In the second of these pieces on ways to improve the game, I suggest lessons football clubs and organisations could learn from their American brothers. These are written with regards to the social and contractual side of the game and arguably do very little for the fans in this country, but in a global society these things have to be considered. In fact, I believe these will lead to benefits for fans in this country too as the competitive balance is somewhat restored. I've written with the Premier League in mind, but it is more than possible to apply these principles across other European leagues.
1. An All-Star Game
In the NBA, the best players from the Eastern and Western Conferences play each year in an exhibition match dubbed the "All-Stars Game". At the end of each season the NFL chooses two teams, one from the NFC and one from the AFC, to compete in the Pro Bowl, featuring every elite player except those playing in the Super Bowl. Both of these games are seen as a bit of a circus by the players and the teams, who are really only concerned about the stars not getting injured. However, these exhibition games could be great if they were taken overseas. Realistically, UK fans wouldn't care about a Premier League All-Star game, so it could be played over the weekend of the EFL play-off finals at prime time in the US or the Far East (late night or early morning in the UK respectively). Any players taking part in the FA Cup final would be exempt, but all others would be contractually required to play. It would help to spread the game to the rest of the world even further, giving fans the chance to see their favourite players. Every year cities could bid to host the game, bringing in even more TV revenue and advertising contracts for the Premier League. The NBA in particular makes the entire show a skill challenge, including "shoot-arounds" (who is the best 3 point shooter) and dunking challenges. The Premier League could invite the best free-kick takers and most accurate passers to compete in mini challenges of a similar nature. Basically, the Premier League clubs, players and brands can expand even further into the developing markets. Alternatively, the Premier League could invite La Liga or the Bundesliga to provide an All-Star team to play the Premier League All-Stars. The fan engagement would be huge and the stock of the best players in the league would rise even further.
2. Contracts and Clauses
Linked to that is the nature of pay. In the NBA, any player voted into the equivalent of the Team of the Season gets a greater earning opportunity thanks to the "collective bargaining agreement". Players who are voted for by journalists and other representatives therefore find their wage potential is far higher than those not considered to be in the elite. This would obviously not work in football, with the free market nature and open system of promotion and relegation in football, but there would be greater potential for clubs to include performance clauses in a player's contract. For example, clubs could include an All-Star clause which would trigger a wage rise, or a relegation clause which triggers a massive wage cut. There's also the possibility for including a buy-out clause which can only be activated by clubs if the player has been selected for the All-Star game or restricts who the player can be sold to based on how many All-Stars are currently at the buying club (for example if Chelsea had 5 or more All-Stars then a clause in Lukaku's contract could stop them buying him). This would help smaller clubs keep hold of their star players and take a lot of the power away from the players and away from player agents.
3. Contracts and Trades
This then opens up the possibility to trade players (including their contracts) for other players. Using the example of Lukaku, Everton could refuse to sell him to Chelsea if Chelsea had too many All-Stars, but could request that Chelsea trade them one of their All-Stars (and whatever else would be needed to make the trade palatable) in order to retain their strength. The conclusion could be: Lukaku to Chelsea for Gary Cahill, Nathaniel Chalobah and a bit of cash. Chelsea would then take Lukaku and, crucially, his contract, whilst Everton would get Cahill and Chalobah (and their contracts) and whatever cash they felt would make the trade worthwhile. Removing the rights of players to choose where they play would need working out legally (although leaving the EU could actually prove beneficial in this case) and the changing system of trades would take time to adjust. The positives, however, are numerate. Firstly, it gives smaller clubs far more power in retaining their stars thanks to the clauses which could be written into contracts. Secondly, this would reduce the power of players and agents to force moves and would force far more savvy negotiations. It would also remove agents fees from trades (not traditional transfers) as it would be a straight negotiation between clubs. Thirdly it would restrict the ability of bigger clubs to simply throw huge amounts of money at poorer clubs and effectively force them into selling their best players summer-on-summer. It works hugely in favour of clubs like Southampton, who could potentially keep hold of their best players if they wanted to.
Obviously there are a couple of problems here. The first is "what about players who don't make the All-Star game?" Well, I believe that it would be a slow process of changing the entire nature of player contracts. As the All-Star contracts start creating these clauses, other clubs will see the benefits and will start imposing them on other players. It would be the start of the erosion of player power, not the pinnacle, but it would certainly be a turning point. Secondly, would players and agents accept it? Well, probably not. But realistically the majority of clubs would and if they all agreed to begin implementing them then players would start having to make decisions: do I drop down to the Championship, where these clauses might not exist, and take less money or play at a lower level? Do I go abroad (and probably take less money)? Or do I accept these terms? Thirdly, would it be legal? On this point I have no idea, but if they can do it in the US then I'm sure it can be worked out here.
Adapting rules from American sports to football would certainly require a lengthy campaign promoting it: football fans (especially in the UK) are averse to basically any changes, let alone any that come from American sport. The benefit of American sport organisation is the "competitive balance" aspect of it: by taking financial power out of the equation and reducing player power, good leadership and sensible club management can take a club from the bottom to the top in the space of a few seasons. Managers get longer contracts in order to oversee slow rebuilds and it is understood that coaching and management are different processes (which some football clubs are starting to warm to, with the Director of Football role). Of course, relegation poses a problem in this, but it is certainly possible to tip the scales in the direction of the smaller clubs if the league and the clubs have the desire to.
Next time I will look at the possibility of a European Super League and what that could mean for the game. I believe it would actually be beneficial for every single team if it was managed correctly; I will outline what "correctly" means in my opinion.
In the meantime, a reminder to watch the Women's Euros which are starting very soon. In the UK you can watch them on Channel 4 and (I believe) Eurosport and it will be well worth watching, with Germany, England and Sweden all taking part (plus plenty of others!). I've got my Steph Houghton shirt and will be cheering on the Lionesses; it would be great if we could all get behind our ladies, who have been getting more and more successful in recent years!
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