|US Soccer Steps Up Its Game|
|Written by Wyn Grant|
|Monday, 05 November 2012 22:21|
The Premier League has confirmed its increasing value in global television markets by more than trebling its income from the United States following a $250m deal for English and Spanish language rights with NBC Universal. The Spanish language rights are particularly significant given that the growing Hispanic population is particularly keen on football for heritage reasons.
NBC Universal have won the right to televise 380 matches per season for a three year period from 2013-14. Fox pays just $23 million at present for the same deal. The loss of Premier League rights is a major setback for Fox, which has built much of its programming around coverage of English football. The decision which also hit ESPN which sub-licenses Saturday morning games from Fox.
When I was working in Seattle, I sometimes had to get up at 5 a.m. in the morning to catch two trolleybuses across the city to reach the Irish pub which showed live games from the Premier League. By the time I got there the Irish breakfast was welcome.
Mark Lazarus, the chairman of NBC Sports Group stated, 'The Premier League is the pre-eminent football league in the world and is on the cusp of exponential growth in the US.' NBC's channels have a combined reach of 95 per cent of the US viewing public each month.
Football economics guru Stefan Szymanski reckons that the $1.6bn a year the Premier League obtains from domestic rights could soon be matched by the total for overseas sales.
Szymanski, now working in the US at Michigan, reckons that the vastly increased sum paid for Premier League television rights on the other side of the pond from the UK signals that soccer is about to take off big time there. As he points out, the word 'soccer' was a word of English origin that was commonly used in the UK until the 1970s, in part to distinguish 'association' from 'rugby' football with just one word.
Writing in The Times, Szymanski points out that Major League Soccer has an average attendance of 5.5 million, ranking it 11th between Brazil and the Netherlands. The Seattle Sounders are attracting an average of 43,000 per game, which would rank sixth in the Premier League. When I lived there, Mariners baseball was the big draw and minor league soccer was played at an obscure location on the southern edge of the city.
As Szymanski admits, the two big drivers in the US have come from the Hispanic population and the extent to which the game is played in schools, leading to the phrase 'soccer mom' to denote a thirty something, median income American. However, playing did not translate into being a spectator, but he thinks that the NBC contract is a sign that the times are changing.
Of course, as he points out, the American attachment to sports which are not extensively played elsewhere such as baseball and American football is linked to notions of American exceptionalism. There are many Americans who think that too few goals are scored in football and see a link with cheating and hooliganism.
Admittedly, there is a sense in which all sports are globalising. The recent American football match at Wembley was a sell out and it wasn't just expats who were there.
We recently posed the question ‘What’s wrong with Arsenal?’ on www.footballeconomy.com and the only comments we got from Arsenal fans were supportive of our stance. Yet to the fans of many lesser clubs this would seem to be the wrong question. They would happily settle for a superb stadium, an outstanding coach, 4th place in the Premiership and the knockout stage of the Champions League. Indeed, Arsene Wenger admitted last month that Champions League qualification was more important than winning trophies.
However, the expectations of Arsenal fans are understandably higher and those expectations have been disappointed once too often. The move to the Emirates was supposed to deliver the income to enable the club to compete at the highest level.
The problem is that the goalposts have shifted with Chelsea and Manchester City operating as benefactor clubs while Manchester United have substantially increased their earnings from commercial deals. Some of this is beyond Arsenal's control, although a lot depends on how successful they are in securing new commercial deals in 2014.
Chief executive Ivan Gazidis argues 'What alternative strategy is it to try to outspend clubs whose wealth seems to be unlimited?' However, given that they are paying top whack for their tickets, fans would like to see the club spend some of its £153m cash mountain on players.
The club has been able to afford a £2.15m package for Gazidis. Fans question the basis for his £675,000 bonus when the club's commercial income lags behind that of its rivals. When chairman Peter Hill-Wood stated at the annual meeting that Gazidis had received the bonus for an 'extremely good year', he only succeeded in making fans angry.
Gazidis seems quite skilled at buck passing, skirting around questions at the annual meeting by arguing that manager Arsene Wenger makes the decisions on how to spend funds on players. Wenger tactfully said later that his job was to deliver a team with the resources he has available which is a line that could just as well come from a cash strapped non-league manager. Arsenal only lost 2-1 at Old Trafford, but most commentators agreed that the scoreline flattered them.
The Channel Islands are not far from the coast of France and were occupied by Germany during the Second World War. They are not part of the UK and have their own legislatures and governments, but they are Crown possessions.
Football rivalry between the two main islands of Guernsey and Jersey is intense. This is reflected in the interest that surrounds the annual Muratti Cup competition which has not seen the smaller island of Alderney in the final for a long time. The less populated island of Guernsey has stolen a march over its neighbor Jersey by an entering a highly successful team in the English non-league system.
The two islands are beginning to cooperate more over the joint provision of public services as the recession and a changing environment for financial services, which underpin their economies, starts to hit home. However, the Jersey Football Association has no plans at present to emulate the Guernsey model. It has been pointed out by one correspondent that Jersey is more of a rugby island.
Jersey will represent England in next year's UEFA Regions Cup after winning the FA Inter-League Cup. The matches will be staged in San Marino, giants of international football. Jersey would like more games for their team. However, they think that they can learn lessons from Guernsey where there have been tensions in the past with the teams playing in the island competition.
Our Guernsey football correspondent writes, 'I've not noticed the tensions so much this season. I guess there will always be some frustration from the local clubs that their best players get siphoned off into GFC, but the other big issue was whether GFC's success would compromise the chances of the GFA team in the Muratti. in the end the GFC-dominated Guernsey team completely outplayed Jersey in the final despite fixture congestion.'
'The GFC model only works with the significant sponsorship money that allows the club to pay the transport and accommodation costs of visiting opponents. I've no idea how secure those finances are (1200-odd spectators for every home game can't be doing any harm), and perhaps the model will be fine as long as GFC is ascending the pyramid. The club is currently away and clear at the top of the Combined Counties Premier, so a second successive promotion is looking likely. I just wonder what might happen - in terms of turnstile revenue and sponsorship, if the club finds its equilibrium as a mid table team in the Isthmian premier league or somewhere.'
On the Isles of Scilly the two local teams have been willing to pool their resources to send representative sides to the mainland, mainly to play Cornish teams. My weekly round up of the business side of football is broadcast on Radio Scilly www.radioscilly.com shortly after 10 a.m. GMT each Saturday. You can also hear which team is ahead in the two club league.