Evening Standard columnist and former BBC News sports editor Mihir Bose talked to Gorkana about his new book to mark the 20th anniversary of the Premier League, how the advent of the new league influenced the UK media landscape and the communications challenge it faces over transparency.


It is twenty year since the launch of the football league. Few would have predicted how it would become such a global brand or the extent to which it would dominate the cultural agenda but for Mihir Bose, one image earlier this year sums up the Premier League’s journey.

“It is in Chicago at the time of the Champions League final when the front pages had a picture of David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama all watching the final in Munich. It’s inconceivable that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would have shared a moment like that.”

It certainly is, but the Premier League had a charmed start in life. It coincided with the launch of the Champions League, the fabled Bosman ruling relaxing contract laws ushered in a generation of foreign talent and changes to the media also provided a following wind.

“About the time the Premier League was coming out the media was changing,” said Bose. “As a consequence of that, technology came in – new titles emerged and also the number of pages devoted to sport increased. Prior to that not all football matches were covered and the top fixtures were the North South contests as they would appear in all the regional editions.”

Football has now become a twelve month sport and coverage doesn’t stop at the FA Cup Final as it used to. lt has also contributed to change in the media too. It helped cement satellite TV, pay-per-view and latterly digital TV. With this the connection between TV and the written media has become stronger as televised matches are extensively trailed in the written media with controlled access to managers and players.

It also led the charge of in the arrival of the ex-player becoming the commentator as a new breed of the footballer so exemplified by Gary Lineker moved from the dugout to the commentary box.

One trend Bose finds hard to fathom is the way in which newspapers give the weekend’s football a double treatment.

“This only happens in English football it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world – the same event is reported twice after 24 hours. A match played on Saturday is reported in the Sunday papers and then again in the Monday papers. In no other sphere of life would this be allowed. If you have an event on Saturday the Monday papers will pass comment on it or try and find a fresh angle. They won’t actually just report it as though it had taken place the previous day.”

He would rather the space was used for more features on lower league and grass roots football. “Sports editors should be commissioning more pieces on the underlying issues, such as racism, which is one of the stories they have missed.”

But after a summer of Olympic glory book-ended by Bradley Wiggins’ breakthrough in the Tour de France, Andy Murray’s first Grand Slam win and the Ryder Cup miracle, it is a reminder that football doesn’t inhabit the sporting universe in isolation. Can its success continue?

“There are two major challenges”, said Bose. “First, can the Premier League go on selling its rights at an exponential level? Growth in the domestic market is doubtful beyond the current deal, but overseas the Premier League is THE league in the world and clearly that will go on expanding as markets in Asia, China and India continue to open up.”

“Secondly, there needs to be a new balance in English football. Whilst there wasn’t a great deal of money before the Premier League, the money did trickle down so that the bigger clubs bought players from the lower leagues. Now a lot the money goes outside this country and while the Premier League is doing well the clubs below the Premier League are facing desperate times.”

The extent to which the public might have had their eyes opened by the success and conduct of other sports shows it cannot afford to take anything for granted. Communications is important but Bose thinks the Premier League is missing a trick

“The Premier League has borrowed ideas from America on the way it should televise and develop commercially but what it has not leant is transparency. On Sunday the NFL will play its regular season match at Wembley and at the end of it all the journalists will be allowed into the dressing room to interview the players.

“Imagine that sort of transparency in the Premier League. I disagree with the notion that British press can’t be trusted to be responsible. The problem is that you push the British press into a corner, you don’t allow it free access, you don’t compel people – Alex Ferguson for years didn’t speak to the BBC and got away with it – and therefore you encourage this furtive journalism that was bad.”

In twenty years the Premier League has come a long way. It doesn’t look as though the story will stop here as its brand looks set to continue to grow globally. However, it is the home market where it faces its biggest challenges, particularly in the way it connects with its domestic audience.

Game Changer – How the English Premier League Came to Dominate the World by Mihir Bose is published by Marshall Cavendish


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