The Community Shield in Dubai - what are the alternatives to the Premier League's '39th Game' plan?

Mr Leon Emirali

Posted: August 21, 2014

With Manchester United stalling and just three English-based players in the World Cup Final starting line-ups, is the Premier League’s global magnetism losing its pull? Consultant, Leon Emirali suggests alternatives to the controversial ‘39th Game’ which could boost the Premier League’s international appeal.

Ahead of the launch of the 2014/15 season, Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore reaffirmed his desire for a ‘39th game’, the idea of playing an additional round of fixtures abroad. The proposition was first floated in 2008 and could potentially net clubs an additional £5m in revenue, as well as boosting their profiles in lucrative emerging football markets in Asia and the Middle East.

Despite the obvious commercial benefits, UEFA and FIFA think the idea is “nonsense” and “won’t work”. FIFA’s executive committee unanimously voted against the proposal six years ago, citing time zone logistics as its chief concern; “they would be playing 12 hours away west and east and 24 hours difference in the south,” said Sepp Blatter following the vote.

That is a valid point for opposition, but a comprehensive rejection of the idea is failing to realise the Premier League’s full commercial potential at a time when the Premier League bubble is showing embryonic signs of bursting. Of the total £5bn television rights deal running from 2013-2016, £2bn comes from the sale of overseas rights, with Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong coughing up £650m between them.  Yet, India and China are only just beginning to embrace the Premier League with the same enthusiasm of their smaller continental neighbours. This means that the English Premier League is increasingly likely to become more valuable overseas than it is on home shores – and I’ve yet to mention a pique in soccer interest in the USA following the national team’s exploits in Brazil.

So how does the Premier League continue to support the commercial interests of its top-flight clubs, whilst retaining the League’s commitment to English fans and securing the support of the powerbrokers at UEFA and FIFA? One idea could be to move a greater number of competitive games, that don’t interfere with the regular business of the Premier League, abroad. It could be argued that a play-off between the 4th and 5th placed teams to determine the final Champions’ League spot will add intrigue and competitiveness on home soil, whilst appealing to international audiences if played overseas. Similarly, hosting the Community Shield in the Middle East, Asia or USA could add competitive spice to the season curtain-raiser if played in front of a lucrative global audience.

These proposals would quash criticisms about time zone logistics and add benefit for domestic followers of the game. Yes, smaller clubs could legitimately argue that they would still be missing out on a slice of the pie, but whilst a pre-season friendly between Manchester United and Real Madrid can attract a stadium audience of over 100,000, the prospect of Hull City vs Burnley in 40 degree heat following a season-long relegation battle might not prove as an attractive prospect, for fans and clubs alike (with the greatest of respect).

There’s no doubt that Scudamore will continue to bang the drum for the ‘39th game’. Yet, despite its merits, it’s clear the Premier League still has work to do in developing the concept to win over the decision-makers at FIFA and UEFA, and sceptical smaller clubs who will question the genuine benefits to their bottom line.

Despite unprecedented success in recent years, the English Premier League is in danger of losing its ‘mega-brand’ status to the likes of La Liga in Spain and Ligue 1 in France; where the top clubs appear to enjoy a bottomless pit of transfer funds to attract the world’s best players. Now, the Premier League and its clubs must step-up and unleash its full commercial potential to safeguard the League’s competitiveness for years to come.


About Leon Emirali


Leon Emirali is a consultant who has worked to develop commercial activity at global clubs including Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League. Follow him @LeonEmirali