Celebrated, marketed and sold around the world for its unpredictable excitement, England’s Premier League is, like most, a conservative organisation resistant to change. Right now, though, for perhaps the first time in its existence, its ruthless ascendancy is being challenged by forces outside of its control.
Based in England, it is now in essence an international business. Its top six clubs are all foreign-owned: Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal by Americans, Chelsea by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, Manchester City by UAE politician Sheikh Mansour, and Tottenham Hotspur by the Bahama-based British businessman Joe Lewis.
The personal funding of all these proprietors has manifestly increased the power of their clubs. However, unrestricted spending – the engine that has driven their businesses – will soon be prevented by new legislation from European football’s governing body, UEFA.
Broadcasting rights – key to the riches that the Premier League distributes – look set to change, too. BSkyB could soon face serious competition from the likes of Google or Apple, for example.
Currently the league operates a collective bargaining agreement that distributes the fees between its member clubs. But it’s possible the top clubs might eventually negotiate these fees individually.
Who knows? We may even see a Premier League Mark II for smaller clubs currently striving for membership. Or even a wider European Super League.
And what of the people at the sharp end? The fans who pay for tickets and TV subscriptions? “All soccer fans know in their hearts that the changes since the 1980s have gone too far in one direction and that it’s all money-related,” says Derek Hammond, author of Got, Not Got, a book about soccer nostalgia. “It has affected the whole greater soccer culture.”