North American soccer fans often hope the structure of English football, with its deep pyramid of relegation and promotion and single-table championship, might some day be introduced into American soccer. This is, given the present business model of MLS, exceedingly unlikely. Ironically, it’s actually somewhat more likely that the reverse will happen, and the Premier League will adopt the American closed-shop franchise system and shift the league to a playoff model.
I don’t want to be giving Richard Scudamore — the Premier League’s Chief Executive and advocate of the woefully misguided Game 39 concept — any ideas, but Londonist recently posted an interesting analysis of what English football might look like if it did indeed embrace the playoff system that has been such a financial success in North American sports.
As Londonist puts it,
The refusal to let go of Game 39 shows that English football’s notables are ready to contemplate upsetting any tradition that might hinder the game’s global apppeal and, as we pointed out in 2006, the new international team owners haven’t spent all that money to welcome devaluation of their assets through simple sporting failure. Given the burgeoning links between the NFL and the Premiership it’s not unbelievable, especially given the project to play matches abroad, that the Premiership has considered what the NFL’s structure and relationship to television might offer it.
Indeed, shifting the top flight to a closed shop of, say, 30 teams would eliminate a key pitfall of investing in a Premier League club: namely, the threat of relegation. The buying and selling of “franchises” to play in such a league would raise considerable capital; do you think Premier League exectuvies haven’t noticed that the last NFL expansion franchise sold to investors in Houston went for $700 million and the next will probably raise over $1bn?
Londonist thinks that such a system would see the Premier League expand to over 30 teams, divided into divisions looking something like this:
Metropolitan – Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Reading, Fulham, Portsmouth, Southampton
Mercian – Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Derby County, West Bromwich Albion, Hull City, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Nottingham Forest
Anglian – Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Leeds United, Ipswich Town, Norwich City
Palatine – Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic, Stoke City
I don’t think Londonist expects this to happen tomorrow. But even a decade ago, would we have predicted a proposal as outlandish as Game 39?
Such a system as this would, at a stroke, destroy much of what makes English football interesting from top-to-bottom. But that doesn’t mean that greed won’t see such a proposal floated some day.