Why We Need Fewer Matches in the Premier League, Not More

I would say that this season has probably seen me watch less football than I have done for quite a while. First an admission. I got engaged, started a new job and started the process of moving house. And yet I feel more passionate about the game now than I have ever done. Which got me thinking, are we suffering from football overkill? Can we actually have too much football?

I realize that maybe your natural reaction to such a question is one of incredulity. How can you have too much of the best sport in the world? But I am certain that the relative break I have had from the game has helped my appreciation of it deepen.

The simple fact is that because I have watched fewer games I have appreciated much more those that I have managed to see, a principle that could well benefit the game as a whole.

Football is by far the most dominant sport in our society. The papers are full of it, it dominates the sports bulletins and its big events are written into our national calendar. Sometimes it appears as though we all get so caught up in the stories around the game that sometimes we forget about the beauty of the game.

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with following all the off pitch stories and season-long narratives but the reason we all fell in love with football is the simplicity, the pure beauty of watching a team in full flow. Sometimes all the extra stuff that we are treated to comes in between us and that truth.

In my utopian view of what football could become there are less games in the Premier League and no top flight involvement in the League Cup, leading hopefully to a greater appreciation of the best that English football has to offer.

There is another, more practical reason why I believe a bit less top flight football would be a good thing. We all know that lower league clubs are struggling to survive. How many people would go and see some local lower league football once in a while if there were fewer games at the top? Maybe we might see a return to real localism within football. Fans could form an attachment to their local side as well as following a side in the top flight without being force fed an endless amount of top flight football, a lot of which often means very little.

There is precedent for this idea. The NFL has only 16 games in the regular season and fans of the sport appreciate hugely the short time they get with their team every year. It is a successful league with passionate fans and a successful commercial history. Meanwhile college and high school football thrives on a more local level, bringing together communities around sport.

Frankly, football could well be getting too big to sustain itself. A radical solution may be the only way forward for the sport whilst radical rationing of your own football intake may well produce some very surprising results in your own lives.

31 thoughts on “Why We Need Fewer Matches in the Premier League, Not More”

  1. so with a double round robbin league format, where the winner is decided based on points, how would you address this? Surely you can’t have certain teams only playing certain teams once while playing others twice? Wouldn’t work.

    and while your example of the american football example you cite is decent, it’s also simply wrong…high school games are played on friday, ncaa on saturday, and the nfl on sunday. Though you can note that the nfl and ncaa have moved to other nights as well to increase exposure/ feed demand for the sport.

    also, while you point to a short NfL schedule as a positive for the fans, you ignore that it’s physically too big of a strain on the players to play much more than that..and if ud been following, that has been an issue debated by the owners and players in this most recent labor dispute.

    you want less footy? Skip the carling cup.

    1. I assume he means to reduce the actual number of EPL teams, thus maintaining the perfect round-robin schedule, but reducing the number of games.

  2. The only way to POSSIBLY have fewer games and still have a balanced league is to either make the EPL smaller (not happening) or institute divisions and a play-off system (definitely not happening).

    The EPL is perfect in that every team plays every other team home and away. It’s fair, it’s balanced. The argument you make works great for the NBA and NHL (both of which have WAAAAY too many league games), but doesn’t work for the EPL.

  3. You have to love these articles that pretend to be novel but whose main focus is “why the PL should be more like the NFL”. LOL. If you have it that much, stop watching it. simple. But to dump your other sports ideas onto us as the “best way” is conceit at its best.

    1. Or…it just strikes up conversation. And I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to compare things to a different country/league just to float ideas out there.

      I have heard several conversations and read several articles in the US recently that talks about how the Premier League’s way of settling a title is the best way to do it. So it is working both ways.

    2. To be fair, he’s not really suggested a plan of how to reduce the number of games. So he’s not saying it should be “more like the NFL” anymore than he’s saying it should be like the Scottish league or the Dutch league.

  4. I think that the double round robin is perfect the way it is.

    Get yourself married and have a couple kids, that should cure you.

    1. I’ve long thought they should do that with Division I-A college football in the US. About 100ish teams, round robin, home and home play. 200 games should be easy in 4 months. :^D

  5. You might want to mention that the NFL is trying to add an additional game to the schedule, or an 18th week to the season. Teams already get one bye and the season has stretched to 17 weeks as it is. They also extended pre-season games from three to four games, so add another month or pro football.

    My recommendation to someone who feels like there is too much football is to maybe watch a bit less of European competition and focus primarily on League games. Doing that, you might feel like I do right now in that it feels like an eternity waiting 7-8 days for the next game.

  6. As a Massachusetts native, my team is the Patriots… and believe me, how absolutely little start to care about the following season after wasting a fall for nothing because of a bad playoff game. An entire fall and part of winter, a complete waste of time.

    An interesting thought is that with an American style playoff, Liverpool very well could win the Title in the EPL this season. Wipe the slate clean of that terrible start. Could break the EPL into divisions, North, South, East, West. Play a bunch of meaningless games and have a playoff. Huzzah!

    What I love about the EPL is that every game does matter, equally! In the NFL, it is possible to get to the Super Bowl because of a weak schedule (I’m looking at you Chicago!).

    Most importantly, plenty of spots matter in the EPL. Relegation would be gorgeous in the US as it’d give bad teams a reason to play. Then you have the cup qualification spots. It all matters, deep into the season, for the very top, the top five, and the bottom three, which has become more of a 6 or 8 team race to the bottom. There are 38 games that span a long time, but it is the beautiful game. The NFL season is meaningless to the bottom teams. MLB lasts 7 months, but the games don’t mean jack. There are too many of them.

    In the EPL, everything matters. Don’t break something that is perfect!

    1. No way of breaking it up into US style “conferences” Take a look at the makeup of the premiership….

      London area- Fulham, Chelsea, West Ham, Spurs, Arsenal
      Birmingham area- West Brom, Villa, Birmingham City and Wolves
      Liverpool area- Everton and Liverpool
      Manchester area- United, City, Bolton, Wigan, Blackburn
      Newcastle area- Toon, Sunderland

      Add in complications of relegation and promotion and you have no chance of trying to make it into regions. What is the most watched league in the world? O yes, the premiership. Keep your American style leagues to yourselves.

  7. Is anyone else getting tired of ways to improve the PL?! STFU already and leave it alone. The entire season feels like the playoffs and can never understand why people insist on floating ideas that would ruin it.

  8. While I can understand where you are coming from Matthew and respect your opinion, if there is one thing that really irks me about this piece it is comparing the Premier League to the National Football League.

    The NFL does not have such a short schedule because it thinks less is more.

    The NFL does not have such a short schedule because the league wants fans to support high school football, college football or the other types of American football out there.

    The NFL’s schedule is so short because American football is a brutal game that sees many people retire prematurely due to injury. Those that can retire on their own terms often are plagued by crippling physical conditions for the rest of their life. Even worse, as evidenced by the research now going on with respect to head injuries, many people leave the game of American football with severely damaged brains that leaves them with medical conditions that would make anyone shudder.

    As demonstrated by the current NFL lockout, those who run the league do not care about the world of football outside of the NFL nearly as much as they care about making money hand over fist.

    1. Also, how would the Premier League ever make up the lost revenue?

      One of the reasons the NFL business model works so well is the combination of large stadiums and high ticket prices. The average NFL ticket in 2010 was £46.82. The average attendance in 2009 was 68 240. The average Premier League attendance in the 2009-2010 season was 34 150.

      Unless a bunch of clubs start building massive stadiums, they are going to have a hard time recouping the money they lost and affording the players on their books. Even if they do build those stadiums, they are still going to be hard pressed because they are going to have to pay for those stadiums.

      I would hate to see what happens to ticket prices (even more so for clubs that build big new stadiums and get relegated).

      Additionally, how are they going to make up for the lost television revenue? No broadcasting company is going to pay more money in order to broadcast a significantly decreased amount of games.

  9. Hmm I like reading your thoughts on the topic, I can’t say I have ever thought about it like that before. Thanks for posting the article. If nothing else, strikes up good discussion

  10. Could this simply be a case of familiararity breeding contempt? As an American, the playoff system is a part of every major sport and aside from the NFL, most other sports have seasons that drag on forever. EPL matches mean more when there’s only 1 a week (excluding any of the cups) and it’s only 90 minutes. That’s 90 minutes of action. No commercials. No halftime shows. I’ll take that any time over the NFL’s 4 hour commerical-fest, Baseball’s 162, 3.5 hour, 5-7 days a week snoozefest or the NHL’s 82 regular season and a rediculous 28 game post-season. EPL’s straight forward, no BS format is a breath of fresh air.

  11. I have watched the NFL since 93, and after watching the EPL this year, it’s just boring. Who needs 30 minutes of commercials a game a long with endless network promos for NBC’S next bomb. I have found the Premiership perfect, no commercials, balance schedule, can watch every match in its entity, and players don’t mock the opposition fans on their way to the end zone, (Desean Jackson), Keep this League the way it is

  12. The constant “Why does the EPL not cater for me? As an American/neutral who bought an ESPN package and is used to NFL, I feel entitled to…” thought experimentation that appears to have become a regular feature is almost as tiring as the Bleacher Report’s insistence on Power Ranking absolutely everything to do with football. I love the podcasts, genuine analytical articles on EPL problems and news, but I now expect at least one “Ways in which the EPL could be more like American sports, where things work and make sense, and also so I can have more space on my DVR to watch the big four” every couple of weeks in complete ignorance of the league and cup structure that has done fine by itself and has other, more pressing problems.

    You don’t want it to end up like BR:

    “Today! POWER RANKING Managerial haircuts!”
    “This week, we POWER RANK how much each of our authors creams over Liverpool or Arsenal, while tomorrow we POWER RANK ways in which the mighty Gunners can lose, then win, then lose next years EPL title via a Kenny Dalglish biopic read in Arsene Wenger’s voice!”


  13. Some terrible articles recently. I don’t know which idea is worse, the playoff for fourth, the playoff for the title, or the idea to shorten the schedule. Get your writers in order.

  14. seriously, i can get enough of epl…personally i think the number of games 38 is perfect, considering nba plays 81, mlb pays 160..nfl, 16,i feel is too few (not a nfl fan but i appreciate the game)…i hate summer, esp without euro and world cup, because of lack of football…while i feel somewhat tired of footie sometime myself, ultimately there is a intl break and i miss football again..loov the game..

  15. Shall the next article be “Why the Premiership should have breaks in the game for commercials”?

    “If you are like me, you can’t handle 45 minutes of gameplay. You need those commercial breaks, such as in the NFL, where you get breaks not only after scoring points, but an additional break after the kickoff too! This allows the fan to nonchalantly watch a game. They don’t have to take two solid hours of time out of their weekend. Instead they can do anything from paint the house to perform experiments on lab rats, with no fear of missing any of the 13 minutes of actual action during a game that takes 3 hours to play.”

  16. Love it the way it is from an entertainment perspective. As far as the players are concerned, they can probably do with fewer games in the winter, but as a fan the winter holiday season is probably my favorite part of the whole season. Summer without a world cup or euro cup to look forward to makes it seem that much longer and grueling w/out any real football to watch.

  17. The best part about the Premier League (well all European leagues) is that EVERY game matters. No matter what position you are in, you are most likely competing for something, whether its the title, a European spot, or avoiding relegation, EVERY team has something to play for week in and week out and I think thats the beauty of a league format with promotion and relegation. Whereas in American sports, if you’re half way through the season with no chance of making the playoffs, there isn’t anything left to play for. It makes it rather dull for the fans too.

  18. To add on to what Sean said, yes it’s true the NFL season is short in comparison to all of the other major sports in my country and that is not counting pre season games and post season for the lucky few that do make it. One of the biggest discussions happening right now between owners and players is expanding the schedule to which a lot of players (and fans) are not happy about.

    As alluded before, because of the brutality of the sport, many careers are cut short and to expand means that teams will have to field more players and right now it’s just not feasible.

    Also depending on who you talk to, the NFL does not cater to fans to get them to watch local sports, it’s something that most do on their own. Most of my friends as well as myself, rarely really pay attention to what’s happening in college and much less, high school and focus on the Sunday games, which is what matters.

    While I see your points in your peice, you have to believe me when I say that expanding the NFL season is a bad idea…hehehe.

    Truth be told, since the number of teams has grown in the last 20 years in the NFL, we actually DO have more games being played. At one time, the Super Bowl was played in January…now it’s played almost in mid February and if there are more teams added in the next 10 years…well.

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