Premier League to reconsider games abroad in '39th game' reboot -- reports
The Premier League is aiming to resurrect its global expansion plan to play regular-season matches in foreign countries, according to an Associated Press report.
The idea of taking Premier League matches "on tour" around the globe was first mooted in 2008 and promoted as the "39th game," which was to be an extra game added to the league calendar but played outside of England.
On Wednesday, people with knowledge of the situation told the AP that clubs have now asked the league to conduct a feasibility study into global expansion options. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions have been in private.
When asked about Premier League pre-season or even regular season games abroad, United managing director Richard Arnold told the AP: "That's still an area that's under some development. You've seen on the tour the engagement we get abroad.''
The previous proposal was met by huge opposition from supporters, FIFA and leaders of national associations around the world who were concerned at the impact of having official games played in their country.
The Premier League eventually scrapped the idea, and in 2010 chief executive Richard Scudamore insisted there were no plans to resurrect the "39th game" -- but two months ago he indicated there was a softening of its stance.
"The clubs wanted it then and they all would still probably want it now," Scudamore said at the Premier League season launch. "It will happen at some point. Whether it is on my watch, who knows?"
Envious eyes have been cast at the NFL, which has successfully held regular-season matches at Wembley Stadium since 2007.
Preseason tours to Asia, South Africa, Australia and the United States have become increasingly lucrative and clubs are eager to tap further into the global market. When Manchester United played Real Madrid in Michigan this summer, a record football attendance for the United States of 109,318 filled the stadium.
Premier League games are broadcast into 650 million homes in 175 countries, according to league statistics. The league has been wary about reviving plans to take a game abroad after the initial discussion in 2008 angered both domestic fans and FIFA, with questions also about upsetting the balance of the division by inserting an extra fixture.
Premier League clubs may also feel they are missing out on further financial windfalls as Europe's major clubs begin to announce lucrative Gulf friendlies during their winter "breaks." AC Milan will play Real Madrid in the Dubai Football Challenge on Dec. 30, before Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid side take on PSG in Qatar on January 2.
The Italian Super Cup, between Juventus and Milan, will this year take place in Qatar on Dec. 22 after being played in Beijing's National Stadium in three of the last five seasons.
Man United are already considering playing friendlies in Qatar during their blank midweeks with no European football on the agenda.
A modified plan could see one game from the standard 38-game season moved abroad, rather than an extra match which it was claimed would undermine the integrity of the competition. But that would mean half the Premier League clubs -- and their fans -- would lose a home match. Any plan to move games away from their home stadiums is sure to be strongly opposed by supporters' groups.
The tender documents for the next television deals, which will cover the 2016-2019 seasons, are due to go out shortly and as such it is unlikely that any change could be implemented before the 2019-20 campaign.
It does seems possible that the FA could follow the Italian model and move the Community Shield, the traditional curtain-raiser which has suffered from dwindling interest from fans, abroad when the current agreement with Wembley ends in 2018.
Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins told The Times that while the idea was unpalatable it had to be embraced.
"I think it is inevitable it is going to happen," he said. "While we may not be 100 percent about it, as passionate football supporters just watching football as we have it, it's going to be a big change. The other side of it is that we have got to make sure we are on the bandwagon with them or we are going to be left behind."
While clubs like United and Liverpool can secure lucrative deals for pre-season games, it would be clubs with smaller global fan bases that could benefit from the Premier League helping to organize fixtures.
The Spanish league organized its second "World Challenge'' tour ahead of this season, for Almeria, Atletico Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna, Malaga and Valencia as Barcelona and Real Madrid cut its own deals.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.