Verses: The Versed considers current social, cultural, and political issues and weighs up both sides of the argument.
La Liga has announced plans to hold “regular” league matches on US soil as early as this season, according to its President Javier Tebas, giving US residents the chance to watch top-tier competitive Spanish football in their own country for the first time. Great news for stateside soccer stans, not so good for Los Ultras of Barcelona, Madrid, Benfica et al who’ll have to make an 8000-mile round trip if they want to catch their team in action.
Mr Tebas told The Financial Times that he’s “devoted to growing the passion for soccer around the world”, adding that “this groundbreaking agreement is certain to give a major impulse to the popularity of the beautiful game in the US and Canada.”
Back in 2008, a plan to extend the Premier League season by one match to accommodate for an “international round” – that would involve teams playing one league game abroad – was scuppered after pressure from supporter groups and MPs. But this latest news regarding La Liga will stoke the flames of a potential US move for England’s top footballing tier, or the EPL as it’s affectionately known in the states, but does anyone actually want this to happen?
It’s fair to say that US sports fans are more accustomed to the concept of travelling ‘franchises’ than their UK counterparts. For several years now the NFL has brought competitive matches to London’s Wembley Stadium to help develop British interest and boost profits – a move that feels relatively natural for a sport where its biggest event is as much about half time adverts as the game itself. But even with the Premier League’s accumulation of astronomical wealth from TV rights deals and billionaire club owners, a push to further commercialise the league by playing games abroad seems like a step too far.
Residents of the US are the ones who stand to benefit the most from a Premier League trip abroad. Sean Miller, a 43-year-old living in New Jersey, is a huge ‘soccer’ fan and “makes multiple trips every season to England” to watch the Premier League.
“It’s the best league in the world” he says, “the most competitive top to bottom. Each match is tough. In America, they used to show Match of the Day every Monday night back in the early 90s so I started getting interested”
As a United fan, Sean says he’s aware of how important matchday rituals are to fans, “walking up Sir Matt Busby Way to Old Trafford, stopping at the chippy, walking outside around the ground etc is so vital”.
“I think there would be some upset fans if games came over here, there are only 19 home matches for some of the teams, maybe one or two more in cups. But I think eventually fans would understand. They have Friday and Monday night matches now, and there was resistance to both initially. There are more pressing problems to the fans”.
“The Premier League should start with some of the established mid-table clubs, who might want to increase their base in a growing market like America. Maybe Everton or West Ham. A team like Wolverhampton would be interesting”.
Overlooking the Locals
It’s hard to see any positives in a US move for local Premier League fans. Those who trudge to every home game come rain or shine, those who have their club emblem tattooed on their chest, those who regularly travel hundreds of miles all around the country just to watch their team, their beloved boys, draw 0-0 away to Huddersfield.
Top flight Football is so intrinsically woven into the fabric of british culture that tampering with its presence, even slightly, risks fundamentally disrupting communities across the nation. For Premier League clubs like Newcastle, Liverpool, and Everton, their physical geographical location is everything. They are so firmly intertwined in the communities surrounding them, that playing even one home match abroad would seem utterly preposterous to any local fan.
When a potential move was announced back in 2008, the then chairman of the Football Supporters Federation Malcolm Clarke, said, “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”.
“Are we going to see local derbies played in a foreign country thousands of miles away? Are supporters supposed to accept missing the biggest games of their season because it’s being played on the other side of the planet?”
“Let’s face facts,” he added, firmly, “the sole motivation for this is the Premier League to make more money – aren’t they making enough already?”