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Barclays Premier League: The New Roman Circus?

How the bosses of English football are using an ages-old concept to globalize entertainment for the masses.

Emirates Stadium in London, England . Credit: ganblade


  • The frenetic pace that is imposed upon the players competing in England’s top flight is unsurpassed.
  • The commercial driver behind English football is global market dominance.
  • The size of broadcast contracts is about the number of (global) eyeballs the clubs can attract.
  • By having live games on all the time, England thinks it can make people to follow the English football “brand.”
  • The rising injury levels are “collateral damage” for the Barclays Premier League to be successful.

The Roman circus has been resurrected in our time. Thanks to the marvels of modern broadcast technology, it is not just local audiences that can follow the games.

These days, audiences in places all around the world can watch the drama of the world’s favorite sport being played at the highest level – right in their own living rooms, whether in Europe, the Americas, Asia or Africa.

There is one major difference to the era 2,000 years ago: This being modern times, the “slaves” have skillfully managed to turn the tables on their masters. A vast part of the revenues generated in top football leagues today are the “take” of the players.

Of course, that doesn’t keep the bosses from doing their utmost to earn a handsome profit for themselves on the backs of those players.

For that reason, the top clubs in England and the League as a whole have embarked on a gruesome strategy: Let’s have more games – in fact, games all the time!

Gone is the winter break when players could save their stressed out bodies at least for a while, before the frenetic pace of the second half of the season would start.

As a result, what was long considered an oddity in the sporting world, the “English week,” has now become a global phenomenon.

The term refers to having a competitive game not just every weekend, but twice per week, in fact pretty much every three or so days.

Global market dominance

While top clubs in other countries have a similar schedule, the frenetic pace that is imposed upon the players competing in England’s top flight is unsurpassed. The commercial driver behind English football is global market dominance.

There are several strong national leagues – including the Spanish, Italian, German and French ones. All of them are vying for the largest possible share of the global fan (and hence revenue) base.

The size of broadcast contracts is all about the number of (global) eyeballs the clubs can attract to the national brand via their gladiator-players.

In that, club owners and players have a common interest, as everybody’s take is bound to rise in the process.

England has thus made a bet that, by having live games on pretty much all the time – week in and week out, with game days spread out during the week, so that soon enough there will be a game on every day – it can entice ever more people to follow the English football “brand.”

Collateral damage

Indications are that English football as a whole is driving its already strong global market position forward with its branding and market saturation strategy.

Of course, there are some issues to contend with. Players, even at their top-level skills and fitness level, are ever more prone to being injured.

Less so from grave fouls by players of the opposing team than by the sheer wear and tear that the game itself imposes on their bodies.

Moreover, with more matches, despite the need to remain competitive, it is only natural that players must be rested.

That often leads to less than stellar line ups in certain fringe competitions in England – such as the Capital One Cup.

While the statistics in that regard are undeniable, and quite shocking, there are still efforts to pin the blame at particular coaches and their playing and training styles.

While that certainly plays a role as well, players’ bodies of all teams are very near the limit of their maximum, if not already beyond it.

There also is an underhanded recognition that the rising injury levels are “collateral damage” more or less.

For the Barclays Premier League to be successful and attract the audiences it wants and needs, the game needs to be played at a specific level of intensity, pace and frequency.

A global circus all around

Interestingly, football today is much like Roman circuses in another crucial regard: The gladiator-players are sourced from all over the world, just as was the case with the slaves in Rome who were drawn from all corners of the empire, giving the event a distinctly global feel.

That is a stark contrast to the constellation not so long ago when most players in a national league actually hailed from that country and when foreign players were considered a rarity and almost a curiosity.

What has also been globalized greatly, especially in the case of the Barclays Premier League, is the ownership of the various clubs.

A sizable number of them are now owned by Russian, Chinese and Gulf State plutocrats, as well as American sports groups.

That is a far cry to the days of old Rome and other provincial cities, when the circuses were in the hands of the local rulers, to provide distraction to the masses under his geographic control.

Maybe it should not come as a surprise that, in a globalized economy, the big winners — global plutocrats — have found a way to distract the world’s masses from reality (and add further to their already gargantuan take).

Welcome to the brave new world where the world’s plebeians seek comfort in their own lot by daily doses of the lucrative self-sacrifice that the stressed-out bodies of English football present.

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About Stephan Richter

Director of the Global Ideas Center, a global network of authors and analysts, and Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist.

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