It’s very rare for fans of all colours to unite behind one cause but there was almost universal agreement that the Premier League’s proposal for a 39th Game was a bad idea. After revisiting the proposal over a number of years it appears the league chief, Richard Scudamore, has given up on the prospect. But his plan may have a saviour from an unlikely source.
Currently the main resistance is fan based and driven by their concerns. The larger clubs, such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea, have remained largely silent because it does them no favours to go against the wishes of their supporters for something that may never happen. Behind closed doors they will welcome game 39.
The clubs see the financial benefits of the project. They only need to look at the NFL to see how competitive fixtures played abroad open up new markets with potential for expansion. American Football in-season games have been played in England since 2007. It’s been so successful, the coming years will feature multiple grounds around the UK being used alongside Wembley, with a belief a franchise will relocate to London at some point.
There’s no chance a Premier League club would ever relocate abroad but the figures generated by the NFL have shown smaller Premier League clubs that a 39th game would provide the sort of exposure they can only currently dream of. As it stands, only a handful of English sides have exploited foreign markets and can travel pre-season to far-flung locations and sell-out stadiums with higher capacities than those found at home.
While the franchise model will never take place directly in the Premier League it already has a subtle influence. Manchester City’s owners are building a portfolio of interconnected clubs. In Melbourne they have a club baring the name City. Their most famous sister acquisition is in the MLS.
New York City FC played their first competitive match at City’s new Academy stadium, the club gave birth to their baby before setting it free on the world. Over time the connection will bear commercial fruit. It will also act as bridge between England’s top flight and America.
As precious as fans here feel about football, the chairmen and owners see it as a product they own. Tradition rarely gets in the way of cash flow. They can get football playing the NFL model through the backdoor. The MLS could conceivably play a competitive fixture in England. It’d be a big money spinner, especially if they started the MLS Cup on foreign soil.
New York City already have a base in Manchester they could operate from. By having an English team own a MLS franchise a link has been made that even the NFL have still yet to secure. Despite MLS boss Don Garber stating a 39th game would cross the line, it doesn’t mean they won’t do it. Remember, Scudamore’s opinion on the subject changes like the weather.
The proposition of showcasing the MLS will prove too tempting for Garber. And once New York City FC play a season fixture here, the chances of America returning the favour and hosting their English cousins’ increases.
The tipping point once New York, MLS and the Premier League get the ball rolling will be positive media coverage. That’s where Sky Sports will play a vital role. They didn’t just pay over £4bn to risk a product going stale. If the money was right Sky would hype the opening of a can of beans to the level of the Superbowl, they’d have no problem selling a 39th game that was to be played in America.
They may even get a test run as Celtic and Dundee have confirmed they are looking into the possibility of playing a game in the States. Proving the MLS is open to hosting foreign leagues and that there’s high interest in regular season matches taking place across the Atlantic. Having the Scottish teams do it first actually helps the Premier League’s case. It adds a touch of normality to an alien concept.
Fan resistance may have delayed game 39 but those sitting in boardrooms have a vision for money making journeys that don’t involve the natives.