A Premiership title decided well before the final day and an FA Cup final between Portsmouth and Cardiff City are not likely to enchant English football's television paymasters around the world. Many football fans are delighted at Wembley's unexpected May guests, but a predictable league combined with a cup competition that appears to be losing the attention of the big teams while they remain in Europe look like a recipe for stagnation and possible decline in spectator and, crucially, subscriber interest.
The refusal to let go of Game 39 shows that English football's notables are ready to contemplate upsetting any tradition that might hinder the game's global apppeal and, as we pointed out in 2006, the new international team owners haven't spent all that money to welcome devaluation of their assets through simple sporting failure. Given the burgeoning links between the NFL and the Premiership it's not unbelievable, especially given the project to play matches abroad, that the Premiership has considered what the NFL's structure and relationship to television might offer it. They may well conclude that there's an irresistible case for revolutionary change.
Any restructuring would have to guarantee even the weakest teams equivalent or better revenues than now, while they, and more especially the bigger players, would like freedom from the ugly spectre of relegation. A new format should offer more high profile matches to feed to live television while also trying to add importance even to less glamourous fixtures. Step forward, then, Londonist's vision of the football future: the EFL.
Sporting interest heightens when national or local supremacy are at stake - Reading v Wigan is not a big draw outside of the teams' respective home territories. Even so, ejecting them in favour of heavily supported and well-known clubs currently down on their uppers is likely to generate awkward legal wrangles, so enlargement is the way forward. The thirty-two team composition of the NFL offers room to accomodate fallen giants, but which twelve to add? Given that this is purely a commercial decision, you're looking for a dozen of the teams outside the Premiership with the biggest pulling power, an appropriate yardstick being their highest attendances over the past season as representative of their likely appeal if "promoted".
Obviously, home and away across thirty two teams is a non-starter, so we speculate that the teams would be divided between four equal-status conferences along vaguely regional lines with high-profile local rivals kept together where possible. If we make the rash assumption that the current Championship top three swap places with the current bottom three of the Premiership next season, then next season's EFL lineup would look something like this:
Metropolitan - Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Reading, Fulham, Portsmouth, Southampton
Mercian - Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Derby County, West Bromwich Albion, Hull City, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Nottingham Forest
Anglian - Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Leeds United, Ipswich Town, Norwich City
Palatine - Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic, Stoke City
Picture via dr. motte's Flickr stream.
The teams in each conference would play each other four times over a season, two each home and away, generating lots of local derbies in a total of 28 games. Each season a conference would be paired with one of the others (let's say Metropolitan with Anglian and Mercian with Palatine to begin with) and any given team would play the eight in the other conference once each giving a total of 36 games. The NFL rotates these pairings each year, but they could be fixed. The sequence of matches would be seven against your conference opponents, two against your paired conference, and so on until the end of the season.
This would lead to four teams being champions of a conference and would generate a series of postseason games, replacing the two extra "regular season" games currently played, to discover that year's overall champion. First of all, the second placed teams in each conference would host the third placed teams according to a random draw. Then the winners of those games would visit the first placed teams, the two losers with the best regular season records entering the UEFA Cup. The winners of those matches would qualify for the Champions League and contest semi-finals and a final, most likely at Wembley. The bottom club in each conference would have to apply to the EFL for re-election and the chance to continue in membership. If a club or clubs from outside the EFL were considered a better alternative, one or more of them could replace a bottom-placed club not receiving enough support at the relevant meeting.
All clubs could still play in the FA Cup assuming continuing good relations with the professional teams left oustide the EFL, but another intriguing possibility would open up. A whole new knockout competition could be played abroad, though involving all the teams straight away would probably be too problematic logistically. Instead, the top four teams from last season in each conference could contest a knockout round of games in various locations around the world about a week to ten days before the start of the regular season according to a world cup style seeded draw. The eight victorious teams could then play the remaining seven ties (quarters, semis and final) around the world at convenient points during the season. The matches would be lucrative, competitive and without implications for European qualification, which would help their acceptance by FIFA and its members who already accept friendly Premiership tournaments abroad. Teams could still enter the League Cup if they chose.
If the Big Four refused to sign up because they would be paired with each other in conferences another structure could be offered where each heads a conference with a city rival joining it and the rest arranged nominally regionally as before. Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham, Norwich and Ipswich might form the nucleus of one accompanied by Derby, Forest and Hull. Elsewhere Chelsea, Fulham, Reading, Southampton and Portsmouth could be the basis of another alongside Villa, Birmingham and West Brom.
If enough compensation was offered to those left out we're confident something along these lines could become a reality sooner than you might think. When it does, all we ask is 10% of the profits.