08 February 2008

The 39th Step

I find it extraordinary that almost all the hot air being blown around in response to the proposed 'international round' of Premier League games is with reference to how this won't be fair on fans who mightn't be able to travel to Tokyo or Los Angeles to watch their teams play.

That doesn't work, really, not with a dozen or so teams being international brands that are hugely and obviously dependent on foreign revenue to make ends meet; it could be argued that exporting the Premier League as a live experience, rather than a merely televised one, is only fair to the legions around the world who contribute to the club coffers.

A far more serious objection, which I've seen raised but not really brandished with any force, is that a thirty-ninth game will corrupt the integrity of the competition as it stands.

It doesn't work to claim, with Richard Scudamore, that 'These fixtures will not decide who wins the league and who is relegated. That is decided over the course of the season. There is already an inherent unfairness in our fixture programme.'

I'm not entirely sure what he means by his concession that the fixture list is inherently unfair, but it's nonsense of him to disregard concerns that this kind of thing could vitiate any semblance of fairness in the League. Think of what the proposal involves:

The idea would be that one weekend in January ten matches would be played in five cities around the world, thereby giving foreign fans in each city and environs the opportunity to see two matches, or four Premier League teams, over the course of the weekend. It's not clear whether there'd be any seeding, but reports so far suggest that it'd be arranged that the top five teams wouldn't have to face each other; I presume the thinking is to spread out the celebrity factor.

You might wonder who the 'top five' teams would be, since they'd surely not be the top five at the time the round was played. Presumably they'd be the top five from the previous season, presumably, giving us United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Spurs if we were to look at least year's figure. Yes, Spurs, currently around twelfth on the table.

Leave that aside, though. Is it really credible that this wouldn't distort the League? Perhaps it wouldn't at the very top and the very bottom, though I'd not bet on it, but what about the half-dozen teams that might be hoping for the fourth Champions' League berth or a UEFA Cup spot, or the handful of teams that'll be scrabbling to avoid being the third team to get relegated? Would you want your team to have to play United or Arsenal three times instead of twice in a season? No, didn't think so. You'd be far happier with them facing the likes of Derby or Fulham, wouldn't you?

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