Football's golden fleece - the summer 'super league'

Posted by Phil Mison

Barcelona vs Real MadridGettyImagesThe summer super league plans to rake in huge amounts of TV revenue

Ancient tales of an Eldorado caused many an old buccaneer to run his ship up onto the rocks, while landlubbers hacked a furious and fruitless path through fetid jungles before falling victim to disease, native spears or madness.

At 82 years of age most of us will be more than happy to settle for the simple life. Not so Rupert Murdoch. The serial entrepreneur shows no signs of laying down his cutlass anytime yet. The 'Dirty Digger' has seen his business empire take a severe pounding in recent months. But now we have the adversarial Aussie deflecting talk of the decision to divorce his young wife by revealing a typically bullish blueprint for a new soccer super league format.

Made to squirm under cross-examination by Parliament for the phone tapping and ancillary dark arts perpetrated by some editors (resulting in the closure of the News of the World), hounded by his Newscorp shareholders over strategy and falling profits, and now sand-bagged by BT Sport, Murdoch for the very first time since the inception of the Premier League sees his sports broadcasting empire under challenge.

Murdoch of course embodies Tom Wolfe's Masters of the Universe conceit, shared with the likes of Conrad Black, Richard Nixon and Jeffrey Archer. You can put these guys away, publicly expose their chicanery, hold them to ridicule, and they'll bounce right back at you. Their self-belief comes iron-clad; shame is a sentiment for sissies.

Talk of widespread eavesdropping by government agents and the security services has been the week's big story. Earlier this month we blogged about the inevitability of a coming elite league for the super galacticos. So have the Sky executives been bugging my phone? Their HQ is only a few miles down the road.

My take on Murdoch's vision for a 16 team summer schedule, by invitation only, leading to a Superbowl showdown in Miami? A half-baked non-starter that serves only one master. Sky's business model. It's a ploy devised by a corporate giant on the ropes and feeling the pressure to respond to market forces.

With NBC Universal about to claim the high ground for live football rights in the USA (putting Murdoch's Fox Channel in the shade) and BT Sport bold and big enough to deal a major blow to BskyB's revenues by delivering EPL coverage free of charge to customers signing up to BT's telco services, we have a major game changer in town from August.

Murdoch says he will be franchising fixtures globally for his summer season, that he will be giving football the Formula One treatment. He points out, correctly, that big clubs already make forays into the Far East, the Gulf and the USA during the off season, parading their superstars and pushing the brand to emerging markets and soccer addicted audiences.

It's just a question of crunching the numbers, Sky say. They still have enough channels globally to ensure penetration, and who could resist the lure of the biggest 16 soccer teams in the world under one neatly parcelled up competition?

Just about everyone with an ounce of sense I suspect.

If Rupie fancies pulling this together in the off season he's going to find himself having to face down serious competition from UEFA and FIFA with their biennial tournaments, the World Cup and the European Championships. Not to mention the heavy post-season schedule of qualifying matches played by all the federations.

Is he expecting the world's greatest footballers give their all in Sky's bloated new format during the heat of summer, and with even greater demands on mind and body? The modern professional's diary is pretty jam-packed as it is. I can see the grim spectacle now – United seeming to be running through treacle in the suffocating smog of Shanghai as the temperature hits 33 degrees and water bottles lob onto the pitch like dying doves at every break in play.

Just re-wind countless group stage matches from past World Cups played in heat to remind yourselves of the stupefying dullness of the spectacle. USA 94 had more than their share. Or South Korea. Viewers will find myriad pastimes more appealing in fine weather than drawing the curtains and getting to grips with kick off times for Pacific Rim time zones.

Unless of course the whole madcap enterprise is to extract revenue from Asian markets. Which I suspect it is. But what of the European armchair football fans, the fan bases of the invited clubs, and the actual footballers themselves, along with the very fabric of the game, what about them?

As Murdoch would no doubt riposte to his many business detractors, just as Fulham owner Mohammed Al-Fayed told the West London club's fans that once disagreed with him, 'they can go to hell'.


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