Premier League A Plus

News piece on the success of the American presentation of the English Premier League. It’s been fun to watch live on Saturday mornings–I don’t get to the Sunday matches until the wrap-up programs in the evening.

Program host Rebecca Lowe:

There’s been a huge response, so many people have come up to me and say they now have a team and are converts. There are a lot more Americans watching than I thought — it’s a generational thing as the kids are playing in school and growing into the sport. There’s a fan base that has been growing steadily over the years and you are now just seeing it.

It’s also good sport. The way the matches are presented is exciting, and the athleticism of the players, plus the spirit in those English stadiums–especially the mid-size venues that seat 30,000 or less. I’ve watched MLS in the cavernous NFL stadium in Kansas City–an awful setting compared to the new soccer stadium on the Kansas side. That experience as a fan is absolutely marvelous.

For a league that doesn’t have playoffs (the last US league without one would have been MLB in 1968–only if you don’t count the World Series) there’s an amazing amount of excitement, and not only because of four teams vying for first place. There is also the battle for 4th and 5th places–determining which teams get seeded into the two European leagues–a whole other layer of competition.

And then you have the reality that the three teams at the bottom of the standings will get moved to the lower league for next season. If you’re a poor team, you get relegated. NBC suit Jon Miller talks about relegation:

And then you have about half a dozen teams fighting not to be relegated.

That is one of the things that makes the Premier League so unique, American fans are just not used to that — if you live in a city with a bad baseball or NFL team, you are stuck for a long time. Here the pressure of those last few weeks is enormous, even more so for the teams with the poorer records.

Rebecca Lowe thinks it would be a good idea for American soccer.

Relegation in the Premier League is what sets it apart. That is a real threat. I think it would be interesting to do that with MLS — but they are very different sports. If MLS had relegation, then they could create a pyramid system. I personally think it could add to it and help MLS and soccer in general in this country.

In the American system, I observe the competition is driven by more aristocratic and less egalitarian principles. Owners buy into a league, and they sell the team to fans. With British teams, there are owners, but their teams are anchored in their cities and communities–not in a particular level of competition.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to Premier League A Plus

  1. David D. says:

    In large part, the Barclays Premier League, as the top flight of English football is officially known due to that bank’s current sponsorship, was driven by the desire of certain top clubs to increase revenue and in particular, to maximize their share of skyrocketing TV revenues in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The structure of the competition, i.e., promotion, relegation, qualification, is not a distinctive feature of the EPL and has been employed in the same form, more or less, in substantially all European club leagues for many, many years. What is characteristic of the EPL era is the dearth of meaningful competition for the top spots. In the EPL’s 21 years of existence, only 5 different clubs have claimed the league title with three teams – Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea – accounting for 90% of those titles. Manchester United alone has won 13 titles. Over the past 10 seasons, only 7 different clubs have qualified for the Champions League by finishing in the top 4. Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have qualified in each of those 10 seasons. While it might be true that English clubs have their foundations in particular communities based on old parochial or sectarian divisions, success requires moving well beyond that local base and obtaining the financial backing of an American sports tycoon (Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal), a Russian oligarch (Chelsea), or an Arab sheikh (Manchester City). Absent such resources, a club has essentially no prospect of playing winning football but instead faces a yearly battle to avoid relegation and potential financial ruin. On those rare occasions that a lesser club does qualify for European competition through success in one of the domestic cups or through UEFA’s fair play table, it always is for the Europa League, the UEFA equivalent of college basketball’s NIT. Paradoxically, qualification for the Europa League can potentially endanger a small club’s survival in the top flight as such clubs are without the resources to build the larger squads necessary to meet the demands of an increased fixture list. Looking at the current league table, the clubs in positions 11 through 20 are uniformly dreadful and only separated by a total of 10 points. For the American viewer, these perennial bottom feeders may add an appealing gloss of tradition but it is the big clubs and their big stars that keep them tuned in.

    • Todd says:

      Good points, and I’ve read most of those. Probably why I’ve hitched my fandom to the two Wales teams. Although I wonder about those owners …

      Still, I find it a refreshing change from American sports: bloated leagues and three-fourths of any given league’s membership being essential longshots for a championship. Baseball did well in the 80’s, but the Kool-Aid we baseball fans have been fed suggest that is an aberration.

      It will be interesting to see what effect the league of nations will have on this: the best players with another layer of competition, and clubs all across Europe needing depth.

      Are 11-20 in the BPL really “dreadful” or is that only in comparison? There are good players, and teams seem to have come from somewhere to rise to 10th place and above. Matches involving those teams have been entertaining to me. Maybe I’m not impressed with Man U, or MCI’s laziness, or I’ve been watching too much MLS these past fifteen years.

  2. David D. says:

    “Are 11-20 in the BPL really “dreadful” or is that only in comparison? “

    You may be right though I doubt anyone would call West Ham, who currently sit at 11, a good team under any measure.

    From time to time, there is speculation as to where MLS might fall within the English league hierarchy with the third division seeming to be the most common answer. As someone who watches MLS and the EPL, what’s your take?

  3. Todd says:

    When I see EPL teams come to the US, I don’t get the sense they’re playing all-out. You see some, but not all the starting 11. And face it, it’s a friendly. The BPL team seems to be sleepwalking–like when MCI conceded a few lazy goals versus Cardiff City last weekend.

    As an American I’d hope that the consistently good MLS teams–Seattle, Kansas City, LA Galaxy would compare well–at least Championship Division. They are clearly not as good as the EPL top half. But even teams like West Ham have moments of fluidity that I don’t see in the stop-and-start play of MLS.

    In theory, if an MLS team found itself intact in English football, I suspect the level of play would push players who were otherwise well-coached and well-conditioned to probably a higher level than what they perform at now. But that’s all theoretical. The best US teams play the CONCACAF Champions League. And those teams have only won it twice, the last time in 2000. That says a lot.

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