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Reaction: The 39th Step



The idea of playing Premier League matches overseas has been mooted before. The English League enjoys an international reach greater than ever. From a purely business point of view, why wouldn't you try to expand your product beyond its borders to make extra money?

Nevertheless, the announcement by the League (which is nowhere to be found on their official website incidentally) came out of the blue and seems to have caught the media by surprise.

You pay your money...

The Independent and the Guardian have been critical while the latter's Brian Oliver as tried to take a pragmatic view. The Telegraph's Henry Winter is definitely against the idea. The Times 'Martin Samuel touched on it briefly before going into some bizarre rant about Steve Sidwell. Meanwhile the Express have outdone the Daily Mail by linking the proposed international round to the threat of terrorism. The Sun pretty much stood on the fence when the story broke preferring to look everyone else's opinion, however by Saturday Chief Sport writer Steven Howard came firmly on the 'against' side. The Mirror are reporting from the fans perspective and appear to be against the idea.

...you take your choice

Sky seem uncertain how to react. The principal broadcasting partner of the League is also its biggest cheer-leader, helping to propagate the "best league in the World" tag that we are so used to hearing. Criticizing the League is not in their nature. However, the broadcaster must be aware that their largest market by some margin is in England. If there is a backlash against the League here, Sky stand to lose out big time.

The BBC, without the commercial imperative, seem less ambiguous. The notion was mocked on Match Of The Day 2 last night with example of the truly mind numbing snore-fest between Liverpool and Chelsea being used to illustrate just what the games many fans overseas can expect when the Premier League Road Show comes to town.

Highlight reel

So pretty much a mixed bag then with no apparent consensus so far. The only caveat to that is that Henry Winter was on Radio Five Live this evening stating that pretty much all major football correspondents are opposed to it. Perhaps we'll see a hardening of opinion if fan groups mobilise against the new fixtures or if they look likely to happen at all.

For what its worth, I think its a potential disaster for the Premier League and English football. The reality of football is that it is mostly dull. Consider an average edition of Match Of The Day. From the half a dozen matches there is approximately 540 minutes to squeeze into and hour and a half highlights programme. You would think that there would be stacks of action left out of the final cut and yet still many games featured are rubbish and we are not just talking about the perennial Reading v Bolton as anyone who sat through Chelsea v Liverpool will testify.

Queering the pitch

There is no denying that the the EPL is very popular in certain foreign markets. I'm sure the TV companies do a good job in bigging up the quality with well edited highlights and hyberbolic commentators. However, if a stadium full of Aussies or Americans or Chinese turn up expecting what they usually see condensed into five minutes on TV lasting for a full ninety, they will be sorely disappointed and are most likely to send English football back with a flea in its ear. The League's reputation could decline as a consequence, as could its value. Those club debts accumulated from leverage takeovers won't pay for themselves.

Meanwhile, the lucky host nation's football associations, whose own leagues are having thier style well and truly cramped, sit there pondering how to cast their vote on where the World Cup in 2018 should be held. Something tells me it won't be England.

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