Home and Away

EPL horror show has big box-office appeal to world

Racist disputes, police probes and other melodramas add to perverse charm as the league extends its global reach

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 4:17am

Manchester United fans were invited to get into character for their Halloween midweek Capital One Cup clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and dressed as ghouls, ghosts and zombies. Fittingly, the contest was a nine-goal, 120-minute thriller that would have made Michael Jackson proud.

But Red Devils fans were a tad late for the party because the main fright-night event took place three evenings earlier. Just when you thought it was safe to believe seven days in the life of the EPL would pass off without incident, Halloween week proved to be an extended horror show.

Red mists descended at Stamford Bridge during the clash between Chelsea and United and the explosive encounter has created an unprecedented fissure between refs, fans, the FA and players.

The claim that official Mark Clattenburg racially abused Chelsea's John Mikel Obi shocked a sport already deeply scarred by racist disputes, FA and police probes, snubbed handshakes and a general return to the dark ages.

If Clattenburg did utter the unutterable to Mikel Obi, however, then he rightly deserves to see his career terminated. But trying to fathom Chelsea's complaint - just who believed they heard abuse from whom to who - is like wading through a swamp on lead stilts while trying to digest the Tuyuca translation of Dante's Inferno.

Whether it was correct for Torres to walk for diving remains the subject of conjecture, though the majority concur with Clattenburg's red card. But expecting referees to make all their calls with 100 per cent certainty in the absence of video replays is a scary demand, and the hysterical calls for refs to be sacked or penalised for wrong, game-changing decisions sends chills down the spine.

So, here we go again with more investigations into one man's alleged racist word against another's and general mudslinging. The FA cannot risk another Terrygate dragging on for months ... Or can it? Therein lies the grubby rub - for where there is muckspreading there is much filthy lucre to be had.

Judging by the ringing cash tills at EPL's HQ, the rest of the world can't get enough of this never-ending, vitriolic soap opera. Rather than foreign broadcasters shunning the shenanigans and imbroglios, the raucous, often poisonous melodrama adds to the league's perverse charm.

Indeed, it might well be the main attraction for an increasing number of new fans around the globe: think of the glamour and treachery of Dallas and replace the oil wells with footballs.

It has become clear the world is prepared to pay top dollar for the EPL - its Halloween warts, it toxicity, obnoxiousness and, of course, its mesmerising football and dazzling stars.

Steering clear of the Clattenburg storm in a smoggy Beijing this week was EPL chief executive Richard Scudamore signing a multi-million deal that will see a six-year extension to its current agreement with Chinese TV partner Super Sport.

This bonanza pay packet was banked just a day after the EPL announced a ground-breaking deal with American broadcaster NBC Sports Group.

And on Thursday, DIRECTV PanAmericana and SKY Mexico signed up to show the EPL throughout South America (excluding Brazil), Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic.

Before venturing overseas in search of more bounty, Scudamore had already secured a jaw dropping £3 billion (HK$37.5 billion) for the league's domestic TV rights between 2013 and 2016. He is, according to reports, hoping to beat the existing overseas rights deal which is worth £1 billion and is thus justified in declaring the EPL is now going through its next stage of global development - seeking ever larger audiences.

The Super Sport deal gives the EPL and the 20 clubs access to 21 different TV stations across the mainland, but the US deal stands out as it takes the league into new territory.

America has been a far harder nut to crack than China and the rest of Asia. NBC Universal, the American rights holders for the Olympics, has bought 380 live games a season "and are committed to showing six live games a week".

While the vast majority of matches will be shown on NBC's dedicated sports channel, which is carried on cable in the US, some will be shown on network television. American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey have long been the staples of American sports fans but the EPL's deal with the country's biggest broadcasters means the league will surely boosts is profile beyond its niche appeal.

More than 80 million homes across the US will now be able to watch EPL matches - a huge jump from the existing 140,000 average weekly audience with existing broadcasters Fox and ESPN. "The market in the US has become much more competitive and this is a statement from NBC that they believe the Premier League can become one of the mainstream sports," Scudamore said.

As Manchester United's fancy-dressed fans proved this week, Halloween is now the third largest festival celebrated by the UK after Christmas and Easter, an annual, cash-cow craze imported from the US.

How ironic that the EPL is now balancing the books and exporting its own spine-chilling thrillers to the heartlands of middle Americana for a pretty penny.