It was always likely, when the Premier League abandoned plans to play a "39th Game" overseas, that an entrepreneur somewhere would take up the opportunity to profit from the game's global appeal. With the league's TV income from foreign broadcasters now rivalling that from domestic sources, Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox is reported to have decided the time is ripe.
Fox, which has lost rights to show the Premier League in the United States to NBC, is said to be planning a summer competition featuring leading clubs from Europe and, possibly, beyond. Murdoch has long used sport as a battering-ram to drive subscription rates and viewing figures, notably in England, where Sky has risen to prominence off the back of the Premier League. He has revolutionised club rugby league, attempted to take over Formula One, and is well aware of the changes wrought by Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket four decades ago.
However, creating a new football tournament has significant problems, chiefly in making it competitively significant. Clubs such as Manchester City and United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus already tour extensively during the off-season. Asia, the US and Africa are being widely visited by Premier League clubs this summer.
These matches are friendlies though, used to promote the brand and, in pre-season, to build fitness and develop a playing style. Many involve strong-looking teams as clubs are usually contractually obliged to field a decent quota of star players, but putting big names on the park does not guarantee they will play at full intensity, nor for 90 minutes. Supporters attend to see their television heroes in the flesh, but TV income is limited.
With the leading Premier League and Spanish clubs able to earn up to £125m from domestic and European commitments, the sums on offer would have to be huge to risk draining their leading players ahead of the main season.
Broadcasters would only be prepared to pay enough to finance that if they were sure they could attract enough subscribers to cover the cost. And most of those would need convincing the competition was genuinely competitive.
One way around this would be for clubs to have even larger squads, but this brings other problems such as keeping so many star players happy – especially with the Champions League, like the Premier League, having a 25-man squad limit. Such clubs will not sign up for a competition that needs a 35-man squad if there is any chance of being dumped out of it, but without relegation there will be a lot of dead matches as any tournament wears on.
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