Should domestic sports go global?

Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz
Amrit Ahluwalia
Amrit Ahluwalia

The English Premier League’s plan to play one round of matches overseas each year, approved in principle by the clubs Feb. 7, makes sense for many reasons. The Premier League is already one of the most influential sports organizations in the world: it makes $1.7 billion annually from TV revenue alone, much of which is from foreign broadcasts.

According to British newspaper The Independent, the Premier League’s the most-watched league in the world. Each match averages 79.5 million viewers worldwide, which can double in the case of a match between top clubs. Only six million of those viewers are from Britain.

Competing sporting leagues such as the NFL and NHL have already played regular-season matches overseas. The Premier League’s quite possibly the only non-American league that can compete with those organizations’ global appeal, so they need to undertake similar steps to keep their prominent position in the world sporting market. Doing so should also help the world popularity of soccer by providing examples of high-quality competition to raise interest in the sport around the globe. As the Independent wrote in an editorial, this move mirrors modern realities.

“Like it or not, top-class football in England is a global sport,” they wrote. “It attracts players from all over the world and it has an international appeal.”

Many media accounts of this plan have cited fans as being overwhelmingly against it. Football Supporters Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke told The Guardian his group’s concerns are representative of the wider group of supporters.

“The FSF has no doubt whatsoever that the vast majority of supporters are against this, and believe it would drag the Premier League into the realms of farce,” he said.

This is clearly ludicrous. Clarke snobbishly believes all supporters of English football come from England, which, as the TV ratings show, is far from the truth. Those who live overseas are in many cases equally or more passionate about their teams, and this new plan gives fans the opportunity to see their team live at a meaningful game. It will also provide more cash for the league’s clubs, which will further enhance their position relative to other European leagues and see even more of the best players drawn to England. Going global not only reflects the times, but enhances soccer’s position relative to other popular sports. As such, it’s a winning situation for all those who love the English variety of the beautiful game.

--Andrew Bucholtz

Seeing leagues and teams signing up to take themselves global sickens me.

The Ottawa Senators will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm to start the next NHL season; Detroit and Tampa will face off in Prague. This season’s first game between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings took place in London, England. The English Premier League’s making similar plans. The moves from the NHL and Premier League show a lack of respect for foreign leagues, players and domestic fans, and ignore the problems teams face on the home front—all for cash’s sake.

By playing league matches overseas, the NHL and Premier League are showing complete disregard for the established leagues. If Manchester United and Chelsea play a match in Japan, it will draw all attention away from local team happenings. It shows arrogance from the higher-ups in the Premiership to assume the rest of the world wants to watch the English brand of football.

Detroit Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek told the Windsor Star he sees the same problem for the NHL.

“There are popular leagues to deal with already [in Europe],” he said, “[NHL games] wouldn’t be as popular as the games between neighbouring towns.”

Domestic fans live and breathe for their teams, spending huge chunks of income on season tickets. Why should they have to travel across the world to watch a league match? FIFA president Sepp Baltter told the BBC he would be outraged by these plans if he was an English fan.

The players also suffer from the added stress of global travel. In the Premier League, teams play 38 league matches; if their club remains in all possible cups it could lead to two matches a week. NHL players play an 82-game season followed by an exhausting playoff run.

The defending-champion Ducks suffered after coming back from England. In 2006-07, they started their season 12-0-4; this season the Ducks started 3-8-1. It’s impossible to argue that jetlag and travel fatigue weren’t a factor, not to mention the distraction of playing internationally.

Many small-market football sides and hockey teams have a lot of competition to begin with. Wigan and Reading are rugby towns; their soccer teams rarely sell out. New Jersey’s one of hockey’s elite teams, but struggles to sell out a brand new stadium. Why on earth are these leagues going international when most teams can’t sell out at home?

Globalizing sport shows a lack of respect to players and fans. Domestic leagues are just that, and they should stay that way.

--Amrit Ahluwalia

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