Insightful as ever, the FT’s Janan Ganesh uses the analogy of the English Premier League (EPL) to explain why in a globalised world, affluent people increasingly hanker for “local” experiences (and “local” not just for them but for other people as well i.e. you and I might live in India, but we want to savour “local” culture from north London).
He points out that the global popularity of the EPL is not due to the quality of its football: “What explains the ongoing clout of the Premier League? It is Europe’s best, but not by a margin that is commensurate with its world appeal. It has provided two of the last 10 Champions League winners. Its internal competitiveness is also overstated. Manchester City have won it four times out of the last five. And still foreign tycoons, even sovereigns, vie to own clubs here. Foreign viewers tune in. The result is financial mega-strength…”
The EPL is popular says Ganesh because it feels authentic in a way that, say, watching the Bundesliga doesn’t (when we watch the Bundesliga we think of German efficiency and brilliant engineering). The EPL feels authentic and is the real deal: “The answer, or part of it, is all that tradition and identity. The fan culture. The stadiums in the midst of residential streets. The towns with few other defining institutions. (Unlike, say, in Germany, where wealth and culture are more dispersed through the regions.) Note how often foreign buyers skip London, which is too big to leave a mark on, for clubs in the north or midlands. And how often they then imprint themselves on those communities. Thai-owned Leicester and Gulf-owned City stand out as case studies. The Premier League sells to the outside world a kind of vicarious belonging. It sells authenticity…
The world likes the Premier League in part because it is so alien. The best argument against all-star games, super leagues and other imported reforms is not moral or aesthetic, but strategic. There is no value in the quick earner if it reduces fascination with the league over time…”
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