Monday, 22 February 2010

The beautiful game...and the Indian Connection

"The English Premier League...is the Greatest Show on Earth"
-Sky Sports Broadcasting

The total amount of money that flows into football annually is mindboggling. No other sport in the world could even compare with the sort of pecuniary success that the beautiful game can call its own. The basic assumption is that when a game is as universal, and as appealing as football, it becomes more than just a global phenomenon, it becomes a cash cow. Even America, which has three of the richest leagues of sport in the world, the NFL, the MLB and the NBA, has proselytised itself to the sport. And while SAU-ker still occupies second place in the hearts of many Americans, it still occupies a large space of the revenue.

Now, the bastion of the beautiful game today is the EPL, the Premier League, the Barclays ... you get the point. The top flight of English football is now the top flight of world football, so to speak. And this blog is about the richest league in the world. However, even the richest football league in the world, can't match up to the American juggernauts that I have mentioned before. Yes, this is the league which generates billions of dollars in revenue, where the wages paid to players exceed 1 billion dollars annually. But it is still not close to the top American sports of baseball, football (yes, the American version) or basketball. And while this blog isn't about the dominance of the American dollar over the Euro, or over the whole world for that matter, it is interesting to note that the revenues generated by the American version of football (no, not SAU-ker) were double those of the English counterpart. Yes, that goes for the attendance too, EPL clubs have an average of 35,000, which fyi is the best in Europe, no laughing matter. American NFL clubs, on the other hand, have in excess of 65000 people thronging their stadia for every game.

But where football really comes into its own is the worldwide appeal. And, of course the worldwide nature of the EPL is no exception. Half the players playing in the team are non English. For bigger clubs like Arsenal or Chelsea, on any given matchday, the English population of their squad would be a dismal minority, 1, maybe 2 players at most. However, the really disturbing fact lies not in the nationality of the players, but that of the owners. The English are now facing a unique situation. They have effectively outsourced their league. The only thing English about it anymore are the stadia. Oh yes, the Emirates Stadium… just about says it all.

So, what happens when the money runs out? Now for some clubs, Chelsea(Abramovich $7bn), Man City(Sheikh Mansour something or other $17 bn), that isnt a possibility. However, for smaller clubs, like Portsmouth... that would be a disaster. Most of the bigger clubs are in a lot of debt, too. Off the top of my head, Man U are 500 mil. approx., Liverpool are 250 mil. and Arsenal are around 400 mil. for their stadium construction. But the worst hit would be the smaller clubs... Portsmouth, and of course the ignoble Gaydamak, is my best example. Teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, relegation and ruin.

However, what's really irritating, IMHO, is the Indian interest in football clubs. Yes, Mukesh Ambani's love affair with Liverpool. Rather than develop football in their own country, they would offer generous sops to clubs abroad, hoping to gain popularity, and brand value. Yes, and the precedent with Queen's Park Rangers is exemplary. When Lakshmi Mittal, multi-billionaire bought out nearly 50% of the club, people expected this small West London club to be the next Chelsea.However, a year on, and they are still exactly where they are. Zero Investment. Just goes to show that Indian Tycoons, aren't really motivated by the green of the pitch, but by the green of the dollar.

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