Why US ownership could slowly move the goalposts in football
The Star Spangled Banner that drapes across a proportion of the English game is increasing in its stature. With 5 Premier League clubs now owned by investors from across the Atlantic, the international influence on the domestic game is more prevalent than ever before. However, with failures abound from ill-informed, ill-equipped American investors in the past, most notably the Hicks/Gillett debacle at Anfield, should we consider investment from the U.S a welcome addition or a hindrance and the beginning of the end for the current Premier League structure?
”The land of the free” may be an apt phrase to define social aspects of American culture. However, it is a paradoxical statement when defining American investors’ impact on certain Premier League clubs, who have certainly not received anything for free. The aforementioned takeover at Liverpool by Tom Hicks and George Gillett is the front runner in an ever increasing list of U.S investors that have angered fans by keeping false promises. When purchasing the club, the businessmen stated that the rich history and tradition of the Merseyside club was the epicentre of the team that they would hope to enrich. A re-watch of the Dear Mr. Hicks video that was produced by desperate Liverpool fans, pleading for the owners to walk away and sell up, indicates the extreme unpopularity of the two Americans. False promises and injecting debt into Liverpool, nearly imploded one of the most historic, settled sports clubs in the world. A similar path is being followed at Manchester United, where an ever worsening financial situation is prevalent thanks to the Glazer family and their debt-ridden situation that has been forced onto the books at Old Trafford. The differentiation between Hicks/ Gillett and the Glazer Family is that the former pair were forced out of the football club. However despite unrelenting protests from the majority of United supporters, the Glazer’s continue to stand firm and run a club, that means everything to so many, as a business that benefits the selfish minority.
The lack of understanding from American owners of what the history and traditions of a football club represent, stem from the profit-paramount conditions in which sports franchises are run across the pond. Commercial value is essential for US sports, especially in American Football where a season game is now played in London, in order to generate revenue from Europe. Concerns from Premier League managers of a ”39th game” played abroad, for financial gain, was a serious consideration recently. The idea was scrapped but it may only be a matter of time before certain aspects of the English game change. Earlier this season, the Guardian produced an article that concerned the new wave of American owners and how they may attempt to transform their respective clubs into US-inspired franchises in order to safeguard their investment. As in American sports, this would mean no promotion or relegation. With a quarter of Premier League clubs now owned by U.S investors, these ideas may come into fruition sooner than expected. These plans will surely be received with negativity from any genuine fan of the beautiful game. The pain of relegation and the ecstasy of promotion are absolute essentials in the excitement of football. To transform the Premier League into a franchise competition would be an unmitigated disaster. For business moguls like Tom Hicks and the Glazers to implement their own ideas onto a sport that they are not passionate about is metaphorical suicide and will evidently cut your relationship with fans into irreparable fragments.
On the other side of the coin, be it dime, nickel or quarter, are investors like Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, whose approach to the game differs from that of the more vocal and money hungry owner. Lerner remains silent in his movements behind the scenes at Villa Park. The track record of his compatriots suggests that silence may be golden when attempting to connect with fans and indicate your plans for future investment etc. However, Villa fans were angered when their club was in turmoil last year. With an unpopular manager remaining steadfast in his position, it seemed as if Lerner did not care anymore and his silence felt like an excuse to avoid questions should the club have faced the tragedy of relegation. His appointment of Paul Lambert has certainly gained him some merit but his disappearance from home games in which he used to frequent on a regular basis, is cause for concern.
Fenway Sports Group lead by John W Henry have thus far made astute decisions at Liverpool. Although, not having any expectations to live up to thanks to their vastly unpopular predecessors. Removing Kenny Dalglish from his position at the club was a brave decision considering the popularity of the man within Liverpool’s history. For an American investor to come into a situation that had gone so awry and make as bold a decision as they did could easily have backfired, but Henry and co. listened to the fans who were willing to overlook club history in search of a new leader. With the fragility of owner/fan relationships in the current climate, FSG must keep adhering to fan consensus and make decisions that are in the best interests of the club and not personal financial gain.
The scenery of footballs future is constantly changing. It is required to progress, in order to maintain its validity as the worlds most prominent sport. However, with owners arriving in the Premier League from a country that is the beautiful games ”brick wall” in terms of popularity, the culture of football in this country may change and an American Revolution could transform the game that England created and provided to the World.
Fans, What do you think of the American Owners at your club? Help or Hindrance? Have Ur SAy and tweet me @mattpegg1