Ed Warner: English football of all levels penetrating hyper-commercial US sport
Does anyone in England call the Premier League the EPL? I ask because I had a random encounter at Heathrow last week with one of a group of five Crystal Palace fans headed to Selhurst Park for their “first EPL game”.
The Ted Lasso effect maybe? I only hope they made it to the Clifton Arms on my recommendation for their pre-match pint to enjoy the full SE25 experience.
I had just spent a short stint in New York and Washington. It’s that perfect sporting time of year in the US when the NBA has just got under way, baseball’s World Series season finale has arrived, the NFL programme is approaching halfway and the NHL is gathering pace. And yet English football still cuts through – and not just the EPL.
One San Francisco-based colleague spent a chunk of this summer on his 10-year old son’s soccer tour to England playing against leading clubs’ academy sides. The lad and his younger brother, Chelsea fans both, are after Wrexham shirts and follow Sunderland’s fortunes. Such is the power of the clubs’ Disney+ and Netflix documentary series.
The Paris Saint-Germain store on New York’s Fifth Avenue was always pretty busy when I passed it – busier certainly than the Web3 Gallery just down the road. Time maybe for Wrexham’s Hollywood owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney to look at prime Manhattan retail real estate to up their shirt sales?
I managed to catch the Wizards play the Pistons in Washington’s 20,000 seat Capital One Arena. A great basketball experience between two mid-low ranking franchises. Ticket prices ranged from $14 in the gods to $251 courtside. I bought mine at a tidy discount on a resale site.
The arena was maybe three quarters empty; courtside full. A tour guide at Mount Vernon the next day told me that he was happy the Wizards don’t shoot the lights out because he could always take his kids at no notice for a few bucks. He added that he was sure the same was true of the EPL. Needless to say I disabused him.
It doesn’t matter greatly that the venue for a midweek NBA game is only a quarter full. Ticket receipts lag well behind TV revenues and sponsorship deals in importance in the teams’ profit and loss accounts. After all, the sofa is integral to most fans’ engagement with the sport.
American media is speculating that the NBA’s broadcast income could treble in its next rights deal beginning in 2025. Little wonder that each of the 30 franchises is probably worth at least as much as the EPL’s Chelsea FC.
The USA featured in the current women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, losing out to Canada at the quarter-final stage last weekend. The country isn’t represented in either cricket’s T20 World Cup or the men’s Rugby League World Cup though, having fallen short in qualifying for both events.
In these three competitions, only cricket has served up close contests so far. Of 24 matches in the RLWC, just two have been as close as a six-point differential. In the women’s RWC, six of 22 games have ended in a winning margin of 10 points or less. But the closest quarter final ended with the teams 21 points apart.
Both sets of organisers will be praying for much tighter results at the sharp end of their tournaments. The leaders of the union code will be far less worried than those in league as the women’s union game is effectively far younger and on a sharp upward development trajectory.
As Samoa battered France 62-4 on Sunday in front of fewer than 7,000 rugby league fans, an over-excited commentator on primetime BBC told us how much we should be looking forward to the islanders’ quarter final against Tonga. I’m sure he’s right, but the gulf in class wasn’t a good look for the sport.
Following the mention of the impact of the cost of living crisis in last week’s column, one reader flagged the boot exchange scheme he’d introduced at Milford Athletic. Parents bring last year’s boots in and exchange them for a larger size.
He writes it “made sense to avoid the yearly musings when you had to tell them that £125 was too much for boots for a 10-year-old! It also gives an opportunity to donate boots to the underprivileged kids who are then able to wear Nike and Adidas like all the others.” Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas…
Clearing the market
Ballots are now open for tickets for the Lord’s Ashes Test next year and the 2023 Wimbledon Championships. Both venues suffered a drop off in attendances this summer but have cranked up prices regardless.
Top price tickets at Lord’s are 21 per cent higher than for the Test against South Africa in August. Wimbledon has opted for a more timid 6 per cent rise, below the current overall rate of inflation.
Costs to deliver each event will be soaring, but demand will no doubt crumble at the margins.
British Cycling’s chief executive Brian Facer agreed to leave his post this week after less than two years.
Either his board reacted badly to the backlash against its sponsorship deal with Shell (see this previous column), or the non-execs are happy to tough out the knee-jerk assumption that they have caved into this pressure. The whole board will surely have signed off the Shell relationship. Messy.
Race to the bottom
In the days leading up to last month’s Great South Run I was bombarded by emails inviting me to enter right up until the day before the race. Can’t remember that happening pre-Covid.
I’ve written before of anecdotal evidence of falling numbers in local running events. And then an email arrived from a sports photographer analysing race participation.
He cited the Great South as 18 per cent down on the years leading up to the pandemic, which is actually a significantly better performance than for a number of other races.
Post-Covid nervousness, lost exercise habits, cost of living crisis, secular downturn in the running industry, or some combination of the above? And this for an outdoor activity that was able to continue in some form – albeit limited at the worst time to only training in pairs – throughout lockdown.
Stuck in the ruck/turnstile
Relegation-threatened Coventry City’s average attendance this season at the Coventry Building Society Arena: 19,382. Wasps’ average crowds in the two matches at the same venue before their demise: 8,563.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com