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Joe Laing | The Premier League of playoffs

Joe Laing, business director at CSM Sport & Entertainment, considers the prospect of a Super Bowl-esque Premier League final, ahead of the much-loved NFL show-down this weekend.

Joe Laing

On Sunday, February 2, Super Bowl LIV will take place at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Florida.

The culmination of the 100th NFL season will see the National Football Conference winner, San Francisco 49ers, square off against the American Football Conference’s Kansas City Chiefs, for the right to be crowned Super Bowl champion.

The game will be played out in front of 65,000 fans in the stadium, with a global television audience of approximately 150 million.

While much has been made of viewing figures being on the wane in recent seasons. Last year’s Super Bowl (the lowest scoring ever) still attracted 98 million US viewers to the live broadcast, putting it in the top 15 most-watched programmes in US history. Streaming numbers for the game were also up. The Super Bowl is an essential appointment to view.

That appointment has made Super Bowl Sunday an unofficial holiday in the US. The impact of which is more than just making bigger indentations on couches – it matters far beyond the result.

In fact, to call the Super Bowl just a sporting event is like saying Christmas is just a birthday. We all know that is part of it, but not all of it…

According to Statista, consumer spending in the US on Super Bowl-related purchases (TVs, food, merchandise) accounted for $14.8bn last year, this has increased by $5bn in the last 10 years. The Department of Agriculture places Super Bowl Sunday as the second largest food consumption day of the year, behind Thanksgiving – it’s a good time for fans and the economy.

So, why does the Super Bowl get elevated to holiday status? The game itself is only 54 years old and is the youngest of all major North American sporting championships.

The publication American Interest suggests that one of the reasons the game endures is that its early days of broadcast coincided with many households exchanging black and white TVs for colour. There was limited choice of channels and two of the three free-to-air networks showed the game. If you didn’t watch football you probably weren’t watching TV.

From the outset few details have changed. The game takes place in the depth of winter, at a consistent start time for all time zones, which has made it accessible for family viewing throughout the US.

Add to that fact the Super Bowl is also the only major, professional US sport that is decided in a one-off, winner-takes-all showdown, and you have all the ingredients for an unmissable communal event.

So could the Premier League, the most popular sports league in the world, ever entertain the idea of a winner-takes-all final?

In many ways the culmination of the NFL season is everything the Premier League isn’t. The NFL is always decided on the final day of the season, whereas the Premier League title has been decided on the final day just eight times. It feels like a poor return.

As Liverpool march on towards their maiden Premier League title, it is safe to assume that this will be another fallow year devoid of last day drama or slip ups.

To ensure drama, you need jeopardy. A playoff provides that. It also creates a degree of parity in a league that is decided by budget as much as goals.

Of course, it would change the landscape of football, there is no question. Arsenal’s invincible season would not be so fondly remembered if they lost in the final. The Leicester City fairy-tale might become more common and even Spurs might have challenged more.

Yet, the idea of a playoff system or final is not as alien as it once was to sports fans on these shores. Rugby Union and Rugby League have both successfully introduced it into the Premiership and Super League, respectively.

The Football League also created playoff football back in 1987 – the final of which determines the last side to be promoted to the Premier League. This is now the richest game in all of sport, worth an estimated £170m to the winning side.

The format of a playoff system needn’t be complex. The simpler it is, the easier it is to get behind. But it comes with a need for fans to understand that the league standing merely becomes a vehicle to measure consistency and opportunity, not success.

The fifty-year experiment in the US has proved that a consistently delivered winner-takes-all final works.

Without the guarantee of a final, it is very difficult to deliver a surge that carries cultural and economic significance both locally and internationally.

Given the global interest in the Premier League, a Super Bowl-esque final could easily become the biggest single match in world sport – and which team doesn’t want to be crowned SuperBall Champion?

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