I’ve heard it before. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The English Premier League isn’t broken. In fact, it does a lot of things that other professional leagues around the world have been unable to replicate. It has created a league that maximizes the importance of its regular season, while maintaining fan and club interest through the conclusion of the last match. By leveraging the Champions League and UEFA Europa League qualifying races, the relegation battle and more TV money the higher a team finishes throughout the table; it ensures that every club has something to play for.
This is a far cry from America’s top professional sports’ leagues, which have had their regular seasons rendered less important my multi-stage playoffs. Without rewards – outside of qualifying for playoffs – for finishing the regular season with top records, many teams finish the season with makeshift squads as they jockey for seeding and hold out stars. Those out of playoff contention – without fear of any relegation – put out squads that lose games and get them closer to future draft picks.
However, after going through the reasons why the Premier League’s regular season is so much better than America’s top sports, the EPL falls short when it comes to crowning a rightful champion. Global sports’ fans like a ‘big game.’ A winner takes all, loser goes home affair. It’s where legends are made. This is especially the case in America, but it’s really no different in Europe or even Asia. World Cup and Champions League finals are the most viewed global sporting events and the Super Bowl is the largest American sporting event. That said, as the English Premier League continues to grow rapidly globally – why can’t there be one more match for all the marbles?
Sure there’s no final match or championship in Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga or pretty much any other football crazy nation across the world. And football purists will argue that’s what cups are for. However, cup finals don’t sell TV contracts and they don’t assist in growing the premiership. A true 39th game, an EPL Final, would create exposure for the league on par with the Super Bowl and the Champions League final (think 100-200 million global viewers), while infusing clubs across the league with more funds and giving them a slightly better shot at the EPL title – something the league drastically needs.
No, it wouldn’t end the reign of the “Big Four” over the EPL in a fortnight (that is going to take a salary cap), but it would give smaller clubs new hopes of lifting a Barclays’ title. Since the Premier League kicked off in 1992 the average total points for the champion is 86, while the average for the runner-up is 79.5. By opening up the title to a one game final between the club at the top of the table and the runner-up; you open up the title race to a range of teams capable of getting to 21 or 22 wins.
Perhaps more importantly for EPL viewers, the race for the second spot is annually more competitive than the race for the top spot and would become equally exciting to watch in a final match format. Over the last 18 years the average points difference between the top spot and the runner-up spot in the EPL is 6.24, while the difference between the runner-up spot and third is 5.76 points. Imagine no longer having to all-but-award the premiership title to Manchester United in late April? While recent results have given us Manchester United and Chelsea in one last battle for the title this upcoming match week, how many will be clamoring to watch Manchester United clinch the title at Ewood Park the following week?
That’s not say we’d have completely different results in recent years with an extra game. Chelsea and Manchester United last year, Manchester United and Liverpool in 08 /09, United and Chelsea in 07 / 08, 06 / 07 and 05 / 06; and Chelsea and Arsenal in 04 / 05. But we certainly could have crowned a different champion, even if the one game final was played at the home of the team that finished top of the table (as I would propose over one more match at Wembley). The 08 / 09 Liverpool squad would have had more than a puncher’s chance at their first Premier League title going back to Old Trafford a few months after dismantling United on the same pitch 4-1. Likewise, the high scoring 04 / 05 Arsenal squad that drew Chelsea twice certainly would have had a chance at giving The Blues their second loss of the season in a final match at Stamford Bridge.
Looking further back, imagine the wild atmosphere that would have taken place the last few weeks of the 2000 / 2001 season with recently promoted Ipswich Town and Mark-Viduka-led Leeds United both in contention for a final match appearance. Or, have a closer look at the 96 / 97 season and imagine the scene of Alan Shearer leading Newcastle out onto Old Trafford in his first year with the Magpies in an attempt to capture his second Premiership title (maybe they’d have a few goals left in them).
Sure it’s only hypothetically speaking, but looking in the future any way to enable new winners would assist in diversifying the competitive balance of a league that will still be stuck on 4 champions at the end of its 19th year this May. Compare that with the 12 different champions the best baseball league in the world (MLB) has had over the last 19 years, the 12 different champions the best American football league (NFL) has had during the same time period or the 8 different National Basketball Association champions.
One more game. One truly crowned champion. It’s not broken, but it can be made bigger and better.