There was a fantastic article posted on Grantland today about a huge scandal in fixing soccer (football) matches all over the world, with 680 suspected instances based on the initial investigation by Europol. If this catches fire the way I suspect it might then, the author Brian Phillips (@runofplay), is completely right…”Soccer is fucked.” If you want to know all about the match fixing scandal then I highly recommend Brian Phillips article, but I’m going in a slightly different direction.
— Grantland (@Grantland33) February 7, 2013
If Phillips is right, then that opens up a huge opportunity for the U.S. based sports leagues that have considered expansion. I covered some of the major issues related to the NFL’s ability to expand to Europe here, but where there is money, there is a way.
Both the NBA and the NFL have been talking for years now about expanding into Europe because they feel there is such an untapped market for the best of the best in basketball leagues and a complete lack of quality american football in Europe. Beyond some of the tax and travel problems that are explained in my previous post, the biggest problem to the expansion of american leagues into Europe is the immense popularity of soccer in Europe and the world as a whole. There is very little market left for opposing sports in Europe with the virtual year-long soccer season.
The English Premier League is the king of Europe as far as american soccer fans are concerned, with Spain’s La Liga a very close second. In the Grantland article, he makes a point that there doesn’t seem to be a tangible match fixing link to the EPL, but to assume that means the league is clean is too far of a jump, as we have seen in America with various athletes and scandals. That’s why if this scandal doesn’t get buried by those with so much power and so much money to lose in international soccer, then there could be a huge outcry against the legitimacy of soccer, both internationally and in European competition. When/if that happens, there would be NO better time for the NBA and NFL to attempt their expansion dreams to grab that market share of those disenfranchised fans in Europe. I don’t mention the MLB because I picture their first ventures into further expansion would be somewhere in Latin America if at all possible. They may never expand to Europe because of the complete lack of perceived interest in the sport in Europe.
The success of each NFL game that is played in Europe every year, in Wembley Stadium which seats 86,000 for football and would be ranked 1st in the NFL, has driven Roger Goodell to talk about expansion in Europe on an annual basis. The NFL seems to be popular in Europe and if given a chance with the downfall of soccer, it could gain a huge foothold over the next few years. The most ideal situation would be for american football to start at the lower levels and for the NFL to move in when they can place a four-team division in Europe at the very least.
David Stern and the NBA face a much different challenge in an expansion plan to Europe however. There are already established leagues in Europe in different countries and Spain is generally considered to be the number two league in the world compared to the NBA. What Stern and soon to be commissioner Adam Silver need to hope for is that the intrigue of the NBA brand would outweigh the previous presence of the leagues already in Europe. Again, a 4 or 5 team division in Europe based in different major cities in different countries is the way to go, but it isn’t a sure thing that the fans that have pushed their corrupt soccer leagues away would latch onto a sport like basketball.
David Stern and Roger Goodell might be smart to get together and discuss possible expansion plans. The NBA can’t compete with the NFL in the U.S., and very probably couldn’t compete on an even level in Europe because it faces bigger problems to grabbing the fan market share. If Europol and each country to launch major investigations and bring charges against any high level individuals in each league or major team, then the EPL, La Liga and Champions League as whole will be hard pressed to retain their fans in the short-term. If the NFL and NBA jump into that fight, they may be able to block the soccer from rebuilding themselves in the long-term which will surely happen in there is no challenge to their power of the sports market in Europe.
Fortune favors the bold and I don’t see any better time for the NBA and NFL to attempt their expansion plans than in the wake of major scandal in the biggest roadblock to European success of those two sports. Your move commissioners…choose wisely.