Tuesday, 20 April 2021

ESL - Chelsea Raiding Football

The early 90s were my favourite period for music. The peak for hard rock, the beginning of grunge and the greatest acts in hip-hop and rap history. As a young teenager I would watch music videos by Dr Dre, Wu-Tang Clan and Cypress Hill wishing I could be as cool as them. The closest I could get was buying baseball caps including the baddest of them all – The Raiders.

The Raiders has had a history that is quite alien to Chelsea fans. Formed in 1960, it currently plays in Las Vegas, Nevada. Originally, however it held its matches in Oakland, California and despite tremendous success its owner decided twenty years later to move the franchise 350 miles away to Los Angeles despite the LA Rams already residing in the city. The equivalent would be for Chelsea to move from London to Paris.

They then returned to Oakland in the mid-1990s thus pleasing a fan base that had been hugely irritated by its initial move (which had been actually been blocked as it was not backed by a single member of its league before being overturned in the law courts). It then succumbed to the dollar sign by moving to a brand new air-conditioned stadium with an artificial pitch in Las Vegas that could combine American Football with huge tourism demand. Even Tom Hanks was outraged.

With wages at top soccer sides in Europe approaching those of top US sports, the history of the Raiders may signal the direction we are heading in with the announcement of the European Super League. Liverpool and Manchester United are run by American owners who recognise that with the largest global fan base of any UK side they can make a huge amount of money selling TV rights to matches involving their teams against any of the other big sides in Western Europe.

Chelsea and Manchester City have “reluctantly” joined this league knowing that a deal promising to bring up to three times as much revenue as the current Champions League format is hard to turn down. We have also known for years that matchdays only bring in around 15% of total revenue. Cash from broadcasting and commercial deals make up the rest – those of us attending are simply irritants as are our domestic competitions.

The backlash is inevitable and this disgraceful decision by the club will hit diehards the most who actually enjoy trips to Baku, Maribor and Prague. Such matches provide a great chance to explore new cities as well witness different footballing cultures whereas the ESL format will see us play the same teams over and over again. Those boycotting the competition know that their seat will be easily filled when Chelsea play Barcelona.

With the club so brazenly announcing partaking in the ESL, why not hike ticket prices too?

It feels inevitable that as with the NFL, the odd match will be played abroad. According to statistics, Chelsea is the second highest searched football team in China.

This is by no means an attack on tourists who wish to watch Chelsea. Having been at the Bridge when the stadium was half full any visitors would have been welcome. Unfortunately, the hardcore who deem Chelsea as one of most important things in their lives may reluctantly throw their season tickets in the bin and the atmosphere at our stadium will diminish even further.

The Juventus chairman made it clear that clubs are adapting to a different world and basing potential revenue on who is watching his club on TV and discussing incidents on social networks. There was no shame in claiming that globally one third of Juve fans also support another side and these are the ones they wish to target. These fans are those that follow American Football like I do - ones who have baseball caps of both the LA Rams and the Raiders.

Please stop the ESL while there is still a small amount of heart left in football.

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