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EDITORIAL

DOMINANT FORCES

La Liga’s experiment with playing some matches abroad will be watched closely by rival leagues

Sergio Ramos might not be a widely popular figure, but he has joined several La Liga colleagues in taking a stance that will be supported by most football fans. The Spanish player s ’ union, AFE , a re to meet L eag ue of f ic i a l s to express t hei r opposition to an alarming new TV deal. In early August, the Spanish League announced a 15-year partnership with a US media company to promote itself in North America. This will involve one game being played in the US each season. The League have since said that this won’t be a Clásico fixture but is likely to involve one of the big two playing a designated away match against a smaller team. With a hard-earned reputation for incompetence, it seems likely that the Spanish football authorities did not anticipate such a negative reaction to their new project, the latest demonstration of the way in which the game is being reshaped by broadcast media in their various forms.

their stifling dominance in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid still sometimes drop points to teams scrambling to avoid going down or to qualify for the Europa League. An unsuccessful siege against a massed defence can make for a dramatic game but that is not how La Liga will want to promote itself. The same might apply to any

The aim is only to strengthen interest in a handful of super-clubs of the major leagues should they try to follow the Spanish example by staging games in a different country; the makeweight majority can’t be relied on to roll over.

Various solutions to that potential problem will have been discussed at the increasingly regular meetings between the owners of the major European clubs. One would be for such fixtures to take place in a closed league where concerns about relegation would have no influence on how

When football fans in the UK set up campaigning groups just over 30 years ago, matchday spectators were the game’s biggest sponsors, providing far more income than clubs received from their various commercial deals. That is still the case below the top level. But as a recent BBC report into football finances revealed, many Premier League clubs could function as businesses even if they were playing in empty stadiums. In the first year of the current broadcasting deal, 2016-17, 11 clubs would have made pre-tax profits without any paying spectators at their matches, thanks to a global TV revenue of over £8 billion. Of course, the broadcasters need large crowds to create the spectacle that will hold the attention of the viewers and it is the fans who pay for the subscriptions that drive these huge deals. But while the Premier League were prevailed upon to back supporter-driven initiatives like the capping of away ticket prices, matches are still routinely rearranged to suit TV schedules with no care for how spectators might be inconvenienced.

the match is played. The broadcasters would then get the properly competitive version of the International Champions Cup between teams who play “home” matches across the world. The Spanish league plans for fixtures in the US may be forestalled if the players’ union go ahead with their threatened strike action to block it. But it would not be a surprise to see similar proposals made in the near future from both Spain and Europe’s other major leagues. Hopefully a combination of player and fan activism will continue to block some terrible ideas f rom becoming reality.

The value that the major clubs place on their worldwide audience can be seen every summer when they play in tournaments such as the International Champions Cup (ICC). This was held for the sixth time this summer, with the Premier League providing one third of the 18 clubs taking part. Whatever its organisers may claim, the event is not intended to promote football as a whole in the US or other venues where games have been held, which include China and Australia. The broadcasters who hold the rights to the major European leagues in various territories don’t want to see competitions such as Major League Soccer ever develop to the point where they might become a rival; the aim is only to strengthen interest in a handful of super-clubs.

Even though there is substantial prize money, and the matches draw big crowds, ICC games will never be more than pre-season warm-ups. The organisers want to present famous players, many of whom are now also global brands, being given the opportunity to shine. Just as La Liga, if they get their way, would be delighted to have one of the big two rattle in the goals against Getafe in Los Angeles. That might not quite be what happens, though. For all

Spurs on their way to winning the 2018 International Champions Cup. Yes, we missed it too

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