February 12, 2015 / 5:12 PM / 3 years ago

Foreign leagues quake as EPL steamrolls ahead

LONDON (Reuters) - Lay 10 pound notes side by side and end to end, and the cost of broadcasting just one Premier League match to a UK audience would cover the pitch of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium in Bank of England paper. Heading for twice over.

The money Britain’s dominant pay TV firm Sky, and rival BT, spend to screen the English league’s footballers live would be sufficient to carpet the whole of Monaco in brand new tenners -- annually, for two of the deal’s three years, with plenty left over.

Top flight footballers may soon be earning 500,000 pounds a week, analysts predict in the wake of this week’s deal which pours more than 5 billion pounds into the league from 2016. Sky paid 4.2 billion pounds for the lion’s share of the rights, while BT spent 960 million to retain a foothold.

Analogies translating those enormous sums into more digestible images are as plentiful as they are colourful, as fans, analysts and sponsors wrestle with the figures.

That these images are not simply unbelievable is testament to the accelerant poured on the TV rights arms race, creating elephantine growth in the league.

”Every player agent in Britain went home the other night and kissed his significant other,“ former president of CBS Sports Neal Pilson told Reuters. ”Because these deals inevitably lead to significant increases in the value of the players.

“The value of the international rights... will probably be impacted by this new deal. I would expect they would go up dramatically as well.”

FLIP SIDE

While the other established big league’s in Europe will worry about their pulling power in the transfer market, compared to their English rivals, there is another flip side to all this growth, one that threatens to hurt the sport around the globe.

Take Singapore. At weekends, the city-state’s bars and riverside pubs are packed as locals waring replica kits watch Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.

But that enthusiasm cannot be found for the local league, with most clubs able to attract crowds of only hundreds.

Singapore is just one example where the power of the Premier League has helped all but obliterate the local soccer scene, TV rights expert Julian Moore says.

“The S.League did enjoy reasonable attendances, but since the Premier League has taken over, that just doesn’t happen anymore,” he told Reuters.

“They simply cannot compete with the glamour and the money of the Premier League. It’s an uneven playing field. If the choice is watch the local league or watch the Premier League, then there is only one winner.”

Moore, of international law firm Pinsent Masons, says the Premier League has been a force for good as well.

“In countries where there is no real tradition of football, the Premier League has stimulated interest,” he said.

“We have seen this in places like Mongolia, and in India where the new league has attracted crowds of up to 60,000. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain that. The Premier League can ignite interest in domestic leagues, but it can extinguish it too.”

The message is, a strong domestic league can withstand the pressure of the Premier League, but if the local product is weak, it struggles to compete with the action from England.

LEVERAGING POPULARITY

Japan’s J-League knows it cannot compete with England or the big European leagues, but enjoys a strong following in its own right, and leverages the popularity of elite leagues to grow support further.

“There are ways for ‘satellite nations’ to boost their soccer within themselves,” Munehiko Harada, professor of sport sciences at Japan’s Waseda University told Reuters. “Japan may lose good players (to the Premier League and Europe) but they may come back to Japan again. And they can help boost the level of Japan’s soccer. So that could be positive.”

Time zones too, can help protect against the all-conquering English. Australia’s fledgling A-League, for example, feels little competition from the Premier League because English games are played in the middle of the Australian night.

Some nations could benefit from a stronger Premier League, allowing them to keep more of their players on home soil. “I believe the desire to buy Scandinavians will be lessened,” Sweden-based journalist and broadcaster Simon Bank told Reuters.

“Thy will be more likely to turn to southern European or South American star players.”

Sao Paulo-based consultant Amir Somoggi says Brazilian clubs cannot compete in the face of English buying power.

“They internationalised and Brazil didn’t do that,” he said. “Cardiff, who finished last in the Premier League, got more than the two biggest clubs Flamengo and Corinthians, put together.”

Winners or losers, rival leagues had better get used to the popularity of the Premier League because there is no sign of its appeal waning, as broadcasters dig deeper and deeper to secure it, and the league grows and grows.

“The EPL contract with NBC is up at the end of this year,” Pilson, now a media consultant, said.

“I think they are paying $250 million for three years. They’ll never see that number again.”

Editing by: Martyn Herman; additional reporting by Andrew Downie, Julian Linden, Larry Fine

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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