Manchester City have, over the last two seasons, amassed a record 198 points; a feat that is difficult to comprehend. Previously the highest points total for a Premier League title winning side before the start of this dominance was 95. In fact, the average number of points required to win the Premier League (excluding City’s title wins) since it’s inception, is 87 points. City have therefore averaged 4 wins more than what is normally required to lift the trophy at the end of the season – truly remarkable. Granted, this season a fantastic Liverpool team were very unfortunate not to win the league but in 2017/18, Man United were runners up a full 19 points behind.
Apart from the incredible points tally and relentless winning streaks that City have become used to producing, there is an air of a dominance; the like of which we haven’t seen before. Particularly in their style of play which almost breaks opponents hearts as the game progresses, they have revolutionised what we come to expect from the best team in the league. They’ve also shown that they are on a different level to the rest of the division; even the rest of the ‘big 6’. For most observers it is beautiful to watch and their ability to create something from nothing is unparalleled, at least in recent years. The paradoxical question this raises though, is this: does this benefit or hinder the Premier League’s infamous global appeal or ‘the product’?
There’s a lot at stake
Why does this matter? Well it matters hugely to the UK economy for starters. A study revealed that the Premier League contributed a staggering £3.3 billion to the UK economy in taxes and supports over 100,000 jobs. The total contribution to the UK economy is estimated to total £7.6 billion. Even a modest drop in the success of this global export would hit the UK’s coffers hard. The benefits are not just economic: it also adds social and cultural value to the UK, internationally. When two strangers meet, football can often be a starting point for conversation and when that happens, English teams will be at the forefront of people’s minds – even when that conversation is in Peru, Papua New Guinea or Portugal. You see, the Premier League has the ability to overcome language difficulties, cultural differences and cost implications that often prevent dialogue; though it doesn’t yet solve world peace!
You often hear the government referring to ‘soft power’, particularly at times where the UK’s foreign aid commitments are questioned. It’s often the immeasurable outcomes; such as image, reputation and prestige that they are referring to. On this front, the Premier League helps to provide a boost to the global image of the UK and, according to the British Council, helps it to be seen as a place to visit, do business/trade, and want to engage with the arts and culture. Interestingly, Manchester City (along with Manchester United) are seen as the Premier League’s leading ‘brands’ who hold significance to football fans the world over. This is hugely beneficial to the city of Manchester itself, let alone the rest of the country.
It’s hard to over-emphasise the value of the Premier League ‘product’. Premier League clubs also claim a total of more than 350 million social media followers and their games are beamed to 188 countries around the world. In 2016/17, the total annual broadcasting rights overseas were worth £1.1 billion. To put this in context, this is £200million more than the other top 4 European Leagues combined.
These commercial riches have been utilised by Premier League clubs who have consistently outspent their European rivals, with ‘smaller’ having more firepower than some of Europe’s biggest names. It’s a cyclical effect: Premier League teams can consistently outbid their European counterparts, further enhancing the quality of squad in the league, thus making it a more attractive product.
The fortunes for the rest of the English football pyramid are also inextricably linked to the fortunes of the Premier League as a global entity. The Premier League has contributed over £350 million to the wider English game and has funded nearly 750 artificial grass pitches being built at a grassroots level. The Premier League is at the forefront of many community initatives and have a strong track record of providing opportunities to some of the poorest people of society. That said, there are well-founded concerns that clubs, and the league itself, could and should do more with the vast riches they possess – more about that here.
Less competitive, less appealing?
Getting back to the main thrust of this post: the impact that a less-competitive (Liverpool aside) league might have on this hugely important UK export. On the one-hand it would be reasonable to assume that a club who are in the top 2 biggest brands within the Premier League actually help to continue the exponential growth and success of the global product; not only by their results but their majestic style of play. Let’s be honest – if you were on another side of the planet, would you rather watch a Manchester City side score 5 or 6 against a mid-table opponent, or for example, watch Brighton vs Newcastle? I use these clubs as an example, but you understand the point. I’d argue that most fans would still watch City, even though it might be totally uncompetitive because as a football fan you would appreciate the quality on display.
It would be easy to assume that one of the things that has made the Premier League so popular is it’s competitiveness; the idea that on any given day, relegation fodder could topple a title-chasing side. It’s probably fair to say that up until recently the top end of the League was more competitive than most European Leagues; as evidenced by City being the first team to retain the league since 2009. In that time several other big European Leagues have seen teams not only win, but dominate domestically. Juventus, PSG and Bayern Munich have practically monopolised their respective leagues. City’s brilliance changes all of that and might yet change the way the greatest league in the world is viewed by the global public.
Still, I for one think it is an assumption – and the level of competition is only a very small part of the appeal of the Premier League. I would argue that it’s more revered for it’s great atmospheres, style of play and quality of player throughout the league but I realise it’s more complex than this. The Premier League has had the advantage of better global exposure, for longer, than it’s competitors. By stealing a march on the Spanish, Italian and French leagues it’s been able to build a loyal fan/customer base who may not warm to other leagues that are newly-introduced into their country.
On this basis, I would argue that City’s potential dominance of the Premier League will only fuel the juggernaut brand around the world; enhancing it’s reputation as a bastion of quality at the top-levels of the world club game. For those that might be worried that the pull of the Premier League is in danger, take comfort in the good fortune to have two fantastic teams showcasing the best of English football all over the globe.