Richard Fleming: Is the EPL boring?



Richard Fleming: Is the EPL boring?

by Richard Fleming

Already the Premier League has a familiar look about it, and we’re only just into October.

The top five of Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal are names many expect to be staring down at the rest come the season end.

Of course, Manchester United languishing in 10th is the anomaly with Watford, Leicester, Wolves, and Bournemouth perched above them.

My question is this: Does predictability in sport hurt the product? Leicester City’s surprise success in 2016 aside – and Blackburn Rovers in 1995 – the Premier League champions have been from London or Manchester.

Since the Premier League came into being in 1992-93, just six clubs have finished top of the tree – Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Leicester City, Manchester City, and Manchester United. Of those six, United have claimed the crown 13 times, followed by Chelsea (5), Man City, Arsenal (both 3), Blackburn, and Leicester (both 1).

Now, there’s little doubt that the Premier League’s popularity has continued to grow globally, with the domestic product often playing second fiddle to the English top tier across large swathes of Africa, Asia, and North America.

But at home, viewing figures have dipped, while the most recent TV rights fee was a mere £4.464bn, down £500m from the previous deal. It would be nonsense of me to suggest that the Premier League bubble is to burst any time soon, but I can’t help wondering what life must be like for fans of West Ham or Everton, or indeed any of the other dozen or so clubs fighting for the scraps.

In the 26 seasons prior to the Premier League’s arrival, the old First Division was won by nine different clubs – Arsenal, Aston Villa, Derby County, Everton, Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Nottingham Forest.

But there was greater variety in the contenders, with teams such as Crystal Palace, Ipswich Town, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford, and West Bromwich Albion finishing in the top three.

These days clubs outside of the fancied few find themselves knowing their limit even before the season has started. Their priority – some would suggest their ambition – is simply to avoid relegation. After that, anything else is a bonus.

But is that what passes for competition these days? To be fair, the competition is even more scant in neighboring nations, and I really can’t see any way back.

Sadly, more money and more followers does not equate to more balance. There’s long-been a fragmentation of the Premier League. Gone are the days when there was a top half and a bottom half.

That said, here we find ourselves in the early stages of the second month of the season, and already the familiar faces are occupying familiar positions. And so, the narrative for the next eight months will focus on City, and Liverpool, and Chelsea, and Spurs, and Arsenal. Same old, same old.

There will be drama, I have no doubt, though played out between teams most could’ve predicted even before a ball was kicked. For me, that takes the edge off a little.


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