Is English football heading towards an American business model?
September 27th, 2013
This weekend marks 10 years since the creation of one of the most controversial football teams in history, the MK Dons. That weekend, the then-Wimbledon FC drew 2-2 with Burnley in their first ‘home’ game at the National Hockey Stadium in Milton Keynes. Pete Winkelman and his consortium did something that was unheard of – they simply moved a football team to another location.
Of course many fans couldn’t stomach this, and refused to go and support Wimbledon in their new home. For a team that had come to fame thanks to ‘The Crazy Gang’ and won the 1988 FA Cup, it was a bitter pill to swallow. The formation of phoenix club AFC Wimbledon ensued, and they have enjoyed success since, now finding themselves in the Sky Bet League 2, one league below MK Dons. For those that remained however, the issues that had plagued Wimbledon were now behind them; they had a permanent home and a board who could support them financially.
Despite the fact that many football fans (many is a big understatement) were so unhappy with the formation of MK Dons, credit to Winkelman and his board has to be given where it is due. The Dons have a brand new stadium which is extremely impressive, along with one of the best young managers in the Football League in Karl Robinson. Robinsons is also one of the longest-standing managers in the league having been at the club since 2010, and has remained so despite successive play-off losses. This is rare in modern football, as we’ve seen from the sacking of Paolo Di Canio after just thirteen games as Sunderland boss.
It’s not just their infrastructure and performances on the pitch that have impressed. The Dons are heavily involved in the community, with a flourishing youth academy, a ladies’ team and nine different sessions being run for players with disabilities. No matter what you think about the formation of the club, in a world where we see one player being sold for £85 million to a club with over £500 million worth of debt, the MK Dons model certainly shows how to run a club the right way.
In August Hull City announced that they would be renamed Hull City Tigers, in a bid by new owner Assem Allam to make it more appealing and more marketable. Being someone with an ounce of common sense I can see through this. It’s obvious Allam would like his Hull team to be like the American Football teams, therefore allowing him to one day be able to move the franchise to a more profitable area of the country, or maybe even abroad. He wants Hull to become known as the ‘Tigers’ rather than Hull City, meaning that eventually the name loses its association with the place, such as what happened with the Los Angeles Rams when they moved to St Louis in 1995.
I can’t help but think the Premier League may even back such a move, especially if abroad, as this would further help promote the English game in other countries, much like the rumours of an NFL franchise being set up in London. Having said that, the outcry there would be from supporters would likely mean that a move like this will never occur.
With the amount of money currently in the game, and with transfer fees getting bigger each season I can realistically see more and more foreign owners coming in, and instead of keeping the club going because they are fans, they will look to make a profit because they are businessmen. This is why the franchise structure is so appealing, as it gives them the flexibility to move and increase profitability. However I fear that this will be to the detriment of the fans, and ruin the game we know and love.