proposition – to increase Premier League exposure in the US – is still a valuable idea and something the Premier League management need to work on. Who knows, they might even sell the rights for showing those matches online to YouTube (wishful thinking).

And while we’re at it, such a tournament would be a great idea to try out the cheerleaders in football concept.

Now that you’ve heard both views, it’s time to share yours. Do you think the Premier League should play league matches in the US? Do you think it’s feasible to export Premier League rivalries to the US (considering what a good job US marketers do to build hype)?

Let us know in the comments.

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