Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Counterpoint: The Premier League's Foreign Round Plan is GOOD

In 1948, Bertrand Russell debated Father Frederick C. Copleston about the existence of God. Russell began by excluding what he could not defend: that God absolutely did not exist. Instead, Russell took the agnostic approach. This left Copleston to argue that God absolutely does exist, while Russell could simply sit back and poke holes in Copleston's position.

So, much like the great Bertrand Russell, I will begin my defense of the English Premier League's proposal by excluding what I cannot defend: that English soccer has become far too materialistic and is now largely guided by the almighty pound sterling.

This is a money grab. This is guided not by the purity of the sport, but rather by global marketing. This is about keeping up with Jonses, or more specifically the NFL and NBA. I also agree that there are some serious logistic hurdles facing this plan, everything from the fact that some teams will be put at a disadvantage based on who they draw, to the way in which foreign cities are chosen as hosts.

I am also very concerned by the fact that the FA might use the stupid "6+5" system as a bargaining chip for their support. The point should be to make English football more open, not to use it as an excuse to get all Lou Dobbs.

Having got that out of the way, here's why I am still in favor of an added round of matches abroad: it is reasonably innovative and it will create additional interest in English football around the globe. Sure it's inelegant. But so was that awful NFL match between the Giants and Dolphins at Wemberley last year.

For those of us who believe that the Premier League is the best football in the world, growth can only be a good thing.

Not only that, but growth is inevitable. And growth has already happened. For those longing for the days when teams like Ipswich [or Norwich, ha] won the title, those days are long gone. Today is the day of the top four (Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea and Everton) and foreign-born players and bucketloads of money being paid for that exotic Kazakh left-winger who no one has ever heard of before.

I could do without the unmitigated greed, but on the whole this is all actually good for the English game because English football is now faster, more physical, more skilled and more exciting. All that cash has allowed English teams to buy the best players. More cash from the international round will mean even more great players in the Premier League.

It will be a self-sustaining cycle, like the circle of life from the Lion King. Because the popularity of sports is not a zero sum game, with only a finite amount of attention for each sport and each league. More interest in sports is healthy, more interest in English football is even healthier.

I have selfish reasons too. I want to see my favorite team play in my backyard. And I want all the sports pundits and even the "soc-cer?" crowd to give the game a chance. If planned correctly when there are no major U.S. sporting events taking place, the amount of attention would be fantastic. And yes, even for such exciting potential matches as Wigan versus Middlesbrough playing to a nil-nil draw in Miami.

The fact of the matter is that a huge portion of Americans will simply never, ever tune in to FSC on a Saturday morning just to check out a footy match. But, if Chelsea are playing Sunderland in their backyard, and they've heard that Chelsea are supposed to be good, and they sometimes watch a World Cup match here or there but have always found "soccer" boring but are willing to give it a chance, and holy shit there are no commercials and it was actually a pretty decent match, and maybe they'll pay more attention to the English league and even buy a Lampard jersey for their cousin who plays high school soccer, and who knows maybe even watch an MLS match here or there (bleh!)... Well, you get the idea.

And this scenario is exactly what the powers that be in the Premier League had in mind, plus the idea of 100,000 ticketholders in Japan, 100,000 in Australia, etc. etc.

I guess my point is this: for those who criticize the plan because of the logistics, I would tend to agree with you; but for those who criticize the plan because it represents another threat to the hazy, suspended-animation of English football circa 1967, that train has left the station a long, long time ago. All sports are built on the past, this being reason number one why football is not popular in the U.S., because we have no past with the sport. But sports can't live in the past, especially not football, which, to borrow a phrase from the WWL, is built on which player is next.

Globalization represents the future of sports. It is inevitable that there will someday soon be superleagues that span the Americas and Europe. You will someday soon see the Serbian Mad Ants playing the Detroit Pistons for the World Basketball Association championship. All that stands in the way are logistics, and logistics are things that can be hammered out with a little elbow grease and compromise.

But I applaud the Premier League for embracing the future. If nothing else, the amount of vehement protests from the English punters shows that they are on to something good.

1 comment:

The NY Kid said...

HAHA! He listed the Big 4 with Everton. That deserves a "kicking the Scousers while they are down" tag.