Our European guru educates and enlightens
Richard Scudamore doesn’t look like Baldrick. But his vision of a new globalised Premiership has all the cunning, merit and intellectual rigour of the most uncunning plan ever devised by Black Adder’s half-witted aide.
Unlike Baldrick, whose sole ambition was the acquisition of turnips, Scudamore is an innovator. And his pioneering plan is innovative, albeit in the way that Baldrick’s solution for low ceilings – chopping his mother’s head off – was innovative.
I apologise for returning to a familiar theme, which Martin Samuel has so eloquently rubbished and FourFourTwo dissed here, but some ideas are so grandiosely grotesque it takes a while for every nuance of their utter crapness to fully sink in.
In broad outline, Scudamore’s plan suggests that the Premier League should play one extra round of games in five overseas cities, redesign its league tables (a team’s results will be categorised as home, away and neutral), give up – in perpetuity – the right to complain if FIFA clogs up the fixture calendar with friendlies or pointless mini-tournaments, ensure that only truly rich fans can watch their team’s every match and destroy the intrinsic fairness of a system in which every team, big or small, plays every other side the same number of times.
He has since hinted that other Premiership rounds might be played overseas, suggesting he is inspired by memories of the Harlem Globetrotters. As uncunning plans go, it has a certain Baldrickian grandeur.
Scudamore will do all this for an estimated reward of £100m a year – though it’s not clear if this is pure profit after roughly £50m has been spent on costs or gross revenue.
If I were Rupert Murdoch, Setanta and the BBC, I’d be calling Scudamore to demand a refund on the not unreasonable grounds that if 20 club chairmen value their competition so cheaply they are happy to undermine its very foundations for £5m apiece, why should they pay £340m a season to televise it?
Military historians would call this scheme a classic example of ‘victory disease’, a syndrome in which a power becomes so besotted with success its leaders think they can do anything, ignore strategic realities (by taking on too many opponents or invading too much territory) and sow the seeds of their destruction.
In World War II, victory disease helped do for the ***. Distracted and dizzied by its financial success, besotted by the lure of easy money, Premiership chairmen are behaving like international mercenaries, seeking loot wherever they can find it, untroubled by ethical constraints.
Scudamore has defended the indefensible saying “if we don’t do it others will”. If the goal is to protect football’s turf in the global sports market against the NBA or the NFL, why not work with UEFA or FIFA, especially as FIFA statutes state that any competitive fixture played on foreign soil needs their approval?
Probably because, however you dress it up, this boils down to naked greed. And greed which will, initially, eat into marketing budgets that could be spent, not on the NBA or NFL, but on local football teams. Which is why the Japanese FA has indicated it wouldn’t welcome such fixtures.
And how will this greed be rewarded? In 2011, there’ll be a flurry of interest with games in places like Hong Kong, Dubai and, possibly, New York (although, last summer, two top Premiership club bosses were overheard at Heathrow discussing what a waste of time American pre-season tours were).
In 2012, there’ll be a shorter queue of cities as bidders vie for the right to stage Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal and agree, under duress, to host Watford v Bolton too.
By 2013, the law of diminishing returns will kick in and, as the grinding grimness of some Premiership encounters sinks in, many fixtures may have as much TV ratings appeal and revenue-generating clout as the Watneys Cup.
Scudamore says he is motivated by fear of a big club breakaway. The big four or five clubs already make fortunes from friendlies. Far from helping the league to insure against what he calls “more radical nonsense” this proposal – especially his refusal to limit how many rounds might be played overseas – legitimises the American franchise system where teams are based wherever they may raise most revenue and may pit the Premiership against FIFA in the kind of ruinous legal battle football has just been avoided with the deal to kill G14.
This proposal won’t embellish the Premiership brand, it will destroy it. Unless other leagues are daft enough to follow suit – Milan v Juventus or Real v Barca at Wembley anyone? – the Premiership will become a freak competition decided on an unlevel playing field, a statistical anomaly (in which fans could boast “We did the treble over Wigan last season”) and a Mickey Mouse league, though even the most moronic mousketeer would not imagineer such a scheme without sensing its fatal contradictions. Those executives who talk longingly of the Premiership’s “Hollywoodisation” might want to mull on that.
You don’t need to be as cunning a fox who has been appointed professor of cunning at Oxford University to see that Scudamore has got this wrong.
Rival leagues are amused, FIFA are furious, most players and coaches (not important enough, apparently, to be consulted in advance) are bemused or livid, fans are outraged and UEFA boss Michel Platini finds the whole thing strange and comic.
Strip the verbiage away, and what you have here is a cash raising scheme by one of the richest leagues in the world which, in essence, is about as sophisticated as a bank robbery.
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