The Premier League is watched in 900 million homes around the world; is in 229 “territories”; is spending the rewards of new £8 billion-plus deals in broadcast revenues and its chief executive Richard Scudamore is understandably talking about “reach”.
Yes, that is with a league which, despite those astonishing figures, he confidently predicts is “nowhere near” saturation point, with the India and China markets ripe for attention.
He talks of how virtual reality can be a “huge part” of the future and how the best players and managers can be attracted because the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid no longer have “the advantage over us”.
In interest, “authenticity”, “competitive rivalry”, the “great show” that is the Premier League, it is all there. “There is a cocktail of things that goes on that makes it a very attractive mix,” Scudamore says.
In showbiz terms the message is confident and clear, even if he may balk at my distillation: folks you ain’t seen nothing yet.
But, on the eve of a new season, the 18th under Scudamore’s watch since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, there is something else that is exercising him far more. It is another kind of reach; a local reach; a reach that involves the clubs delving deep into their communities and often going into areas where others feel excluded, where “knife crime” and “racial tension” are not political phrases but everyday reality.
“That’s the hard stuff and there are very few agencies that can do that,” Scudamore says. Football can. “We have to move the dial,” he adds. It is a phrase Scudamore uses more than once during this interview, which takes place by the side of the pitch at Market Road, Islington, a famous site in north London – the home of the first artificial pitch in the country and still only the second such 11-a-side surface in the borough. The other is the Emirates. It reopened last year after major Premier League and Football Association funding and is a buzz of almost 24/7 activity.
“Move the dial” is meant in two senses. It is about the image of the league, of course, it has to be for such a successful, slick and aware industry, but it is also about making that difference, with funding and support that can go under the radar. “We are living in a world that has got some challenges in terms of social cohesion, in terms of tolerance,” Scudamore says. “Our challenge is to make sure football does what it can …
“I don’t want to sound preachy, but football has the power to do this kind of stuff and it would be an absolute travesty if we didn’t use that power.”
In the week that Manchester United paid a world-record £89 million for Paul Pogba, Scudamore is dismissive of the argument that there is a growing “disconnect” between fans and players. “Players’ wages? Half of that goes in tax,” he says. “To help provide nurses and doctors and things that people expect to be provided. So there is an economic cycle.
“I’m not justifying players’ wages or transfer fees, but none of this would happen if we were not successful at the top end and we are because we put on a great show and that great show means acquiring the best talent, acquiring the best managers and putting them in fantastic stadiums… and that show creates huge interest that engages young people. And they get inspired. The minute a Premier League footballer is around there is a buzz and these kids want to touch, feel, see, be associated with.
“So this idea there is a disconnect, I don’t buy into it. There are kids on these estates right here who would want to be one [a footballer] and therefore it’s gold dust, and gold dust should be spread more widely.”
The Pogba deal does not, Scudamore thinks, represent a “seismic shift”, but such spending “is part of the evolution of the Premier League where we are now competing on a more level footing in the economics. With the Spanish and with Real Madrid and Barcelona, in fairness they have had it all their own way economically for a very long time. If they no longer have the advantage over us then I am not going to concern myself with that.
“But I think it’s not so much our economic power. I think it’s more our interest levels around the world…that’s where the [European] envy comes. And it’s my job to make sure that never changes.”
The Premier League was staunchly anti-Brexit. “I have no fear for the economics – we do business in 229 territories across the world, we manage to get US dollars out of Burma. So there is no fear about us not being able to do business, no fear about us not being able to acquire talent, that will all work itself out. It’s more about how we are perceived across the world – is Britain still a good partner, are these people still welcome? Ours is a more cultural position rather than an economic or political one: you are welcome here.
“Whether it is players, managers, owners or fans wanting to take part in what is this fantastic export for Britain. It’s like the Queen, our artists, musicians, fashion designers and artists. These are all things people look to Britain.”
Such is the power that even another England tournament failure is not such a setback “because of the global phenomenon that is club football”.
Nevertheless, Scudamore endorses the appointment of Sam Allardyce as manager. “Sam, I think, is the right man for the right job at the right time,” he says. “Sam is all about ‘there is a game here that we must win’, and it’s that absolute mentality – do whatever you have got to do to win.”
Where does the Premier League go from here? “Traditionally our value has been in 90 minutes of live football watched on television,” Scudamore says. “The challenge is – and I watch my children, what are they going to be interested in? “In the future people might not pay big subscriptions but we do know that people are prepared to pay for the specific things they want. Even the younger generation understand that even if it is in small unit prices… If you look at Sky’s arrangement with Twitter and the use of clips.
“And we have not even started with virtual reality. VR will play a huge part in the future exploitation of the Premier League. Just look at the quality now of the imagery in the Fifa [computer] game. If you look at a TV from distance and you are watching the Fifa game then you have to do a double take to see it’s not actual footage.”
It is why he predicts that the League is far from “saturation point”. “No. We have not even started in India and China yet. Not really. And that’s, what, a third of the world’s population?” Scudamore says. “But the first thing that excites me is the football. Then about what the clubs are doing in their communities. Globalisation comes third.
“There are very few things that can influence a community quite like football. Our job is to: a, do more; and, b, to make sure we communicate the wider impact. We are not going to convert everybody, this is not missionary work, but we can at least get a bit of balance.”
Source : telegraph.co.uk