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The Scudamore years | International expansion and the 39th game

The almost unchecked expansion in overseas media-rights revenues for the Premier League tells its own story about the extraordinary success of the competition as an international export. But there is one respect in which the league and Scudamore could be described as falling behind their immediate peers in the NFL, NBA, and now MLB: the failure to take a competitive match, or ‘39th game’, overseas.

But the way Phil Lines, who was recruited by Scudamore to head up international broadcasting and media operations at the Premier League remembers it, Scudamore was placed in ‘an impossible position’ in his attempt to introduce an additional round of matches in the Premier League to promote it internationally and generate revenues from hosting fees and the additional content.

“I was there throughout that,” he says. “Essentially when that idea was put to Richard, he couldn’t do anything to explore whether it might work or not without the permission of the clubs. If he’d gone off and seen Sepp Blatter or anyone else, without the clubs giving him permission, that would have been a sackable offence. The problem is as soon as he asked the clubs it went public.”

Rick Parry, a former Liverpool chief executive who represented the club in these meetings thinks there is an element of ‘post rationalisation’ in this analysis and that the reality was that some clubs were worried that the 39th game would dilute the local identity of matches and that fan sensibilities just wouldn’t allow for it.

“Frankly, it didn’t make any sense at all. For us, the Premier League was the Premier League in England but I don’t think it was a black mark [against Scudamore]. We didn’t think it was a good idea, we voted it down and we moved on.”

Scudamore would later announce that the Premier League was dropping the idea and argued that the advent of social media and 4K television made it less important to take live games to international audiences. “It was done at a time when we thought it was needed to sustain our commercial growth,” he would tell the BBC in 2015. “Clearly the last six years have proven that we don’t need to do it.”

Peter Daire, founding partner of sports consultancy firm Sport Collective and a former group head of sponsorship at the FA, tends to agree: “The clubs’ international expansion is based on success of having really good broadcast deals in those territories where people can watch all of the games and the clubs have been very active now in terms of doing global tours, so I think they get enough Premier League in those countries to keep them happy and it’s not needed to be honest.”

Part 1: Media rights sales

Part 2: Sponsorship

Part 4: Match attendances and the fan

Part 5: Scudamore’s successor

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