Game plan

Press reaction to the crazy proposal

The press was almost united in its opposition to the Game 39 plan. The Daily Express started up a sports page “crusade” called “Kick Out The 39th Step”, endorsed by Johan Cruyff and Graham Taylor among others. The Daily Mail took a proprietorial tone, claiming to have “led opposition to Scudamore’s campaign” via its online petition entitled “Just Say No!”, while the Sun settled on the annoyingly Cockernee “He Hasn’t Got A Scuby”, represented by Richard Scudamore’s head grafted on to Scooby Doo’s body. But while the Sun’s sports pages fell in line with the prevailing mood, their news section had taken an entirely different approach on February 8, the day after the scheme was announced.

A front-page banner proclaimed World Premier: amazing plan to send our league around the globe. Inside, a two‑page spread spelt out how “foreign fans are certain to go mad for the extra international round”. The paper’s business editor, Ian King, noted the “astounding £1.7 billion squeezed from Setanta and BSkyB for the last TV deal” and wondered “how much more the Premier League could get once overseas bidders have experienced the product in their own countries”. A couple of dissenting voice were presented: Steve Bruce felt that “playing overseas is not something I would relish” while a spokesman for the Football Supporters Federation described it as “a slap in the face really”. But the message was clear: this will happen and it’s going to be great.

A day later, another Murdoch paper, the Times, carried a column by Matthew Syed in favour of Game 39. This began by suggesting that it is “to Richard Scudamore’s credit that he has faced up to the challenges of globalisation” and followed the Sun’s lead in stressing the importance of international TV rights: “If the Premier League were to sit idle while other leagues expanded abroad, it would severely compromise the delicate economics of English football.” Syed, a former table tennis star, concluded by echoing a line used in Scudamore’s own announcement: “In a fast-moving global economy, sitting still is tantamount to suicide.”

One broadcaster seemed to be keen on the idea, too. The Mail claimed that on the day Game 39 was launched, a Sky reporter “was asked to present an upbeat piece about the proposal”. When he refused, “a more compliant operative was quickly given the story”.

On February 14, several papers revealed that the Game 39 concept was first pitched to the Premier League last summer by Australian businessman Sir Rod Eddington, a former CEO of British Airways and now chairman of a company called VMEC, which is attempting to bring international sports events to Melbourne. Eddington, who was quoted as saying that international opposition has killed off the plan for now, is also a non-executive director of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Following the outcry over his proposal, there has been talk of Richard Scudamore stepping down from his position as chief executive of the Premier League. The Mail’s Charles Sale suggested what his next move might be: “Scudamore gets on so well with the Sky hierarchy that it is expected he will take a senior job somewhere in the Murdoch empire.” Ed Upright

From WSC 254 April 2008