MLS waits for details of Premier League plans

February 8, 2008

Plans to stage Barclays Premier League games in major cities outside of England have been given a cautious welcome by Major League Soccer in the United States.

The Premier League are to debate staging an extra game abroad starting from the 2010-11 season.

The "international round" of fixtures could be played each January, with 10 matches played abroad in cities such as Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, Sydney, Johannesburg, Dubai and Beijing.

MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said that the MLS were intrigued by the idea, but wanted to ensure the plans gained FIFA approval before getting involved.

"We will have to wait and evaluate the proposal," Gazidis said, noting that there were many issues for FIFA to consider beyond the games themselves.

"I don't see it as a negative for MLS, but the implications go beyond these games on their own,"' he added.

"There are implications for the game worldwide. There are implications when matches are taken across borders in this way."

However, if the idea does get the go-ahead, Gazidis wants MLS to be part of it.

"If this were to happen it's something that we would be involved in," he said.

"We are the premier promoter of international soccer in North America and clearly we would like to get involved."

Through their Soccer United Marketing division, MLS promote not only their own competitions but also international fixtures and exhibition tournaments throughout North America.

MLS have worked closely with the Premier League on a number of initiatives in the past, Gazidis said, and he understands why they have chosen to go ahead with the idea.

"We've always had a very close relationship with the Premier League and I know [chief executive] Richard Scudamore well," Gazidis said.

"I think he's a very visionary leader and I think he understands that if the Premier League is going to continue to push its' position forward it needs to be moving forward and not just standing still. Richard is looking to push the envelope but at the same time he understands that he can't push it too far.

"Many leagues are working to become the first 'world league', and the Premier League is looking to take leadership on that," he added.

The American market has already seen this idea in reverse, with the US major leagues taking their own regular-season contests overseas.

The NFL will return to London in 2008 for a regular-season game at Wembley, following the huge success of last year's game between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, while the NHL also opened its season with two games in London last September.

In March of this year, Major League Baseball will open its season with a series between the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics in Tokyo.

"One of the phenomena that we've seen around the world is that the exhibition game circuit is less attractive than it was," Gazidis said.

"Football fans around the world are more sophisticated than they've been before and everyone wants to see the real thing. This is why when the NFL went to London they took the real thing and that is why the Premier League wants to export the real thing. There is a thirst for Premier League games."

While he understands why hometown fans are upset by the idea of their team playing overseas, Gazidis rejected the idea that the decision was based on greed.

"I don't associate a word like greed with this," he said.

"Clubs are looking to generate revenue primarily so they can compete for international players in a very very competitive market."

Gazidis said it was up to fans to decide whether such games were a price worth paying for keeping such players in the league.

On protests from fans about the ideas he added: "I'm sure that this is something the Premier League has considered.

"Football going to change. A lot of things we now take for granted would once have been considered revolutionary."