Spanish and German leagues back '39th step'

April 9, 2008

LONDON, April 9 (Reuters) - The Premier League's controversial 'international round' concept was backed on Wednesday by leading officials from the Spanish and German leagues.

Earlier this year the Premier League proposed to play an extra international round of fixtures, in five cities around the world from the 2010/11 season but after a widespread opposition and a rejection from the FA, plans seemed to have been put on the back-burner.

However, those behind it may dig out their plans for a 39th round of matches again after being given rousing support from representatives of some of the rest of Europe's major leagues, who jealously look on at the Premier League's enormous global reach and income.

Speaking at the Soccerex Forum at Wembley Stadium, Francisco Roca Perez, CEO of the Spanish league, said: 'I thought it was a great idea, it seemed quite natural.

'I was really surprised by the reaction and many of the criticisms were misunderstandings of what the objectives are.

'I think this first step has reached a mass opposition but eventually it will become normal as this league and these teams are so well liked all over the world.'

Tom Bender, director of marketing for the Bundesliga, also backed the plan but said it had been badly presented.

'I think it was very good example of how a good idea can be ruined in three seconds,' he said.

'It was not sold very well. I think it's a great idea, commercially fantastic, but the repercussion was tremendous and they (the Premier League) did not fight back.

'Some things make sense in marketing but you have to be careful how you tell people about them.'

Bender said that German clubs had been reluctant to get involved in overseas expansion plans until money was waved in front of them.

'All our clubs say they want to get into the overseas market but when we approach the individual clubs they say 'no thanks',' he said.

'We have had to change our approach, make money available and some teams came forward and they have played friendlies in places like Poland and China as representatives of the Bundesliga.'

The fourth edition of the Soccerex Forum, a series of seminars and 'networking opportunities' attracted representatives of more than 100 clubs representing 25 nations, together with hundreds more delegates from all aspects of the football industry.