Scudamore promotes football's game of supermarket sweep

Premiership chief doubts if saturation point will be reached for his product
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The Independent Online

As his name suggests, Richard Scudamore likes to be on a winner. Which is why it was no surprise when he swapped horses to take over as chief executive of the Premiership after a relatively brief spell in a similar capacity with the Football League.

These past couple of weeks the 41-year-old former media and marketing chief, who is distantly related to the famous Gloucestershire racing bloodline, has been hobbling around on crutches – not the result of a riding fall but torn leg muscles incurred going for a second run while batting for his village cricket team.

But there was a time a few months ago when it looked as if he had taken a tumble at his own Becher's Brook. He faced mounting criticism when he recommended that Carling's sponsorship of the Premiership should not be renewed and when they finally ran out of patience he was left to find a replacement. He admits his new job was on the line. Eventually he delivered as Barclaycard became the new sponsors in a deal worth 33 per cent more than the £39m Carling had offered. "After 20 years in the commercial world I understood that if you don't get a result, your job's in danger," he said.

Now, as he surveys the new season, the Premiership's 10th ("a fantastic success story that rolls on"), he is looking for more results that will sustain the League's position as the most popular, though he studiously refrains from saying best, in the world.

It will, he forecasts, be an exciting time as the Premiership moves into lucrative new deals with sponsors and a new look on screen with ITV's prime-time Saturday evening packaging, plus pay-per-view and the bewildering array of digital channels that will put greater pressure on what many consider an already over-exposed product. So last week we asked Scudamore for his observations on some pertinent issues.

Boom or bust?

"There is absolutely no way we can go on sustaining the growth we have had. You'd end up with TV rights that are worth more than the gross national product. But we've got 142 countries following some of the world's best players in what is undoubtedly the world's most popular league. I can't sit here and tell you what we are going to do for the next 10 years to keep it that way, but there is no doubt that we have become very important to a lot of people's lives.

"Like the TV soaps, it is hard to see what is going to take over. I liken football to the grocery business. We've always needed food but nobody ever thinks that grocery stores or supermarkets won't be there in five years' time. The game has become part of people's lives in the way that shopping has. It will just take on a new slant. People now go to a supermarket and expect a lot of choice, for the supermarkets to be cleaner and nicer. So it is with our stadiums.

"We have to make certain the product is acceptable and affordable. I keep preaching this to our chairmen. It's not about what Ken Bates is charging for his top-price executive boxes. It's what the cheapest seat is. We have to keep the stadiums full."

TV overkill?

"I don't believe that's the case. Saturation won't happen until all 16,056 Football League games, the 380 in the Premiership and all Champions' League and other matches, are available live on television.

"We are now at a point where nobody is going to be able to sit at home and watch every game that is on the box. What we have is not saturation, but more choice. It's back to the supermarket thing."

The transfer system?

"Well, it didn't seem to collapse during the summer. The new rules come in next month and the way they have been drawn up is a disincentive for players to break contracts. I don't think we will have the Armageddon we were perhaps worried about this time last year. There is still a lot of detail to be worked through, but why the European Comm-ission took us to the brink to come up with a system that is so ridiculously complicated when we would have been better off sticking to the one we had in the first place is for them to answer."

Hooliganism?

"I think it is wrong to say there has been a resurgence, although we at the Premier League have never thought it had gone away. Anyone who goes to enough matches will know it is either a small problem or a potentially large problem. But I think we are much better at managing it than we were 10 years ago. We are not complacent. The threat is always there."

Wembley?

"My personal view is that a national stadium is hard to justify given the number of good stadiums we have already, but if we are going to have one why throw away the world-renowned brand name that is Wembley?

Logistically and geographically, I suppose you could argue that it should be somewhere up the M6 near Coventry or Birmingham but that is hard to justify economically. I am not a Londoner but I think that if you are going to have national stadium it should be in the capital. And I have to say that had they gone to the market with the original plan that was unveiled two years ago this week they would probably have got the money straight away.

"But a whole lot of stuff went on which pushed the price up. Including the dispute over whether there should be an athletics track. I am not opposed to having a track, but it would have to be one that could be converted back to seats for football purposes."

Prediction for the season?

"I don't do predictions but I do have a wish list and high on that is my hope that on the last day of the season we are flying around in a helicopter wondering where the trophy is going."

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