By J Hutcherson (May 23, 2017) US Soccer Players – There’s an old line about any club sport staying away just long enough for you to remember how much you cared. Even the short run season in the National Football League has enough games and enough opportunities for fans to decide they have something else to do with their Sundays. Maybe not better, but also not suffering along with a 4 and 8 team with no hope of recovery. You see it when the announced attendance is high and the number of fans in the seats is low.
In baseball, you see it for any team that is going nowhere in August. That’s when the NFL’s preseason offers anybody who needs it an early out to a lackluster baseball season. Even those people staring down another year where they’ll probably be giving up on a four and eight football team.
For the Premier League, no time passes before the focus shifts firmly to what comes next. The preseason ends up about those lucrative touring schedules. The Premier League brand sees even mediocre teams on international tours weeks before the start of the season. In August, leaving just the months of June and July without Premier League games that count. Cut out July for that lucrative touring, and it’s basically a month without some Premier League team kicking a ball somewhere.
During NBC’s blanket coverage of the final day of the Premier League when the only thing in question was who would take the final Champions League place, a player went down with an injury. The commentator was quick to point out that there went his vacation. The player would spend those few weeks he gets off rehabbing rather than resting. All of a sudden, next season has started.
It’s a fair enough question to ask if the lack of a meaningful off season is an issue for the Premier League not just in its home market, but all over the world. They’re not the only ones squeezing the time between this season and next, but they’re the ones managing to make three months feel like a few weeks.
The sports version of scope creep isn’t new, but few leagues have done much to scale it back. Instead, it’s putting as many games on the calendar as they can. The people running the NFL would like another regular season game. Baseball added a national team competition. Soccer has FIFA still pushing tournaments like the Confederations Cup and the Club World Cup even when participants complain that it’s too much.
We’re at the very beginning of an era where the response to too many internationals friendlies is to turn them into games that sorta kinda count through UEFA’s Nations League and CONCACAF’s version. CONCACAF and CONMEBOL want a regular tournament after the success of the Copa Centenario. Liga MX and MLS want a revival of the SuperLiga. And so on.
The driver for all of these is first preserving or establishing revenue streams and hopefully increasing them. It’s a simple concept, but it requires games on the schedule.
Listen to any super club player or coach and you’ll eventually hear a shared complaint. There are already too many games on the schedule with too many groups obligating the game’s elite. If it’s not their clubs, it’s their country with governing bodies doing their part to obligate them. It’s perhaps the biggest understatement in pro soccer to point out that not all of this is about creating the best possible competition.
With the Premier League positioning itself as the best club competition in the world, it’s worth considering. Is it? Have they figured out the schedule and consistently create the best way to crown a champion? Is the timing right? How about their insistence on playing through the worst weather? Is turning the offseason into another opportunity to stage games that don’t count or at least don’t count as much a god way to build the appeal across the world? Have they cracked what it takes to be a global league while maintaining local connections?
Questioning the point of glorified friendly tournaments, secondary competitions, and crowding the schedule already borders on cliche. It’s what the market will bear, or at least just enough before it tilts so far in the wrong direction it’s impossible to ignore.
That’s the other story soccer tells since the people running it noticed how much money they could make. It’s coming as close to what would seem to be the edge as possible, only to delight in discovering that it’s not the edge after all.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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