Sat, Aug 18, 2012 - Page 19 News List

Premier League prepares for kick-off

‘BUSINESS IS POSITIVE’:Following a climactic finish to the previous season, teams in the world’s most-watched soccer league have been boosting their off-field income


Arsenal’s Cameroonian midfielder Alex Song controls the ball during a Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium in London on Jan. 5 last year. Arsene Wenger said yesterday that Song could be the next Arsenal star to leave after Robin van Persie’s exit.

Photo: AFP

English Premier League soccer clubs will struggle to live up to the climax of last season’s title race, chief executive Richard Scudamore said.

The world’s richest soccer league returns today, six days after the end of the London Olympic Games. The previous campaign ended on May 13 with Sergio Aguero scoring in the last seconds of the final game to give Manchester City their first league title since 1968. Aguero’s goal denied Manchester United a record-extending 20th championship.

“Whether it’s quite as exciting as last season isn’t really the measure, because that’s an awfully high bar through which to pass,” Scudamore said. “All that matters is that clubs go out and create those contests again and things will happen.”

City are the 5-4 favorite with William Hill PLC to retain their title, meaning a successful US$4 bet will bring in US$5 plus the original stake. Manchester United are the 9-4 second choice ahead of European champions Chelsea at 5-1.

The program begins with seven games today.

Tomorrow, City host newly promoted Southampton, with United completing the opening round of games at Everton on Aug. 20.

Striker Robin van Persie, the league’s top scorer last season with 37 goals, passed a physical examination yesterday to join United from Arsenal for a fee reported to be £24 million (US$36.7 million).

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has said he had to trade the 29-year-old Dutch international — English soccer’s player of the year last season — because Van Persie only had a year remaining on his contract and had refused to sign a new one.

Scudamore said he is glad Van Persie is staying in the Premier League, which has lost players including Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas to Spain’s top two teams, Real Madrid and Barcelona, in recent seasons.

“I’m neutral about whether he’s at Arsenal or Manchester United or wherever he goes as long as he stays in the league because players of that quality and talent we want to stay here,” Scudamore said.

During the offseason, United signed a US$559 million shirt sponsorship deal with General Motors Co and raised US$233.3 million in an initial share sale in the US.

The offering on the New York Stock Exchange gives the team controlled by the Florida-based Glazer family an enterprise value of US$2.9 billion, or about US$1 billion more than Real Madrid, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Forbes.

Other teams have also boosted their off-field income. Liverpool, the 18-time champions owned by the Fenway Sports Group, signed an apparel contract with New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc’s Warrior Sports brand worth £25 million per season, while Under Armour Inc entered into their first soccer manufacturing agreement with Tottenham .

The most-watched soccer league in June announced the sale of its domestic television rights from 2013-2014 for a record £3.02 billion, 70 percent more than the current contract.

“The business of sport is positive, particularly for those that have got premium properties, particularly for those that have got premium brands that can reach and can transcend international boundaries,” Scudamore said. “That’s why I think the prospects for the future are good.”

Soccer can also benefit from the success of the Olympics, Scudamore said.

“It’s good for all of us,” he said. “It’s good for the reputation of Britain that we pulled this thing off — just like we’re good for the reputation of Britain, we’re popular around the world. We’re part of what people recognize as being good about a lot of what goes on in this country.”

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