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The Premier League: the most accessible league in the world

23 April 2011

El Clásico generates excitement across the world, but is played when many fans across the world are asleep (Flickr: Catatan Bola)

The debate over which country boasts the best league in the world has not so much raged as meandered over recent seasons, with few agreeing with what exactly defines ‘best’.

Paul Merson briefly gives his thoughts in recent Sky Sports preview on what makes the Premier League his choice:

Arsenal only know how to play one way. We saw that against Tottenham, which was probably the best Premier League game I’ve ever seen.

People talk about the Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle game all those years ago, but that wasn’t anywhere near as good as this was. It could have been 7-7 and when I turned over to watch Real Madrid v Barcelona afterwards I was bored to death by comparison.

That match proved why this is the best league in the world.

As exciting as the Tottenham v Arsenal match was, it’s hardly solitary proof that the Premier League is the world’s best division. It’s desperately unfair to compare that league match – where a draw favoured neither team – to a nervy cup final.

The argument over the world’s best league is entirely trivial though. No prizes are awarded, and both fans and players will choose the league that best tailors to their interests, not simply because it is the most publically-acclaimed.

For me, it’s more revealing to look at why the Premier League continues to be universally popular despite a decline in the quality of football (which has arguably made the league more competitive) compared to other European leagues, namely the Primera División in Spain.

There was no better evidence than the coverage available in Asia, where I spent my Easter holidays. The launch of the Premier League’s “24/7 high definition content service” at the start of the season means many countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe enjoy the same coverage of the league.

This means pre and post-match discussion fronted by the excellent John Dykes, with support from well known ex-players and managers; certainly for Singapore this presents a vast improvement from before. Fans can also watch regular shows hosted by the likes of James Richardson and Mark Pougatch, as well as live news and phone-in shows. Despite being thousands of miles away, the league feels incredibly accessible.

The matches themselves are covered by well-known voices in the commentary box, and continue to be well-produced, emphasising the pace of each match to suit the wishes of their viewers.

In fact this point was exaggerated when I watched a Premier League match in 3D earlier this season. The lack of cameras and odd angles meant the match made for unnatural and less enjoyable viewing, proving that under normal conditions the league has perfected its brand and output.

In this respect, the Primera División lags absurdly far behind. Despite boasting perhaps the four best players in the world, if not more, the league is poorly publicised and covered across important markets in Asia and the Middle East.

With no studio discussion, unfamiliar commentators and little focus on enhancing the match output, the league almost seems reluctant to promote itself. This isn’t helped by poor coverage – at least from my experiences in Asia – of the Premier División in other forms of media, though this gives thought to a chicken and egg scenario where we ask if interest should be fuelled by local or Spanish outlets.

Kick off times also play a part. This is an aspect La Liga’s chief executive Francisco Roca Perez said in July that he is looking to improve, amongst other initiatives:

“Obviously, if we change the television times, the kick-off time, this is essential. I recognise that, we understand that, we have to do it, otherwise it would be impossible to gain more fans in Asia”, he said.

Perez said at least one weekend game would be played at a “reasonably Asian-friendly time” when the new season begins next month.

A classic example of this problem was on 16th April, where football fans across East Asia could enjoy the Premier League till 12am, followed by the all-Manchester FA Cup semi final till around 2.30am. As late as this time sounds, such football-viewing habits are now commonplace across the region. El Clásico at 4am however would prove too much for fans to watch live, despite the relative excitement over the game.

Forget about the ‘best league in the world’ debate; the Premier League is the most accessible league in the world. Given the income associated with Asian and worldwide viewership, surely this is a more important issue to tackle. There are signs the Primera División is improving its marketing, but it has plenty of catching up to do.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    23 April 2011 7:10 pm

    I’m always suspicious of the ‘best league in the world’ tag as it’s easy to overlook the mediocrity prevalent in the middle of the table in Spain.

    Indeed I think that the further you descend the pyramid the greater the disparity occurs between the English system and its nearest rivals. I suspect any of the top 7 clubs in the championship could survive in la liga and if you compare non-league football the England national game XI consistently outperforms its continental rivals despite accepting players from further down the respective pyramids (5th tier vs. 3rd tier)

  2. Hammer permalink
    24 April 2011 12:49 am

    Merson and Mark’s ludicrous comments give a perfect example of why “the best league in the world” debate is a complete nonsense.

  3. Steve M permalink
    24 April 2011 5:57 pm

    A very interesting post. And i do agree with the implication the Premier League is the most popular worldwide not because it’s a better product than say the Primera League but because it’s been marketed/sold much better. I do feel we in the UK are far better than many of our european neighbours at maximising profits out of products. We’re possibly only 2nd in the world to the USA who could literally sell the world dogsh*t on toast if the annual worldwide sales of Sunny Delight, Big Macs (etc etc) are anything to go by.

    But there again i’m not exactly sure which ingredients make a League “the best in the world”. The league containing teams in the world certainly isn’t of huge significance. In early 90s the italian league had most of the worlds stars, were definitely the best club sides in the world at the time, was technically superb, but what a dull product in which every away side set out for a 0-0 from the 1st minute. The Premier League is definitely a great product, plenty of goals, star quality, a desire to win, and technical deficiencies like an inability to close a match out for a draw which all added together makes it so good to watch. But a friend of mine who watches far more football than me a year or two back said Primera League was by far his favourite league, goals and action all the way and with the exception of Barca & Madrid any team could and would win any match. Although the fact that prior to this season you could almost predict the finishing position of every team didn’t seem to harm the Premier Leagues appeal in any way, strangely.

    One thing i do know is it’s definitely not for us english to judge if the Premier League is the best. We as a nation are more insular about football than the US population are over world news/politics/geography! Even our pundits, of whom most are a brainless joke (as you rightly say ask Merse the last time he watched an interesting FA Cup final!), who are paid to know about football give answers like “I’ve not a clue” to questions like what do we know about Slovenia (just before Eng played them in a crucial WC match) or what do you know about Ben Arfa? Admittedly both of these were Shearer, but they could have been any pundit.

    • 24 April 2011 7:15 pm

      Great comment, agree with pretty much everything there!

      I’ve not seen enough Spanish football to compare it to England in terms of quality. That’s telling in itself, given I’ve spent almost all of my football-watching life in Asia.

      I think there’s a feeling there’s a competitiveness-quality trade-off, though I’m not sure to what extent that’s true, nor am I sure what people believe to be the bigger requirement for being the ‘best league’.

  4. Adam permalink
    24 April 2011 10:48 pm

    Having spoken to a fair few french people about the topic of football i’ve heard a couple of times the opinion that although the man u’s and arsenal’s are better than the top clubs in France, the bottom sides in Ligue 1 would beat those fighting relegation in England. Having only today gone to watch an appalling Ligue 1 relegation six pointer, one of 2 or 3 i’ve seen, I can safely say that the quality on show wouldn’t been out of place in a mid-table championship side. Perhaps then, ignorance to other leagues is a large part of the ‘our league’s stronger on the whole’ debate. To prove this point, I have never seen a la liga match (other than highlights) without either of the big two teams, but am still about to write my reason as to why the Premier League may well be stronger overall than spain’s top division:

    Namely, the distribution of television rights. For lower teams it is the most important source of income (81% of wigan’s income in 2009/10 came from television revenue). 50% of domestic television income is shared equally (25% given according to finishing position in the league and the other given on how many times a team is shown on sky – though each team must be shown at least 10 times) And more importantly, 100% of money from international tv is shared (a market which is continually expanding). It is therefore the international exposure that funds the quality of teams in the league, and the quality of the league that leads to the growing international demand. A healthy spiral that means English top-flight football should only increase its overall quality.

    (please note, economics info from SwissRamble, not simply a humanities student pretending to know about finance!)

    • 25 April 2011 10:21 am

      And just to put a number on international TV – two years ago the rights to the Premier League were bought for about S$300m (£150m) in Singapore. This is just Singapore alone – a country of less than 5 million people – imagine this on a world scale.

      Of course that doesn’t mean that all teams spend this money wisely, but it does give more margin for error.

  5. Kaushik permalink
    26 April 2011 5:21 pm

    the spanish league is mainly watched in south america and central america where the timings are ideal but if they kick off a little early they will clash with the timings of english premier league and that is not good for people like me i like the timings as they are

    • 26 April 2011 5:27 pm

      Perhaps so, but that’s not where the Spanish League will make its money. It has a fantastic product that isn’t being sold to as many people for as much money as it should.

      You can argue the merits and disadvantages of money in the game, but it’s perhaps surprisingly the top dogs in Primera Division have not pursued Eastern markets, for personal gain if nothing else.

    • dony permalink
      11 July 2011 3:24 am

      Nope, you forget that our Landmass (South America) was the birthplace of the best footballers all-time, why one earth??, we will prefer to see quick and rush football ( that un-skilful Teutonic football style) than beautiful football??, remember why Ronaldo, Rivaldo, KAKA, Batistuta and many South American footballers, have snubbed the Epl………

      • 11 July 2011 7:11 am

        That’s all well and good, but again totally besides the points of this post.


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