In this format I will, once per week, polemically write about things that disturb me in the world of sports. Things that, in my opinion, either are hilariously disgusting or just proper embarrassing. You decide.
Yesterday, the third round of the English Football League Cup, the smaller of the two English Cups, got drawn. It produced some quality duels like Liverpool-Leicester or Chelsea-Nottingham. So far, so good.
But yesterday’s draw was not really about the fixtures it produced. It had a bitter overtone going with it. An overtone that stands representative for the (English) football becoming more and more of a marketing platform that is risking to lose the contact to its roots.
What grinded my gears this week was that this draw was being held in Beijing, China and hence took place at 04:15 A.M. British time. To me, this is an outrage.
Because of their new sponsor, the Thai energy drink Carabao, after that the Cup has now been renamed (Carabao Cup), and its Asian target market the Cup has been drawn just within this target range. In Beijing, the Chinese capital. The Cup being named after a sponsor is nothing special, it has always been like that. But placing the sponsor’s interests over those of English football fans is new.
English fans couldn’t enjoy the traditional drawing procedure and the emotions of seeing their team being drawn against an arch-rival or a huge club of the Premier League. If they wanted to see it, they would have had to get up in the middle of the night for it. Great.
Surely, this scene from the movie “Green Street Hooligans” is over-exaggerated and doesn’t depict the average English football fan. But still, it’s not completely made up. In the motherland of football, the Cup has a very special meaning. Even the smaller League Cup.
It’s a relation that can hardly be described with words. A relation that makes the special meaning of the Cup for a traditional football fan evident.
Hence, the Cup remained some sort of last resort for the traditional football fan. A safe haven that commercialization left widely untouched. Until now.
Asia-travels of many teams during the summer break, team promoting and marketing in far east and Asian billionaires owning teams like Leicester or Southampton is one thing. The Premier League, arguably the greatest and biggest football league in the world has become a crowd puller in Asia. That’s unchangeable. And generally not a bad thing at all.
Like this, English football is present among billions of people around the globe and this doesn’t just bring popularity to the clubs, but also big stacks of cash as well. Fair enough. The price of it: A huge part of the tradition of English football has got lost due to this worldwide expansion.
I mean, it’s a good thing to see the PL being famous in many countries. But having a debate over which London team is the greatest not being discussed between James and Thomas, lifelong London residents and coming from Arsenal, respectively Spurs supporters families but between Aarush and Advik from Bombay, points out a problem of modern English football.
Due to internationality, the sports risks to lose contact to its local roots. Again: That’s not generally a bad thing. Some commercialization is required for a sport to grow professionally. The Premier League being turned into a spectacle lead to its great current level and to the high quality football and the dramatic games it provides.
And seing the beautiful game spread across the entire globe and unite people from all over it is exactly what it’s supposed to do. But as always, when money comes into the game, ideals get forgotten easily and all of a sudden it’s just about generating profit.
That’s when the originally great purpose of having an internationally recognised English Premier League turns into a marketing-only aspect. And that makes me sad. That’s when it’s not about showing people from India, Indonesia, Thailand and so on how great the Premier League can be and letting them emotionally participate in it, but about trying to squeeze as much money as possible out of this booming market with little to no interest in the former base whatsoever.
My point is that commercialization needs to come to a halt somewhere. If football is to lose his last local roots – and this process has arguably started with the League Cup being named after an energy drink from Southeast Asia – the beautiful game is at high risk of completely changing its identity.
For now, we can be lucky that it’s “just” the draw of the smaller League Cup being held in China. Let’s hope that in a couple of years we may still see an F.A-Cup final at Wembley and not in Beijing’s National Stadium.
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