It’s been a trying week for Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore. After unveiling the Game 39 proposal last week, the plan has today been rejected by the Asian Football Confederation and has received a lukewarm response from the U.S. Soccer Federation.
With the Asian Football Confederation rejecting the proposal, that one decision could be enough to kill the proposal. Why? If the Premier League had to pick one continent to play an extra round of games in 2011, Asia would be it.
With a massive population, Asia holds the key to the enormous amounts of additional revenue the Premier League can make in the future through TV rights deals. Those lucrative TV deals in Asia are currently vastly undervalued and there’s massive potential to make so much more money if there’s increased demand from the Asian public and competition from Asian media companies.
In the United States, it’s a different matter entirely. The Premier League routinely get 300,000 viewers for matches shown on Fox Soccer Channel, while even the biggest games of the season get less than 1 million viewers in North and South America combined.
But it’s possible that the Premier League may want to use the United States and the Middle East to help market its Game 39 idea, which could then potentially open the door to Asia in forthcoming years if the Asian market changed its mind based on how successful the experiment is.
The Premier League still has a long way to go before it can even consider launching the Game 39 Proposal. Right now, the organization that will dictate whether the idea will fly or not is FIFA.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is open to the idea of sanctioning the matches in the United States if FIFA approves the proposal. Major League Soccer Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis, meanwhile, is open to the proposal too — again, as long as FIFA sanctions it.
If FIFA gives the green light to the Premier League, here are the reasons why I believe that U.S. and Major League Soccer will benefit from hosting some or all of the Game 39 matches in the States:
- The David Beckham effect. One of the main reasons why attendances at Major League Soccer matches this season increased was due to casual fans or people with little or no interest in soccer attending the matches. If the Premier League works in conjunction with Major League Soccer, the host cities in the United States could organize double-headers. The first match would be a friendly involving two teams from Major League Soccer, while the second match would be a Premier League encounter.Organizing these double-headers will bring in new sets of fans that wouldn’t typically go see a MLS match. The hope is that these newbie fans will be impressed enough by what they see from the Major League Soccer teams that they’ll continue coming back when the regular season begins.
- Media exposure. David Beckham joining the LA Galaxy put Major League Soccer on the map around the world during the past 12 months, which even included the mainstream U.S. media. Having some of the most famous clubs in soccer history visit the States (Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, etc) will help increase awareness and visibility in the U.S. for soccer, as well as generating positive media articles for U.S. soccer around the world (just as the 1994 World Cup did, where most journalists praised one of the best organized tournaments in the history of Copa Mundial).
- Level playing field. Oftentimes unfairly, Major League Soccer has been kicked and bruised by pundits around the world (even in America and especially in England). The league has been the bane of jokes comparing the technical level to Conference side clubs and picking up nicknames such as the “Mickey Mouse League.” While playing double-headers will be no guarantee of a fair and accurate analysis by the British press, it will give these reporters an opportunity to learn more about the American game first-hand and to see how the technical level and entertainment value is above or below their expectations.
- Money, money, money. Whether Game 39 is a good thing for English football and the Premier League is another matter entirely. The one thing that is certain is that it’ll provide the Premier League clubs with several million pounds of cash. It’ll also therefore be a good opportunity for MLS and U.S. Soccer to generate additional revenue for their organizations — which is something that they’ll be eager to discuss.
If FIFA sanctions the Game 39 Proposal, I truly believe that the United States will benefit greatly from hosting the matches in the U.S. Both MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation will find itself with a lot of leverage to ensure that the agreements made with the Premier League are beneficial to the United States.