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The Championship Promotion Playoffs: America In English Soccer

The Championship Promotion playoffs began yesterday with West Ham United crossing into Wales to take a massive 2-0 lead in the two-legged tie against Cardiff City. The Hammers, much like their Manager Sam Allardyce, are trying to earn a trip back into the Premier League after a year in exile. The same can be said for the two clubs facing each other this afternoon, Blackpool and Birmingham City.

I have to say it’s a shame for most Americans, though, that these playoffs themselves are relegated to the premium side of the network coverage. In the United States, unless you have Fox Soccer Plus or FoxSoccer2Go, you are unable to watch these semifinals. The final from Wembley will be broadcast on FoxSoccer, but that negates a simple truth – these playoffs are the most American aspect of the Football League that you’ll find.

We Americans love our playoffs. You can’t have a sport in the United States without some form of knockout-style playoff to crown the ultimate “winner.” This truth has become so ridiculous that even sports like golf and stock car racing have contrived ways to turn a single-table style fixture list into a 5-to-10 event “playoff.”

I believe one of the big reasons Americans like this type of conclusion is parity. Playoff systems put all qualifying teams on a more-level playing field, somewhat nullifying the importance of the “regular season.” Teams with better records are typically given an advantage through a seeding system, so that the best team plays the worst team, and so on. American-style playoffs also incorporate an odd number of matches, allowing for a home advantage for the better team (whether in a single match or in a best-of series).

While this playoff isn’t the traditional “winner gets the trophy” mentality, it takes on a “winner takes all” tension because the final victor earns a place at the big kids’ table. And unlike the League and FA Cups, this knockout competition is predicated to an extent upon league finish (3rd vs 6th, and 4th vs 5th). It is actually a pressure-packed conclusion to a grueling 46-match schedule. And the final squad left standing earns automatic trips to Old Trafford, Anfield, and the other historic venues – as well as the big draws that necessitate from the return visits of the tenants of those facilities. It’s a step up, both in prestige, but also in the coffers.

And yet with all of this drama, not too many get the opportunity to experience the action on this side of the pond. Few Americans witnessed Jack Collison’s brace yesterday, part of a West Ham performance that was much less dour than style typically associated with Big Sam. On the other hand, you have a Cardiff City club which has yet again faltered in the promotion playoff. In this particular campaign, they appear to have run out of steam at the crucial moment, not surprising considering the additional strain imparted by their failed League Cup run.

Then we have today’s first leg between Blackpool and Brum, which will also likely receive a minimal American audience (even though both clubs have earned supporters in North America after their recent Premier League stints). Whereas Ian Holloway’s Seasiders will continue to assert their familiar “score first, defend later” philosophy, Birmingham City under Chris Hughton is a much different beast than the one that Alex McLeish ran into the ground a season ago. If there’s ever a tie that could be expected to be an entertaining shootout, it might be this one.

The Promotion Playoff is definitely a slice of American-style cutthroat playoff mayhem. If only more Americans knew about it…

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  1. dust

    May 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    • dust

      May 14, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      *Prem not perm

  2. coachie ballgames

    May 4, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Great piece, I love the Championship play-offs, and the championship in general. It’s where you can see actual English football and the level of parity always makes for exciting seasons.

  3. eplnfl

    May 4, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    What has always been my question is given the acceptance of the playoffs in the Championship why the idea has not caught on more in England. As is noted American’s and more importantly American Tv loves the playoffs. how much money would their be in a EPL playoff? You could name the price.

    • trickybrkn

      May 4, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      Not sure what you are asking here…. do you want the top four to battle it out for a title like in American sports, or is it the 4, 5, 6 & 7 battling for Champions League… Because playoffs are for the losers in England. You get the top two spots, you go up. The next 4 battle it out. And one of the reasons the PL can’t do playoffs is time. The lower leagues season is now finished, there are two more weeks in the PL. add three games for a team like Chelsea is hardly fair. They are playing Champions League, the League and the FA cup… and then add playoffs… and then you want European players to play for country???? do you see the issue now.

  4. Pat

    May 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Great article, agree with trickybrkn, these games are awesome, watching every step of the way this year.

  5. trickybrkn

    May 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    You could say that the Championship playoffs are some of the most important games in all of football. The winner gets a £40million paycheck, and promotion to the PL.
    In the case of West Ham, no promotion this year will mean a mass sell of of the club’s players, and perhaps years of struggle in the lower leagues.
    A team fighting for 4th in the PL is looking at a minimum of 1.7 million, and an additional 1.4 if they make it to the group stages. No where near the press cooker of a home and away and then final.
    The final is normally a very tense game. One of the most famous was Charlton V Sunderland 1998. Watch this video.

    • Charlie Miller

      May 14, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      Wrong, the prize for a team finishing 4th in EPL is not £1.7million. Your in delusional land. it works out that the bottom side receives £800k for finishing last and that fee increases by 800k for every place higher than bottom you finish so already that is £12.8 million guaranteed for a team finishing 4th.On top of that each club receives the same amount of sponsorship money and that works out at around £14.6 million They get facility fees for appearing live on TV which are around £500k per match and each club is guaranteed 10 facility fees so that is another £5million.Each club also receives another £10 million from over seas TV licencing deals and another £2 million from various other sponsorship deals. So in other words, if you finish 4th in the EPL you have just won your club around £44 million and if your club manages to get to the CL group stages your looking at £11 million from TV licencing deals and £6 million for just turning up even if you loose every match and of course the bonuses which open up another gold mine. Over all if you finish 4th and get to the CL group stages you have just won your self around £60 million. That’s for a team that only finishes 4th. Yes the PO finale is great but no, it does not have anything on a team finishing 4th in the EPL financially. They only say the championship finale is worth £40 million because that is what getting promoted will earn your team through TV licencing and sponsorship deals, they don’t just write you a £40 million check for winning the finale then let you dig into the EPL gold mine wise play off finale teams would be earning nearly £80 million before they even kicked off there new EPL campaign. A team will receive around £6 million for winning the PO finale in London and like I said the other £34 million comes through just being an EPL team hence why they say the game is worth £40 million and why the EPL is the richest and most lucrative league in the world.

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