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How the Premier League built its empire

It's not just the sheikhs' money

How the Premier League built its empire It's not just the sheikhs' money

Thirty years after its founding, the Premier League remains the most powerful and best-known soccer league in the world, increasing its gap with other European leagues. Over the summer, the huge disparity in the economic resources deployed by English clubs compared to their continental contenders made headlines, a discrepancy that is partly undermining the balance of European football, with increasingly expensive transfers and salaries soaring. It is a competitive advantage that seems unbreakable at the moment, but one that has been cleverly and fortunately constructed, wisely exploiting the strengths that distinguish English football. 

In an article for Gabriele Marcotti tries to explain the causes that have led to this result, proposing answers less trivial one might imagine at first glance. First and foremost is the transfer issue, which despite pharaonic salaries and oversupplied market windows has never coincided with the acquisition of the world's most important players. It may seem a nonsense given that this summer the figure that almost two billion euros were spent on the market by Premier League teams made noise, more than what was done by clubs in LaLiga, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 together but paradoxically they are never the ones who then end up in the top positions of the annual awards, for example the Ballon d'Or

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If we consider the top five finishers for the award given by France Football since 2000, only 17 of the 100 were playing in the Premier League at that time, led by the two-time Cristiano Ronaldo and the three-time Thierry Henry. Of course, the players who come to the Premier League each year are always very strong-most recently Erling Haaland at Manchester City-but paradoxically not the most successful players of this generation. The Premier lacks Mbappé, Neymar, Benzema, Lewandowski or Messi, global icons as well as phenomena with the ball between their feet. The lack of the so-called star-system so important to the economy of the U.S. leagues, a model on which the Premier League instead has structured much of its business.

In the case of the Premier League, the star system, in addition to the players, belongs to the clubs themselves, their history, their tradition and their fans. The importance of heritage, the fact that football-at least professional football-was invented in England, still represent an invaluable value both for those who have been following football for years and for those who are approaching it for the first time. It is certainly no secret how English stadiums and corners have always been an irresistible fascination for football fans, overwhelmed by the low bleachers that look out directly onto the pitch and the beers that flow freely between the seats. The stadium experience is something that is experienced even miles away through a screen and allows the Premier League to have such recognizable and expendable branding.  

Another important asset in making the Premier League the most watched football league in the world is the average competitiveness of the seasons, which is higher than that of other leagues. It is true that victory is usually contested by the famous Big Six, but as many as five teams in the past decade have won the league compared to only three in Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 and one in the Bundesliga. Even the Premier's now fossilized tier division does not threaten its spectacle, with many mid-table clubs managing to put forward a game and stars palatable to their target audience. Granted, since 2005 the only team not among the Big Six to finish in the top four was in 2015/16 Ranieri's Leicester City, the quintessential Cinderella team, a far lower number than in other leagues. But such a division guarantees each bracket its own goals, allowing for stakes in each game. 

Thus we come to perhaps the most important point that makes the Premier League a de facto Super League: its commercial desirability. Due not only to the talent on the pitch, as we have seen, nor to the glittering competitiveness or continual upsets, but to the sum of it all in a excellent packaging. Both the stadium experience, thanks to futuristic club-owned facilities, and the television experience, with consistently perfect grass, saturation that makes the color come alive on the screen, compact fans in the stands, and choruses coming through the speakers make, as Marcotti specifies, every match a must-see.

This patina that covers Premier League matches is the real added value that sets it apart from all other leagues, a mix of identity, innovation, and talent that wins over even those who do not follow football. Certainly the English language, which makes the product accessible overseas as well, the continuous influx of capital from international funds and the consequent concentration of talent, have been instrumental in transforming the Premier into the league it is today, even at the level of commercial revenue. Let us not forget, however, the expertise, planning, and respect for its tradition that has enabled it to become a league capable of billing over seven billion dollars in the 2021/22 season alone.