Premier League club sources confirmed Wednesday that the concept of playing a round of regular season matches was informally discussed around the boardroom table last month.
The idea would be to dedicate one round of matches to a location abroad, with the United States and Canada lead destinations. The concept is nothing new but the logistics have slightly changed – instead of adding a 39th match to the already packed club schedule, the Premier League would simply play one round – being coined ‘the 38th game’ – abroad.
“It will happen at some point. Whether it is on my watch, who knows?” were the words of chief executive, Richard Scudamore, during the Premier League’s launch this past August.
The draw for the idea is obvious – money. For years the NFL and NBA have packed Wembley and the O2 for regular season games so why not the reverse for Premier League football? One reason, cited by Tim and Tod Leiweke, is that thus far European clubs visiting the US on pre-season tours have taken the money and run.
“Are you going to use North America just as an opportunity to make some additional dollars or are you going to commit to taking the sport to the next level and help to grow Major League Soccer?” Tod asked the room at ‘Leaders in Sport Summit’ held at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.
His brother, Tim, echoed the sentiments. “Are those competitors our partners or do they see that North American landscape and want to take money out of that landscape? Therein lies the challenge for Major League Soccer.”
Nevertheless, the appeal of European clubs eyeing overseas commercial revenues has them frothing at the mouth. The alignments have been building for years, beginning with owners taking their team on pre-season tours to the US and, more recently, through club alignments like Sunderland and DC United as well as New England and Sporting Clube de Portugal.
While a ’38th game’ abroad will happen in time, don’t expect it to be soon as a number of logistics in terms of getting FIFA and UEFA on board, as well as dealing with disparate home matches will all need to be addressed.