With the NFL Draft coming up this (Thursday) evening, I’m going to turn from issues specific to fantasy games to something that strikes at the core of the game. The NFL Draft is an important day on the US sporting calendar because it represents hope and make no mistake, the reason that the NFL is wildly popular is that every team has hope. This reason this finds its way into a column about the Premier League is that one wonders how long the league can continue to sustain its position in its core (UK) market when the majority of teams have no hope.
Internationally speaking, the Premier League will continue to grow revenue streams because those of us who weren’t born into a club affiliation by virtue of inheritance or geography can pick a club that DOES have a chance year in and year out. There is little risk in this strategy and because we weren’t born into our affiliation there is also little shame in changing it from time-to-time as the balance of power shifts in the league.
The problem that the league faces and doesn’t really seem too intent on solving is what to do about the core fans that made the league what it is today? What hope does the league offer to supporters for clubs like Fulham, Sunderland, Everton, or Blackburn? The NFL, through the draft and salary cap, ensures that fans in outposts like Green Bay and Pittsburgh that aren’t known as major markets have a chance to compete for a championship. The Premier League makes no such prevision.
Certainly, there are plenty of reasons that it is easier for the NFL than it would be for the Premier League with European law and the presence of alternative top tier leagues in other countries being the biggest. Still, that won’t be of much comfort as a new generation of supporters of mid-table teams wonders why they are paying incredibly high ticket prices with no hope of EVER winning a championship. As an Eagles fan in the NFL I haven’t experienced my team winning a Super Bowl in my lifetime but I retain hope because they have come close and there is nothing systemic preventing them from achieving that goal. A takeover by a super-rich tycoon willing to lose gobs of money aside, fans of mid-table Premier League teams can’t say the same.
I’d love to hear from die-hard supporters of perpetual mid-table teams “what do you consider a good season?” Finishing in the top half? In the Europa Cup? Beating a “big club” or derby rival? Is that enough to keep you going to matches or glued to the TV on days when your team plays a team at the bottom of the table? Major League Baseball has the same issue as the Premier League and there is great danger of the game slowly dying in towns like Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Oakland.
As NFL teams and their fans prepare to renew hope this evening and over the weekend, I wonder what the fans of mid-table teams in the Premier League will content themselves with as the summer comes? Will it be enough to keep future generations of fans interested after 20 or 30 or 40 years in a row with no hope of a significant accomplishment?