Controversial plans to stage Premier League matches outside England for the first time could open up a raft of sponsorship opportunities, according to industry experts.
The Barclays Premier League is proposing the addition of one annual fixture for each of its 20 clubs, to be played abroad over a weekend in January.
Although Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore insists that the total number of League fixtures during the season would be capped at 39, the proposals have sparked animosity from some quarters, fuelling accusations of greed.
Pippa Collett, managing director of Sponsorship Consulting said she empathised with fans, but argued that the League needs to look after its commercial interests. 'We think of football as being hallowed ground but really it is just an entertainment product, and needs to be structured, developed and marketed as such,' she said.
Collett is confident that regular overseas Premiership fixtures would create numerous opportunities. 'It will open up avenues for Premier League teams, existing and potential partners, and for local brands,' she added.
However, Mark Dixon, director of Fuse Sport, described the plans as 'ill thought-through'. 'I think they have just looked at the National Football League (NFL) and jumped on the back of what that is doing,' he said. 'But the NFL is not a global sport, it is a developing one trying to spread its wings, so it has to have meaningful games overseas. Football, however, is already global.'
If approved, the extra fixtures, combined with greater competition from rival broadcasters, will boost the price of Premier League screening rights. Its overseas broadcast rights total £625m, while the domestic ones are split between Sky and Setanta, after a record deal was struck last year.
Moreover, in December, US sports broadcaster ESPN said that it was 'absolutely interested' in acquiring the UK rights when the current deal expires in 2010. In addition, the overseas games, with the extra broadcasting, merchandising, gate and sponsorship revenues could attract yet more foreign owners, keen to bag a share of the profits, to the Premier League.
When the NFL brought its first regular season game to the UK last year, with a match between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, played at Wembley Stadium, it sold the global naming rights to tyre brand Bridgestone, with the game being played under the moniker the Bridgestone International Series. Continental Airlines was also signed up as the official airline of the Giants.
The success of the event has led the NFL to confirm similar plans for next year, with the potential to take games to other cities around the world. The Premier League will no doubt be watching developments with interest.
Premier League plans
- The Premier League comprises 20 teams that play 38 matches each season, facing each other at home and away.
- The League is proposing an additional overseas fixture for each team.
- Cities from around the world will bid to host one of 10 Premiership games, which would take place over a weekend in January.