I can’t get enough football. I love watching West Ham and I get terrible withdrawal in the off-season. However, as much as I love watching games, I’m unenthused about having a 38th or 39th league game played overseas. It might be decent news for West Ham’s finances and global appeal — but it risks alienating fans (particularly season ticket holders) from all Premier League clubs.
When the idea initially surfaced, it was met with such strong opposition that the Premier League scrapped it but it has now re-surfaced when Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore stated that ‘clubs wanted it then and they all would still probably want it now…It will happen at some point.’ This isn’t good news for me. I don’t support playing Russian Roulette with what club you’d play three times in the league.
Nor do I support adding yet another game to an already congested fixture list and taking football away from local fans and local grounds. In winter, West Ham play eight games in 34 days. There isn’t time to add a game, and the ‘improved’ suggestion to remove a domestic game from the existing 38 games and play it abroad means that half of the clubs in the league would lose a home game. This means not all clubs will offer season ticket holders the same amount of home games. Imagine being the club that loses a category A home game or if West Ham v Chelsea was played at 2am GMT?
The biggest issue for me is regarding which team clubs have to play a third time. It’s unfair for the team that would have to play an in-form Manchester City more than twice a season (trust a West Ham fan on this one) whether it’s a friendly or as a league game that counts towards the season.
With all teams playing each other twice in the league, it’s a fair opportunity because everyone has a chance to win the same three points but if the 39th game was considered a Premier League game, which it is referred to as (its considered an ‘extra round of fixtures,’ and ‘round’ suggests it’d be added to the Premier League’s current 38 rounds and counted as such) then an extra game that could determine your league position across an uneven playing field does not seem morally right.
What if two teams fighting for relegation, where one has to play the team in third place three times, whereas the other team plays the team in 16th place three times. Even if the 39th game is a ‘friendly,’ it’s a result you’d remember, and it would count in fans’ minds as a part of their season. That’s not to say there are no positives involved. An example of this is the American NFL
For the past few years, teams have been visiting from the USA to play a league match at Wembley. The event sells out and is a brilliant opportunity to tap into foreign investment and fan base. It is a money-maker and playing a game abroad would increase West Ham’s global appeal in foreign markets. The difference in this approach is that the NFL don’t add a game; they move one abroad — similar to the idea of moving an existing game of the 38 aboard.
Of course there are many global fans of West Ham United who would love to have the Hammers land on their doorstep for a game — and that mustn’t be forgotten — but the majority of foreign countries have more opportunities to watch Premier League football on TV than those in the UK do — there are swings and roundabouts there. Moving a game abroad would bring in a lot of money for the Premier League clubs (although I despair imagining the crowds that Burnley — Stoke in Alabama would draw), but is it worth the risk of alienating fans?
Fans across the Premier League are vehemently opposed to taking games abroad (look no further than the Palace fans protesting the 38th game at their most recently televised match). Clubs do enough traveling during pre-season, and most bring their football far and wide to reach legions of foreign fans.
Alienating fans who buy tickets, attend matches and purchase pies in favor of earning more money by playing a long game of enticing people abroad to purchase Premier League viewing rights does not sit right with me — and I’m someone who had to spend 18 years watching from abroad. It may be good business financially, but it’s bad business for loyal local fans and you already know who will lose out in that contest .