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Did the EPL Blow a Chance to Seize the American Market?

celtic rangers

For many in England, last week’s news that the Premier League would not be inviting Rangers or Celtic to join anytime soon was a welcome relief. After all, the Premier League has already done enough damage in some eyes to the traditional feel of English football, despite unquestionably expanding the international reach of the English game.

But if the EPL was really all about international marketing, the rejection of Rangers and Celtic makes zero sense. The decision leaves the league incomplete for the North American market, even if it is dominant in the emerging Asian and African football markets.

Throughout many American pubs, you are far more likely to find a Rangers or Celtic supporters group holding court on Saturday mornings than fans from Premier League clubs. For those of us who grew up with the sport in the 1980s and 1990s, Rangers and Celtic were more massive in the states than any English club save perhaps Liverpool.

The casual American and Canadian fan that has gravitated to the Premier League since Eric Cantona’s days at Manchester United have certainly put English football on the front burner for many. However, the lingering attachment to the Old Firm clubs, still sell in America. The reputation of both clubs in the US and Canada are much stronger among casual football fans than they are in the British Isles, following a decade of Scottish decline.

As long as Rangers and Celtic are excluded from the Premier League, a large core of the American audience will be consuming different leagues in Europe. At one pub, last May as the SPL title race was in its hottest moment, several Rangers supporters told me they don’t watch the (English) Premier League. They prefer La Liga or the Bundesliga when not watching Rangers.

I have had similar conversations with Celtic fans in the past. Whether it is simply a matter of ex-pat Scots avoiding anything English (even if many managers and a few players are Scottish) or simply the rejection of a club that doesn’t seem to want them, the EPL will never reach its full potential stateside without the inclusion of the Old Firm.

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  1. Kings

    April 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    EPL is so incredibly short-sighted its ridiculous

  2. Dave B.

    November 18, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Kind of a silly article overall. Just because the bar you watch matches in happens to have a large contingent of Rangers and Celtic fans doesn’t mean that’s the case across the US. Personally the only Celtic or Rangers fans I have ever met where I live were Scots who moved to the States or on vacation.

    Also as I understand it the recent proposal to have them added to the EPL was contingent on the addition of an EPL 2, with both Rangers and Celtic starting out in that newly formed, second tier Premier League.

    For me the big question here is would Rangers or Celtic even want to join the Premier League? Losing almost guaranteed European football every year would have to be a huge pill to swallow, both from a finance point of view but also a club prestige point of view.

  3. Jason

    November 18, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Yeah this whole American link is not really relevant I dont think. Like I said unless the Old Firm start at the Conference or League 2 level it aint happening. Do you think this is an option or not? Also what about another option for the SPL to expand to 18 teams? Or moving to a summer season? I would love to hear opinions on any or all 3 of these things.

  4. brn442

    November 17, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    I’m sorry if I offended you poor fella but you walked into that one. The more I read your colum, the less it makes sense.

    “The reputation of both clubs in the US and Canada are much stronger among casual football fans than they are in the British Isles, following a decade of Scottish decline.” REALLY? Ah, those make or break casual American-Based old firm fans again.

    “The decision leaves the league incomplete for the North American market” HAHA, 100+ years it was but not now? Hmmm, Why not add Madrid/Barcelona while you’re at it – please have a pint of Guinness on me fella.

    AND THE KICKER “For those of us who grew up with the sport in the 1980s and 1990s, Rangers and Celtic were more massive in the states than any English club save perhaps Liverpool.” This is where you need to go have a lay down and choose your pub mates carefully as I’m sure fans of Everton, Manchester United, Leeds, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Nottingham Forest, West Ham, Spurs etc, etc. may respectfully disagree.

    The are many reasonable arguments for having the Old Firm in English Football or a combined British League but to say that the exponential success of the Premier League Stateside hinges on getting a demographic that is practically non-existent, i.e. the odd American based Scottish Old Firm Fan that currently doesn’t give two farthings about the EPL but will once the Old Firm goes south of the border is still laughable, not personal, if you can’t handle a critique of your premise maybe being an Epltalk writer is not for you.


  5. jleau

    November 17, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    I doubt that adding the Old Firm would really change much as I agree with Pompey, the EPL will never be bigger in the US than Hockey is now. However, I’m surprised at the heated reactions.

    I’m straying a bit but it really doesn’t make any sense that there are 3 associations in the UK. The whole island is the size of Oregon and all three nations basically share the same govenment. Good lord, Scotland has 5M people and Wales has 3M, how are they even a country at all? That’s like Kansas having it’s own league and national team.

    What’s crazy is that the Brits think the current system makes sense.

    • Alvin Phoon

      November 18, 2009 at 4:18 am

      “Good lord, Scotland has 5M people and Wales has 3M, how are they even a country at all?”

      My friend, i can name you at least a hundred countries with a population of 5 million or less.

  6. Leeboy

    November 17, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    At the end of the day it’s the English Premier League, the top division in league football for clubs in England. End of story. Whilst you can apply marketing analysis from an international perspective, and talk about phantom Rangers and Celtic fans in US pubs it makes no difference. League football in England will never be a franchise-type system where clubs can enter and leave football, relocate geographically etc. I suggest you read up on the English football league pyramid to get an idea of the history of the system, and it may make you realise why people are so reluctant to change it. The SPL may be a low standard, but that is the SPL’s problem. If Rangers and Celtic want out to an ‘Atlantic League’ then they will probably kill Scottish football. It should not be allowed to happen.

  7. AmplifiedtoRock

    November 17, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    In all of this, I wonder what the Scottish FA are doing. It would essentially be suicide for Scottish Club Football if they allowed Celtic and Rangers to leave. Wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t some bigwigs in the offices of the SPL providing some cash to the Premiership to ensure the Old Firm’s bid would be rejected.

  8. The Voice Of Reason

    November 17, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Maybe the SPL would be growing here if FSC or Setanta (not the pub channel) carried the live matches. The way it is now, only the already obsessed will watch Celtic or Rangers matches live.

  9. man99utd

    November 17, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    As interesting as the Old Firm in the EPL would be, it’ll never happen. 1) The home nations are rightly concerned about the status of their indivdual FA’s. 2) It would destroy the SPL. 3) Lower leagues of English Football won’t have it if it means jumping straight to EPL. 4) The EPL won’t have it. 5) If the EPL can’t break into the mainstream of American sports with the Big Four, Two Scottish teams won’t impact it enough to disrupt football in the UK.
    I love Scottish Football, in Scotland. The EPL should remain.

    Kartik, I enjoy your articles and you’re courage in discussing controversial subjects, but I disagree with your conclusions on this one….cheers

    • chowie

      November 17, 2009 at 6:59 pm

      well put

  10. Duke

    November 17, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I have to say that I think the premise is flawed. You give an anecdotal “more Ranger/Celtic fans” from your experience. Well, I’m from Chicago, not an inconsequential television/sports market itself, and I’ve NEVER seen or heard of Ranger or Celtic fans anywhere in northeastern Illinois or northwest Indiana. Man Utd., Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, even a few Spurs and Villa fans, but not a single Scottish fan. Based on my experiences, your argument tumbles like a house of cards.

    Okay, maybe on the east coast there are more Scottish fans than here in the Midwest. Still, without some sort of hard numbers, I’m afraid you’re just blowing smoke.

    Also, while I realize that popularizing any kind of “football” here in the states is going to be much more difficult than in other parts of the world, there are 300 million people here, many of whom have no problem whiling away their entire Sunday watching sports — And paying for premium cable or sattelite access to do so. I don’t think that’s a potential fan-base you just write off, but maybe I’m wrong.

  11. Evan

    November 17, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Why the assumption that “seiz(ing) the American Market” is the most important thing to consider in possibly undertaking a massive experiment?

  12. Mark Flint

    November 17, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    You would have to dissolve Scottish football and give them all a chance to play in at Confrence level. I would love to see how Rangers, Celtic or even Hearts would compete. Maybe we can play it out on EA FIFA11, thats the only way it will ever happen.

  13. Brian

    November 17, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I have to disagree. I don’t think not having Celtic or Rangers is what’s going to keep the EPL from “seizing the American market”.

    You have a point in terms of the two teams perhaps adding a handful of viewers whenever those two are televised, but . . . . first, how many of those games will be played in favor of say, Aston Villa v. Man City, and second, if SPL fans are watching La Liga and the Bundesliga, perhaps they’re in search of quality, exciting football? Would Rangers or Celtic be an improvement over say, Villa and City?

    Nice article though, K, way to filter out those who can think about something for a moment, as opposed to those who helpfully only criticize.

  14. AtlantaPompey

    November 17, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    The EPL will continue to grow in America, but the presence of Rangers or Celtic would not make a noticeable difference. America has such a crowded sports marketplace, with well-established leagues dominating television coverage, that the EPL will always struggle to get attention. Americans generally like American things, such as the NFL, Baseball, and Basketball. While there are millions of people here who watch and appreciate the sport, it will probably never approach the level of passion and support of the American sports. Hockey is a good example. It’s viewed as a Canadian sport, and pretty much ignored by mainstream American despite teams playing all over the country. They tried and lost television contracts with both Fox and ESPN. American just was not interested. I fear that the EPL will be the same. It will always have a following, much like hockey, but will never approach the passion of the rest of the world.

  15. Jason

    November 17, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    If the Old Firm are so desperate to play in the English league, their club chairman really need to do something drastic. And maybe this is not far fetched now since it could be their only option. But if Celtic and Rangers offer to start playing in League 2 or the Conference National. Maybe that might give them a go ahead to play in the English league. That maybe the only chance they have now. I would not mind seeing that personally because I think they could run into resistance when they get into League 1 certainly the Championship League. Zipping to the EPL after successive seasons of promotions is not a guarentee, in fact it would be unlikely I think.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      November 17, 2009 at 3:45 pm

      That’s a fair suggestion. League 1 is probably a happy medium, a place they could start.

      The other option, as referenced on the Set Piece Analysts podcast last week is for the SPL to get aggressive about marketing and working with other domestic leagues in a similar position.

  16. nick

    November 17, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    What a completely useless article…………….

  17. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    November 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    I love how simple suggestions about the merits of certain decisions lead to personal name calling and suggestions I would serve Guinness to minors. If that were the case I deserve to be tarred, feathered and lynched and when dead let you take a piss on my body also while dragging it through the streets.

    Moreover, I never said I agreed or disagreed with the Premier League’s decision. I simply stated that the league will not reach its full potential stateside w/o Rangers or Celtic. BIG DIFFERENCE.

    The realty is that I have traditionally supported domestic leagues in a strict sense, but now that FIFA has begun blurring the lines, turning a blind eye in some cases to cross border leagues, I thought the discussion was worthy of being brought up on its merits. Not to resort to personal name calling.

    But some of you aren’t mature enough to have this discussion in a rational fashion and that is a pity. In a civil society we should be able to discuss whether or not decisions made by governing bodies were the best decisions possible. Here, I am simply stating what the ramifications of not allowing the old firm into the EPL could be.

  18. Mike

    November 17, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Oh and yeah the image of the Celtic or Rangers fan “holding court” at the local pub is a moot point anyways since nowadays most of the pubs around where I live don’t show SPL games, I’d love to catch a few of the matches but these ones are hard to find even in the confines of your own home as ESPN nor FSC nor GolTv ever show the SPL and Setanta US only shows about 3 matches a year and none of them LIVE.
    So if the object is to draw more american viewers with the Old Firm, I’d argue the companies within America would be better off simply working to add their fixtures to domestic television instead of relying on the Premier League to add Celtic and Rangers.

  19. Mike

    November 17, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    This is not a good idea, it’s ridiculous to say this would bring in more american fans. As an american fan I’m content with the Premiere League the way it is.

  20. MNUfan1991

    November 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Having lived in New York for the better part of my living years, I can count the number of people wearing Celtic/Rangers apparel I’ve seen with one hand. This is with all the fingers chopped off.
    Does the poster live in a parallel universe?

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      November 17, 2009 at 2:51 pm

      I find that hard to believe since I have been to Long Island several times and observed the opposite, particularly Celtic kits.

  21. Matt

    November 17, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    “several Rangers supporters told me they don’t watch the (English) Premier League. They prefer La Liga or the Bundesliga when not watching Rangers.”

    Nothing to do with them being Scottish and hence hating all things English, of course.

    The whole notion of Celtic and Rangers joining the PL is ridiculous – do you really think the SFA would sanction such a move (and in doing so kill Scottish football)?

    Suppose we should let PSG and Marseille join too… Bayern and Stuttgart… Real and Barca… Oh…

  22. brn442

    November 17, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Oh Boy, Gaffer is probably on holiday.

    So let me get this straight:
    The Premier League will have to get (sanctioned by the F.A and the Football league on who will be relegated/not promoted to accommodate them? As I’m sure they won’t want to start from the Blue Square.) With dispensation from UEFA (on who will represent Scotland in Europe?) and the blessing of FIFA (who would again ask about the relevance of the home nations.) Not to mention destroy what’s left of the SPL.

    All of the this just to HOPEFULLY get ten more punters in at an American Pub on a Saturday?

    What other brilliant “marketing ideas” do you have Kartik? Making Guinness non-alcoholic to sell to school kids?, How about putting in chunks of pork to expand the sale of Kosher beans?
    Maybe all 38 Premier League games should be played in America while you are at it? You must be having a laugh.

  23. olivert

    November 17, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Bottom line:

    EPL makes 3 times as much money from selling TV rights in the Hong Kong market compared to selling TV rights in the U.S. market.

    Furthermore, EPL TV ratings in the U.S. market has peaked and is unlikely to grow further.

    EPL needs to focus on growth markets, namely the Chinese-speaking markets in the UTC+8 time zone especially Mainland China.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      November 17, 2009 at 2:16 pm

      Yup, that probably is the bottom line. As I said, they are golden in the Asian market and perhaps from an economic standpoint, their focus is correct.

    • MNUfan1991

      November 17, 2009 at 2:46 pm

      A few years ago I was in Hong Kong for a business trip. Flipping channels and I found FIVE channels showing different LIVE EPL games simulaneously. I think their population was about 7M. This is in addition to La Liga and Bundesliga, to name a few.
      We in the US with a population over 300M, only get FSC and Setanta–ESPN2 does not broadcast alongside the other two anyway.

  24. chowie

    November 17, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    You really do TRY and find anyway to bash the EPL, Scotland has it’s league and can keep it, that’s not the EPL’s fault it’s not “good eniough” for the old firm. So what gives any team the given right to jump straight into the EPL from a different country, many say they sould start from League 2 and we know that ain’t gonna happen but would be the only way possible.

    “EPL will never reach its full potential stateside without the inclusion of the Old Firm.” come on, shall the EPL have teams from France, Spain & Holland too, no, it’s called the Champions League.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      November 17, 2009 at 2:15 pm

      No team from the countries you list is as popular as Rangers or Celtic among English language dominant fans in the USA. So don’t randomly pick countries. Real Madrid would not help the EPL in the US as much as Celtic would. Lyon would not come close to Rangers, so your comparison is immaterial.

      The situation is such that Scotland is within the same governing entity as England- the UK. Wales has three teams eligible for the football league, although obviously Wrexham has fallen out of the league.

      It’s not bashing England, but simply pointing out that the Glasgow sides have a deep and passionate following stateside.

      I think it is reasonable to start them in the second tier, but League 2, forget it.

      • chowie

        November 17, 2009 at 6:42 pm

        Yes of course but it shows how ridiculous it is putting teams in from other countries not to mention the damage it causes to the whoile football pyramid no matter what league they would start from. Wales has it’s own FA as do Scotland but the Welsh teams are etablished league sides that have been in it for years, even though that still causes problems that we’ve seen with (example) Cardiff getting away lightly by the Welsh FA when they really should be punished by the FA.

        I just don’t get your point really about helping the EPL in the US, there will always be Rangers & Celtic fans who will follow their team no matter what league they are in. Why does the EPL need help, it’s the product that it is and is massive in most footballing nations, the football must come first and it does not need changing, even though I’m sure the Preimer League will come up with something in the near future.

        Every new EPL idea so far has caused up roar in England and the fans will not have it and vote with their feet, they have to be very, very careful with making changes.

        MLS needs grow first before anybody sould worry about the EPL or any other countries football for that matter, I think progression into other leagues would come from that step first.

        I’m all for Soccer growing in the US (and have been surprised by the amount of interest in my time here) but Football comes from the heart and fans need to be drawn into that addiction/thrill first, and that can only truly come from (mainly) your home team and going to games, you can never watch football properly on TV anyhow.

  25. Gaz

    November 17, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    The point has been brought up before – but I’ll rehash.

    I’m not in favor of it but just for the sake of argument – Sure, let them join the EPL. They can start in the bottom league and work themselves up like everyone else has to.

    My bet is that they would have a hell of a time getting out of the Championship.

  26. hank

    November 17, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Answer: No

  27. Rob

    November 17, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Bringing Rangers and Celtic into the EPL is so incredibly short-sighted its ridiculous.

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