This could be a defining week for the Premier League.

By Wednesday no English club may be in the Champions League, the first time since 2003 they would have failed to go beyond the quarter finals. And what is more, the Ofcom ruling that Sky charges its rivals too much for rights could mean that in future earnings from televised rights could be affected.

All the signs are that the Premier League will join other team sports, like cricket and rugby, in challenging the ruling.

We can be sure the lawyers will have a field day. But, while we will hear a lot about how this will affect the Premier League, I doubt that the ruling itself will worry the League.

The Premier League has, over the years, developed a very shrewd and effective strategy to deal with regulators who come meddling in what it sees as its business. It has seen many of them off and emerged, if anything, stronger.

At the turn of the century, when the Office of Fair Trading, tried to stop it selling its televised rights collectively, the Premier League launched a sustained campaign and, after a hard fought courtroom battle, saw the OFT off.

This was followed soon after by the European Commission coming along to force the Premier League to break its exclusive live rights deal with Sky. The response of Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore and company was to structure its televised packages to allow another broadcaster to come into the picture, first Setanta and now ESPN. But Scudamore made sure that it did not affect the League’s position or the value it got from its rights.

Indeed the arrival of Setanta forced Sky to bid higher than it would otherwise have done. For a time the powers that be at Setanta were very proud of this achievement. Many of Setenta’s top brass were former Sky men and they derived much pleasure in making their former bosses pay more. Setanta’s collapse has removed that smirk, while the Premier League watched all this with the disdain of a cat which knows it has long had the cream.

Ironically, it was the consumers who have ended up paying more. Brussels intervened on the supposedly admirable populist principle that this was to make life better for the consumers of televised football. Give them a choice, argued the commissioners, and it will reduce the price. The result, oh so predictable when regulators march in, was that it actually increased costs. Consumers had to subscribe both to Sky and Setanta, now, ESPN.

The regulators’ failure both in this county and in Europe is that they have not understood the one big factor about the Premier League.

It is an English product, arguably one of the most successful products originated in this country in the last 20 years. But its future no longer lies in England or even in Europe. It lies in the great wide world outside the control of the Europe and its regulators.

Its clubs maybe English, all the matches may be played in this country, but more and more of its income comes from those watching on television sets thousands of miles from England, more often than not in Asia where the hunger for Premier League football is colossal.

The Premier League now expects to earn more from its overseas rights then its domestic market. At home the market is saturated – there is little potential for growth – while the market in Asia is still expanding. And that market is not controlled by regulators in this country or Europe, they can do nothing about what the rights are sold for, or to whom.

Here the contrast with other sport bodies which may join the Premier League in challenging the Ofcom ruling is worth nothing. For both cricket and rugby, the two other major team sports, it is the money it gets from broadcasters in this country that matters. In cricket the international rights market is dominated by India, which provides 80 per cent of all world cricket income. In rugby it is the tri-nations of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa that hold the whip hand.

Just to give some idea of the colossus that the Premier League is, look at these figures from 2008-2009.

The aggregate revenue of the top five European leagues is euros 8 billion:

• England €2,900 million (£2,562 million/$3,893 million)

• Spain €1,470 million (£1,299 million/$1,973 million)

• Italy €1,460 million (£1,290 million/$1,960 million)

• Germany €1,440 million (£1,272 million/$1,933 million)

• France €1,050 million (£928 million/$1,410 million)

In other words the Premier League is twice the size of the next largest European league. It broadcasts to 211 countries, with a global audience of 4.8 billion and its broadcast revenue is 40 per cent higher than its nearest competitor. And what is more, it is growing at a rate that must frighten its European rivals. 2008-2009 saw domestic media rights increase by 67 per cent, foreign rights by 95 per cent.

The domestic deal, done a year ago, for a four year period 2010-2013 was worth £1.8 billion. The recently negotiated overseas rights have bettered that.

So, for all Ofcom thundering, the Premier League, I am sure, will come through unscathed or if anything even stronger.

In many ways the on field problems are more significant than the off field ones.

The Premier League’s history is intertwined with that of the Champions League. They were both launched in the same year, 1992. But the first decade of the Premier League saw little joy for English clubs in the Champions League. Only twice between 1993 and 1999 did an English club make the semi-finals. On both occasions it was Manchester United and even this did not happen until the Bosman ruling did away with UEFA’s 3+2 rule that had so badly damaged United’s ability to field winning teams in Europe.

1999, of course, was United’s great year and since then it has won the title once more and been in one other final. But that apart only Liverpool have won the Champions League and, if you think that in 2001 the solitary English club to make the semi-final was Leeds, yes Leeds chasing the dream, you realise how not all the noise that accompanies England in Europe leads to Championship gold.

Yes, the Premier League’s accountants mint gold but in the last 20 years the league table of winners is headed by Spain with five winners and Italy with four. And the combined size of their league in terms of revenue is less than that of the Premier League.

The Premier League can claim that it has changed football. The world wants to watch the way the English play their game. It has also affected how Europeans play.

I was recently at an Italian league match, a top team against a middling one. Twenty years ago this would have been a dull cat and mouse affair, catenaccio at its prime. But in the first half alone we had five goals and, while there were none in the second half, there was no end of attacking football of the type we know and love so much in English football.

However for all that and whatever this week produces in Europe, so far the evidence is that the Premier League does not rule European football in quite the way its money men rule the world.

The real challenge for Scudamore and the Premier League is how to make its power on the field of play reflect its money making power.


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