A brief look at the Premier League pre season guide resembles something more akin to a travel brochure than anything else. Where as the task of burning off a summers worth of Carlsberg used to consist of a week in La Manga and a token run out against a local team, clubs have now gone global in their pre season efforts.
Of course, we are now living in the big-business, bigger-bucks era of the Premier League, and establishing a brand identity is seemingly just as important as how many shuttle runs the first team are doing. And what better way of reaching out to the fans across the world and increasing the popularity of the club, than physically going out there and giving them an exhibition.
But as some managers admit, the advantages of taking your team over to far flung parts of the world, would seem to be far more beneficial to the marketing men than the player staff. As teams and fans ridicule the idea of the Premier League’s outrageous ‘39th’ game idea, are we really that far off after all?
The Premier League is, and at the risk of sounding like their PR machine, a global brand. Naturally, supporters are intrinsically defensive of what is one of this country’s biggest exports and we don’t always like to share. But whether we like it or not, some of our clubs are just as fervently supported overseas as they are here. The revenue raised from merchandise, replica shirts or pencil cases abroad, helps clubs pay the big wages to attain the big players.
Similarly, the task of winning big corporate sponsorship to adorn the front of the shirt can’t be taken for granted either. As much as we’d like to see Peter’s Pies put forward a multi-mullion pound package to sponsor a Premier League team, the realities are that foreign investment has been key to boosting the coffers of our clubs. Consequently, they want maximum exposure for their money and unsurprisingly, they’re not just content with you turning up on matchday; as harsh as that sounds.
And the real Holy Grail for the men in suits, is tapping into the gold mine of previously unearthed support. To whip out another middle-management pearler, it is the ‘developing market’ that really appeals to clubs. Two such clubs who are seizing the initiative this summer, are Arsenal and Everton who are travelling to Nigeria and Jakarta respectively.
Arsenal, however, seem to be taking the far-flung pre season tour to new levels this year. The Gunners visit Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Hong Kong, Abuja and Cologne for their pre-season. Good for the bank-balance, no doubt. But one such critic of such foreign excursions is Arsene Wenger. Speaking back in 2008, the Frenchman said:
“I don’t like the pre-season tours. But I must say we have a lot of proposals. I hope I can resist as long as I want because it is a lot of money that is offered. But I have the final say.”
Times have of course, unfortunately changed. Four years on and Wenger is facing up to a trip to Africa this summer- a far cry from his pre season policy that never used to stray from the European continent. The Premier League is as massive in Africa as it is anywhere else on the planet; Wenger has testified to being ‘frightened’ at how popular Arsenal is in Africa. And it is refreshing to see a football club look to play a pre season friendly in a country such as Nigeria as opposed to the riches of the US – even if the aim of financial gain is still the same.
But the crux of it is, that Wenger believes it is a hindrance to the first team. However much of a financial gain it may ultimately bring, the man who is more informed than anyone to offer an opinion on this, does not think it wise.
“We have had to compromise on the sporting side, because we had a rational, methodical approach to our pre-season,” said Wenger back in May
“We have sacrificed some of that to go on tour.”
Pre season is a vitally important part of the campaign. Get it wrong and head into the season unprepared and the wheels can come off a season fast. Wenger’s team don’t need another nightmare start after last season. Many clubs have faced and will face similar arduous pre season journeys this season. But every advantage helps. If Wenger believes the team are gaining an advantage by staying in Europe, it seems disheartening that the marketing men’s view has more credence with the board.
This isn’t to say that their pre-season tour, or any other Premier League side’s for that matter, won’t be a real success. Fans from overseas are set to get a superb chance to watch a team they may never have thought they’d ever to get to watch. And for the extra millions that some of the acquired fans will bring to the club, that’s all very well.
But for the real fans, whatever corner of the globe they may reside, surely they’d rather see their team getting every advantage possible. If that involves staying in Europe, then so be it.
How do you feel about the current crop of pre-season tours? Help, hindrance or indifferent? Tell me how you feel on Twitter, follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your views.