Is football selling its soul?

AS the Premier League ponder the possibility of the idea of taking their product abroad at least once a year, playing English league games abroad has gone beyond a joke, as Derek Davis reports.

Derek Davis

AS the Premier League ponder the possibility of the idea of taking their product abroad at least once a year, playing English league games abroad has gone beyond a joke as DEREK DAVIS reports.

ALMOST six year's ago I wrote a spoof story for April 1 suggesting that Ipswich Town would play a Premier League match in America.

It got the usual reaction for an April Fool's gag and not many people actually fell for it.

Today it's not so funny and the Premier League are actually discussing the possibility of all their clubs playing at least one game in such far away venues as America, China, Dubai and even Thailand.

This could be a 39th game in the fixture list, or be home and away games on a rotational basis.

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Either way, they will be competitive games worth three points and at the end of a long, hard season could be the difference between relegation, winning the title or achieving a place in Europe.

Even finishing a place higher in the league is worth an extra £1m or so and for many individuals, bonuses depend on it.

Of course the Premier League will one day go down this route.

The commercial and television opportunities are so vast they can not ignore it.

American sports have already stolen a march on then as we have seen with an NFL game being played at Wembley, and ruining the pitch, in front of a sell out crowd.

Baseball and ice hockey regularly take their shows on the road and not just for exhibition matches, points are at stake.

Little consideration is give to the players. After all they are highly paid professionals contracted to play when and where they are told.

Even less thought is given to the loyal supporters of the clubs.

Global fans hoping for a rare glimpse of the heroes they know only from television and media coverage will be sated momentarily but the regular fans that travel home and away will be left disappointed or a lot poorer.

But the season ticket sales, along with the shirts and pies they buy, are becoming less and less vital as a financial stream for Premier League clubs whose pot of gold lies squarely with the television companies and the lucrative markets abroad.

Blue chip companies have seen how successful advertising campaigns for things like the World Cup and European Championships have been and want to expand that - so what better than a league that is watched by millions around the world for 10 months of the year?

Sky have tapped into the Far East market which has made them fortune enough to be able to offer telephone number deals to the Premier League. Other giants in broadcasting have caught on and now ESPN is keen to get a huge slice of a market they understand only from a spread sheet outlining the profit, and no loss.

They appear to care nothing for the dad who wants to take his son to watch his team for the first time and become a life-long fan.

Football is already losing its soul to the corporate devil and taking the game abroad for one game will be the thin edge of wedge.

But there will be a bigger price than a subscription fee to pay and football will lose far more than its soul if the average supporter turns its back on the Premier League and the games shown in Bangkok and Miami are played out to deserted stadiums.

What do you think about the proposal to play Premier League games abroad? Write to Sports Desk, East Anglian Daily Times, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eadtsport@eadt.co.uk.