Friday, January 25, 2008

Relegation - - protecting the EPL

In North America, we believe we have passionate fans. While it is true we take our sports pretty seriously, we are nothing compared to the football fans in England.

For instance, Liverpool Football Club's American owners successfully refinanced themselves. And the fans of Liverpool are angry about it. There's increasing backlash over co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet Jr.'s decision to refinance the team and, gasp, refurbish the stadium. Gillet also owns the Montreal Canadiens, the most successful hockey club in the history of the sport, and yet we don't hear of any Habs fans protesting the sound business practices of Mr. Gillet.

It reminds me of the ruckus caused over Malcolm Glazer, owner of the Tampa Bay Buccanneers, bought up the stock to Manchester United.

Manchester United had been a publicly traded company, and Malcolm Glazer was able to arrange the purchase of several large portions of the ownership. Fans responded by forming their own association to pool their resources and buy up stock to block him. Anti-Glazer websites sprang up over night.

Much like the Hicks and Gillet's refinancing, the July 2006 refinancing of ManU caused waves in the fan community.

The fan's concerns that the teams are going to suffer, or worse yet, fold, are really ill-founded. Unlike North American leagues, the system of relegation means that for a team to make money, they need to not just stay competitive, but stay top-of-the-tables competitive. Look at Manchester United. Glazer began his take-over in 2003. As of today, United is in first place in the English Premiere League -- tied with nemesis Arsenal at 54 points. However, the Red Devils have the edge with seventeen wins to the Gunners sixteen.

Yes, men like Glazer, Hicks, and Gillet are first and foremost businessmen. But European football fans have to relax. Thanks to their system of relegation and ranked leagues, for these men to make money, they need to make sure that their teams are constantly competitive.

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