What does one make of the EPL’s overseas plan?

“It’s a strange and comical idea,” Platini said. “I laughed because it will never be received by Fifa, by the fans and the national associations. It’s a nonsense idea. It’s like if I am the president of Uefa and I put the house of Uefa in China. It’s ironic. Soon you will have in England no English presidents, you already have no English coach and maybe now you will have no clubs playing in England. It’s a joke.”
Platini reacts to the EPL overseas expansion plan.
Personally, I think he was being a bit of an ass with that hyperbolic comment. It is a limited number of games and the idea of playing EPL matches abroad reflects its status as the most watched league and its huge fan base around the world. It is not an indictment of the English game.
Most of the criticism comes from managers left in the dark over the EPL scheme. Naturally, they are cut up about it. The league has to address manager concerns over a spectrum of logistical and player problems, from fatigue brought on by too much overseas travel to potentially racist fans. The plan can only survive if the managers sign onto it. The first step would be to bring the managers on board. But the EPL has to pay closer attention to some of the more substantive objections coming from the domestic leagues in the countries that they plan matches in.
Many countries including the USA have national leagues that have climbed a hard road to establish themselves as viable sporting entities. They are just beginning to come into their own.
So what does it say when an EPL match could potentially attract upto 120,000 at Salt Lake Stadium while the Indian Premier League struggles to attract a percentage of that audience? A failure of branding of course and questions of survivability for the domestic game. But it does not necessarily have to be that way.
If handled well, it could be a different message. I liken it to the Indian economy opening up incrementally after decades of anemic growth crippled by governmental regulation and under performing public sector underakings. Multinational firms initially gained access to the buying power of India’s huge middle class by developing associations with the local economy, leading to public sector reforms and the rise of the private sector causing a much improved economic environment. The result is that there is now a flood of foreign investors in India’s economy as the government continues its process of cautious deregulation.
Having players of the caliber of Ronaldo, Torres, Drogba, and Cesc playing in Asia will bring out their enormous fan base which so far relies on TV broadcasts without ever seeing their heroes live.
The EPL first mission would be to plan matches which don’t intrude with international and domestic fixtures. In addition, it would be useful to work towards a more equitable revenue sharing plan with the domestic leagues. But these measures by themselves do not guarantee the sustainability of the plan.
The idea that the Indian fan will keep buying Fernando Torres merchandise blindly on the strength of a yearly Torres sighting is a fallacy. I can confidently say that Asians in general are discriminating buyers and to become a viable plan with a sustainable future, the EPL needs to part with something more intrinsic in value than just a temporary presence marketing games and merchandise.
It has to develop a more permanent relationship with the local game to lift its levels. For e.g., India already has a long term plan to improve soccer under the auspices of the Asian Football Federation. Individual EPL clubs could supplement that mission by offering their deep and excellent resources. Training camps to improve coaching, fitness and techniques would be a good way to begin. Another way would be to send promising local youngsters on scholarships to train at English youth academies. Just imagine what it would do to India’s game if even a few were trained at Liverpool’s or Man Utd’s excellent youth facility.
This long term relationship will bring dividends to the EPL beyond the projected games even as Asian audiences get a short term fix of seeing their favourite stars in action. The league can quell the uneasy reception to its overseas expansion by articulating its symbiotic aspects.

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