By J Hutcherson (Apr 11, 2017) US Soccer Players – The American ownership was in Swansea last week to see their investment in person. The club is currently struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League, potentially creating a different scenario for their owners. Instead of seeing what they can build in the topflight, they could be spending a season trying to regain that status.
In 2017, foreign ownership is barely a concern anymore across European soccer. For several of the elite clubs, it’s almost a forgone conclusion. It’s the easiest way to get the kind of money those clubs need to compete at their level. For others, it’s the easier way to get out of whatever situation they’re in. Relegation looms even in leagues where it seems unlikely to ever effect the biggest clubs.
Still, there’s the feeling that foreign ownership reaches a tipping point. The clubs and the leagues they play in no longer feels local. That’s a long-term complaint in American pro sports where the team owner has no real connection to the city other than owning that team. Franchises feel different than clubs, regardless of what they call themselves. When the owner is more of an investor who considered a variety of sports in several markets, short of winning it’s tough to build a connection.
At least in theory, franchise owners are different from club chairpersons even when they happen to be the same people. The rush of American pro sports owners to take the majority ownership position in European clubs suggests those people don’t see the roles so differently. It might not be as easy to threaten to pack up and move a team if a city refuses to build a stadium, but the operations are still sports business as we know it.
That’s troubling for local fans insisting that these are true clubs rather than global brands. It puts pressure on that stricter definition of “locality”, something that hasn’t existed in the United States for generations. No one here is under any confusion about who a team belongs to. The recent NFL relocations are just the latest example.
Running parallel with the push for MLS expansion to St Petersburg is that city’s Major League Baseball team weighing their options for a new stadium there or elsewhere. It’s the standard story in the major American sports, the kind of thing that should trouble foreign fans with clubs under new ownership. It’s that connectedness that requires more than just saying the type of platitudes easy to find from the team’s Wikipedia entry.
We already know this isn’t just about the super league. Enough foreign investors have bought in down the table, down the divisions, and in leagues with little chance of getting an invite to that particular party. This isn’t just foreign money placing a bet on a future super league. It’s about getting in right now, when the market is hot for professional soccer in Europe. Well, some parts of Europe.
Though the promotor version is always going to point to a limitless upward arc of interest, we know better. All of us can somewhat objectively look at former super clubs and see what went wrong. We can do the same with leagues not just sliding down UEFA’s coefficient table, but obviously struggling.
Right now, the situation at the top of European soccer is working against them. No matter how big the name, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to bridge that competitive gap. Since that gap is due in no small part to commercialization, it’s a business as well as sporting challenge. It’s also one that might be impossible without resetting the stage.
That’s the promise of foreign ownership, the payoff for disconnecting the club with its locality. If results follow, talk of branding and that global marketplace are a lot easier to take. If they don’t, that new owner is the problem with modern soccer writ large.
We may already be at a point where it’s one or the other. Local costs opportunity all across European soccer. Insisting on that cuts a club off from a global marketplace that, at least for now, is happy to consider any club their own.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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