To British subscribers of BSkyB, and in particular Sky Sports, you might have noticed that the message that the Premiership is the place to be has been hammered down your throat on more than one occasion. Is the Premiership really that good, or is this just part of BSkyB's attempt at successfully marketing their brand?
The Premiership is arguably one of the wealthiest leagues in the world, in part thanks to BSkyB's massive TV deal, which eclipses any other league in the world. BSkyB recently agreed a new three year deal with the Premier League, and Sky will pay £1.314 billion for 92 games. Other revenue comes from Setanta, who are paying £392 million for 46 games, and foreign TV rights have been sold for £625 million (even Internet and Mobile Phone revenue will generate £400 million). This new deal will mean that the clubs in the Premiership will receive £50m (which includes prize money and TV revenue).
With such lucrative sponsorship deals, the Premier League has been able to attract some of the finest players in the world, mainly due to the high wages on offer. In turn better player enables clubs to compete more in the various European competitions, like the UEFA Champions League, and UEFA Cup. If the Dutch Eredivisie had such lucrative sponsorship deals, would the leagues various clubs see an exodus of talent each year? The question is undoubtedly no, as it would be able to compete with La Liga, the Premier League, and Serie A, in terms of attracting players, and offering them financial incentives.
More finance in the top tier of England's league pyramid, is steadily creating a gulf (in financial terms) between teams from the Premier League, and teams in the lower divisions. This means that when a club is promoted from the Championship, they will generally struggle (with a few exceptions), and end up relegated back to the division where they have just come from. This statement seems a bit absurd, but you only need to look at the past few seasons in the Premiership to see the facts for yourself.
The gulf in finances is gradually seeing the rich get richer, and it is also seeing them pull more and more away from the rest of the pack, who are trying to keep up (and is some cases some have gone into administration as a result). If you think this is another absurd statement, just have a look at which clubs have finished in the top four (Champions League qualification places) over the past four seasons. Only one club (Everton in 2004/05) has managed to break into the top four, from outside the so called Big Four (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United).
Sky's argument and constant marketing that the Premier League is the best league in the world, to me seems a bit far fetched. Clubs which gain promotion into the Promised Land generally struggle, as they can not compete financially, and generally end up relegated within a season or two of promotion. The gulf between the rich and poor is getting bigger each season, and clubs outside the so called Big Four, are finding it harder and harder to gain a top four finish. At the start of each season, clubs outside the Big Four have their own mini league, and compete amongst each other for a UEFA Cup place, and trying to avoid the relegation places. Sound like an exciting league?
If you listen to the constant advertisements on BSkyB regarding the Premier League and also to their football commentators, you will get a different story. Towards the end of the 2006/07 season, each week the matches involving Manchester United and Chelsea (the two teams competing for the league title) were hyped up to an unbelievable level. The fact that there were only two clubs competing for the title after Christmas, was brushed conveniently under the carpet. The clash between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge (towards the end of the season), was being billed as the match of the season, and one you just could not afford to miss. Unfortunately I wished I missed that match, as by that point the title was already at Old Trafford, and both teams played their reserve sides in a drab 0-0.
In contrast the Bundesliga, Eredivisie, and Portuguese Liga titles went down to the last match of the season, and proved to be more entertaining then the Premiership title race. Going into the last round of fixtures in the 2006/07 Eredivisie, AZ, Ajax, and PSV were all tied on 72 points; and their goal differences were +53, +47, and +46 respectively. During the course of the last matchday, the fate of the title swung between all three clubs, as the scores changed constantly. AZ only needed to win to clinch their first Eredivisie title since 1981, but they surprisingly lost 3-2 away at lowly Excelsior. Ajax beat Willem II away 2-0, but they lost out on the title due to goal difference. PSV thumped Vitesse 5-1 at home, to finish level on points with their fierece rivals Ajax, but clinched the title courtesy of a goal difference of +50, compared to Ajax's +49.
The 2006/07 Portuguese Liga also proved to be just as entertaining, with Portugal's Big Three (FC Porto, Sporting, and Benfica) all within two points of each other going into the last matchday. They all duefully obliged with wins on the last day, and the title was retained by FC Porto. A similar story to the end of 2006/07 season in the German Bundesliga was also unfolding, with VFB Stuttgart, SV Werder Bremen, and FC Schalke all battling for the title heading into the last rounds of the championship. Werder slipped up in their penultimate match losing in a shock 2-1 home defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, knocking them out of the title race. On the last matchday, there were only two points separating VFB Stuttgart, and FC Schalke, and they both obliged with wins, meaning the title returned to VFB Stuttgart for the first time in 15 years.
BSkyB failed to mention in any of its programmes the exciting climaxes of the Dutch Eredivisie, German Bundesliga, and Portuguese Liga championships. This is understandable as BSkyB are solely interested in marketing their own brand - the Premiership; and to mention how entertaining other leagues are, could be seen as damaging to their product.
One of the most entertaining, and competitive leagues in the world is the Spanish La Liga. La Liga is similar to the Premiership, in terms of big clubs, and star players, but the main difference is how competitive the league is, and recent history has shown this. Unlike the predictable Premier League, were you find the usual suspects claiming a top four finish each season, La Liga have had eight different teams claim a top four finish in the past few seasons (compared to five from the Premiership).
La Liga had four clubs competing for the title with three matches to go (at time of writing) towards the end of the 2006/07 season. Valencia suffered a home defeat at the hands of Villarreal which knocked them out of the title race going into the penultimate match. Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla (with 72 points, 72 points, and 70 points respectively) are all still gunning for the title, and La Liga looks set for one of the most exciting climaxes in recent years.
La Ligas strength is also shown in the UEFA Cup, were mid table clubs fair well in the competition. At the 1/2 final stage of the 2006/07 competition, Spain provided three of the four clubs (Sevilla, Espanyol, and Osasuna). You can argue that England provided three of the four clubs at the 1/2 final stage of the UEFA Champions League during the same season (Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United); but they all failed to claim the trophy (in comparison to the Spanish clubs who claimed the trophy for the third time in the past four seasons).
There is no arguing that the Premier League is a good league, and it is a joy to watch, but it is not the place to be. The league is becoming very predicable, with the same clubs competing for the same honours each season (in reference to the league and FA & League Cups), and some fans are starting to become restless due to this. This is evident in the drop in attendances for some clubs during the 2006/07 season (and some had to even slash ticket prices to attract fans).
Part of the Premier Leagues success worldwide is down to BSKyB's successful marketing, and not solely down to football. You will find numerous people who will argue this point, but a leagues true strength should be judged on how well their teams perform on the European stage. Sadly since the formation of the Premiership, English clubs have failed to perform on the European stage, claiming only two European Cups, and one UEFA Cup. In comparison Spain has claimed five European Cups, and three UFEA Cups, whilst Italy has claimed four European Cups, and five UEFA Cups during the same period.
For BSkB to claim that the Premiership is the place, first the gulf between the Big Four and the rest of the league needs to close, and English clubs need to start performing on the European stage more regularly - once this is done, then BSkbyB can truly claim the Premier League is the place to be.