Predicting the course of a Premier League season is, in general, a fool’s errand. Each year we’re reminded that whatever impressions we had of the state of play, the gods of fate tend to dish out something different.
Having said all that, the 2014/15 season does have a whiff of history repeating itself. Mourinho’s Chelsea are effectively Champions already, City still can’t step up to the top level, Tottenham are “nearly men” and QPR remain a poorly managed, financially incontinent shambles.
Chelsea now have a 6 point gap, with a game in hand at home to Stoke, cushioning them from 2nd placed City. Arsenal and Manchester United sit close behind, promising a close fought battle for 2nd place. Further back Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham are separated by a single point, effectively fighting for 5th and “backdoor” Champions League qualification.
It is often claimed, though seldom substantiated, that the Premier League is the most competitive in the world. If thats so it wouldn’t be because England is home to the world’s best teams but due to the depth of quality and especially the “middle tier” of clubs like Swansea, Southampton and West Ham who won’t be setting the world alight, but can give any challenger a solid game.
A large part of the Premier League’s success is commercial and a recently signed £5 billion TV Rights deal will ensure the league’s financial dominance for years to come. However this deal only further enhances the disparity between The Premier League and Championship. It is easy to envision a situation where newly promoted teams find it nigh on impossible to compete, further entrenching the power of established clubs.
The Premier League has also been bolstered by the growth of online gambling, which has provided a large new pool of shirt sponsors. Aston Villa, Stoke and (recently relegated) Fulham all have betting sites as their primary shirt sponsor. Although some fan groups have raised issues these tie ins have largely been successful, leading more operators to take an interest in similar deals.
Gambling sponsors in foreign sports league have been forcibly stopped in some cases; as with Australian Rugby side Sydney Roosters who were ordered to drop a major Poker brand after a public outcry. However, in an increasingly cash driven sports economy the draw of an industry with almost unlimited cash to splurge is difficult to resist. In some countries, like South Africa, online gambling is outlawed but some offshore operators legally offer their services from abroad. It is easy to see why a major South African operator might find it tempting to sponsor a foreign team, widely watched by South Africans but outside the legal boundaries of the authorities.
The Premier League is big, bold and beautiful – but not unassailable. However rich the league becomes, it will struggle to keep drawing fans if new money makes the game stale and uncompetitive. Undoubtedly lower ranked teams may gain a measure of stability from the huge prize money on offer, but unless they work out a way to remain competitive then the influx of cash may do more harm than good.