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Please Mr. Kroenke, Mr. Wenger, and Mr. Gazidis…..NO new “top-six global TV deal”!

Premier League overseas rights…..

Please Mr. Kroenke, Mr. Wenger, and Mr. Gazidis…..NO new “top-six global TV deal”!

 

It may seem odd, as a Gooner and follower of a “top six” team but I do not want us, along with the other five in this bracket, to sign a separate overseas deal. It has been suggested that Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham, as the “big six” of the Premier League, are eager to sign their own TV deal with overseas bodies. The supposed rationale is that these clubs ensure the Premier League remains global.

Why is this? It would mean we could better compete to sign top players. It means we can secure our global fanbase can see our games, possibly via live streaming. Right?

Well, yes, right, in theory.

But then it would cartelise the Premier League, and turn us into another La Liga, Scotland, Germany, or Italy. And it could be actually counter-productive in the Premier League’s global marketing campaigns.

We’ve been different

Most, nay many, of us, laugh at Scotland for its comical predictability. Well, they may have the last laugh, since we could go the same way.

It is true that the Premier League has been dominated by a few clubs. Man United, Chelsea, ourselves, and City, have won multiple titles. Leicester has won it of course, as have Blackburn Rovers some time ago. But United’s domination was built, mostly but certainly not exclusively, on Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliance as a manager. They were the biggest club during Liverpool’s heyday, so that reason alone doesn’t mean much. It was, as with all successful clubs, a combination of key factors at a critical time that led to success.

Ferguson’s Brilliance

England has, largely, escaped the structural lock-in that other countries in Europe possess. United, as did Liverpool in their triumphs, have the best players, best manager, most money, and the most ambitious/purposeful vision and senior management. Once these factors started to degrade, then their success waned, as has United’s. In a way, it’s happening to us right now and for the same reasons.

It’s my fear that a separate global deal with create such a lock-in.

If examining Spain, Italy, Germany, Scotland, France, Portugal, Greece, and the Netherlands, as examples, there are reasons why these teams have not been as cyclical as in England:

  • Hogged TV rights deals

Sounds familiar? Real Madrid and Barca often negotiate their own TV deals, thus giving them an advantage over other clubs. Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, and Bilbao are big clubs in their own rights. But they are perennial pretenders to Real and Barca, due to their lock-in in the Spanish system.

  • State support/patronage

Spain is another example here. A major facet in the enmity between Real Madrid and Barca stems from the time of Francisco Franco, the leader of Spain from after the Spanish Civil War to the 1970s. It is said that Franco actively backed Real Madrid, and due to tensions between his government and the Catalan people, Barca became a symbol of Catalan pride. State support can also mean help in getting players, earning revenues, and winning trophies. City is a prime example, with them being backed essentially by the Qatari government.

  • Demographics

In Scotland, Glasgow is the biggest city, ahead of Edinburgh, but way above the other large locales like Aberdeen, Inverness, etc. For this reason amongst others, the Old Firm have been able to dominate Scotland. With such huge fan-bases, they can thus gain large gates, which bring them revenues.

Other clubs like Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen, etc. cannot compete with that. London is the biggest city in England by some distance, but the north-west of England alone has won more leagues than London has. Our 13 leagues, Chelsea’s 6, and Spurs’ 2 is behind Man United’s 20, Man City’s 4, Liverpool’s 18, and Everton’s 9.  Moreover, Blackburn and Preston, as clubs technically in the north-west, must be added here.

England has produced strong clubs from all over the country, and not concentrated in a given region.

  • Historical head starts

The Old Firm, mixed with demographics and the sectarian nature of their rivalry, were able to gain early successes and ensure lock-in. A similar pattern is true in many countries, such as Italy (Juve/AC Milan/Inter), the Netherlands (Ajax/PSV/Feyenoord), Portugal (Benfica/Sporting/Porto), Belgium (Anderlecht), etc. Linfield of Northern Ireland holds the world record for league titles in any country, and largely based on this historical head start.

Old Firm traditional dominance

Many clubs that were successful in the infancy of English football are not so much now. Villa is still recognised as a big club, though evidently are now in the Championship. Preston has not been in the top division for numerous years, while early league winners such as Everton, Sunderland, Newcastle, etc. have gone many years without major success.

Counter-intuitive effects

So as England is the anomaly in Europe, the cartelisation that a unique TV deal would bring must be averted.

But will our Board care? I doubt it. Though I do believe we need to look beyond our own needs and for those of English football holistically.

If the Premier League becomes an oligopoly, of sorts, then how can the Premier position its brand?

Currently, it’s a mix of:

  • Excitement
  • Competitiveness (not afforded by other top leagues)
  • Unexpectedness (seldom do top Spanish or German teams suffer big upsets)
  • Very little true lock-in of top teams

It’s an open secret that the Bundesliga and La Liga envy this facet of our game. However, if City/Pep win the next three leagues, we win one, Chelsea win the next, and Liverpool finally win one, how will this ensure competitiveness, if it’s the same teams winning it?

The very traits that lend to the utility of Premier League football would be lost, which in the end would seem counter-intuitive.

Yes, I want us to do well. And as a genuine global club, a separate deal would surely benefit us. But it would kill the game, and aspects of the game, that we really hold dear. We could, feasibly, negotiate our own TV deal in Australia, Nigeria, South Africa, India, Jamaica, or the USA. And this could help us do many things, such as buy the next big analytics firm, increase our stadium’s capacity, enhance our training ground, or sign the next Alexis/Ozil.

But at what price? In my mind, the price of all these things is too high to forego.

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