Sideways Glances: Looking Back At The Future

There is no evidence that any of what follows is actually a fictionalised, poorly imagined account. Any resemblance to real or fictitious persons living, dead or even undead, is either purely coincidental or outright miraculous. Coincidences happen, alright?

On the other hand, in a universe far, far away, all this may already have happened.

1. The True Spirit Of Sport: The Pan-Continental League.

The year is 2030. The Pan-Continental League is ten years old and worldwide birthday celebrations marking the occasion have been a runaway success.

Following the astonishing success of the Euro-Asiatic Cup (2017-2020), the same breakaway clubs that created that Cup competition formed the Pan-Continental League. To them were added a number of major African clubs and two from the United States. The PCL took advantage of intense media involvement and interest to create what was effectively a World Super League of 30 major clubs.

There is no relegation from the PCL. There is no promotion to the PCL from any of the national football leagues.

The English Premiership continued to exist of course, and still exists in 2030 as a national elite of 15 clubs. Following restructuring of the English league pyramid, promotion and relegation continued and the Premiership maintained “its rightful place as the pinnacle of English football” as a source from its governing body confirmed.

Premiership gates averaged 10,000. All the lower leagues were regionalised.

Chelsea, of course, were among the founder members of the Pan-Continental League. Having sold Stamford Bridge to developers, Chelsea moved into their new, all-purpose sports stadium which had been built in west London. It is the home of Chelsea UKFC (as they have been known since 2020) for five Pan-Continental League games per season.

In the PCL all teams play five of the season’s games at their home stadium (though during the first four seasons clubs also had the option of playing some or all of those five at their national stadium if that would increase cash-flow).

Other games were played at grounds in various countries, depending on media proposals and collaboration, revenue streams and growth potential. It was a successful formula.

Because there was no relegation, cheating slowly faded out. Gamesmanship was rare. Deliberate diving, for example, was never seen. Hard tackling became a thing of the past, considered by many within the game as a shameful part of its history.

Yo-ho Kruffts, a leading light in the PCL hierarchy, remarked:

“Tackling, ugh! I’d rather not play football than go onto the pitch and tackle! Defence has no part of our game. Can you imagine in the old days, players would try to take the ball off you! They would even try to stop you scoring a goal. Heavens to Betsy, some players would even try to stop a player dribbling or even passing the ball! It’s ugly; it’s not football!”

Results within the PCL lost their significance. And with tackling all but outlawed, players’ technical skills improved. For a while.

“The game was played for true sporting virtues: the honour of taking part, the Olympian spirit of being the best, the fundamental desire of every human being to belong and be part of something which strives to excel.”

At least, that is how the governing body of the PCL presented it through their partners in the media.

Sid Blighter, Corporate Affairs Advisor to the PCL Governing Body explained: “True there is no relegation, but in a system where the glory of taking part is uttermost, what place does punishing a club for coming last have?

“In the spirit of True Sport, you cannot invite players to take part – invite them to test themselves against the best – and then punish them for failing. In the spirit of True Sport, it would be unethical to punish a club in this way, especially as it has played its part in increasing revenue for the game.”

The media – the old TV and internet streams and the new emerging technologies –dubbed Football “The King Of Sports”.

They were proud to be part of the PCL Sporting Ideal and eager to help promote this worthy cause whilst gaining acclaim (and not insignificant revenue) themselves for their part in it.

2. The Move: A (Stamford) Bridge Too Far

The year is 2031. The long running feud between Chelsea Football Club and CPO is long over.

Bored of the impasse between club and supporter group, and irked by being held hostage by past decisions, the Chelsea UKFC Board had tried everything. The club saw themselves as being in a position where they could not go public with their plans just to appease a minority of their fanbase and the CPO were adamant that they would not give away their rights to Stamford Bridge until the future of Chelsea FC in London was secure. The deadlock was total.

A spokesman for the club insisted “If we want Chelsea to remain at the forefront of world football, if we want to maintain our status within the Pan-Continental League, we must relocate to our new home. That is why the club have decided to offer each shareholder four times the current value of their shares.”

Enough shareholders sold out. It was close, closer even than the Boardroom envisaged but to a collective sigh of relief, it happened. The CPO was disbanded.

As a goodwill/PR gesture, remaining shareholders were given their original investment back. This move was lauded as a PR success, and the club moved to a new home with state of the art facilities for its 60,000 Guests (as they are now referred to in corporate footballing circles) or “fans” as they were called back in the old days.

The stadium move, questioned at the time, seemed not to affect the players who continued to challenge on all fronts and achieve success of varying degrees throughout the later 2010’s and 2020’s. It appeared that Chelsea’s place at the forefront of the Pan-Continental League was secure.

3. The year is 2032. Life is good

(The following excerpt is taken from a leaked report “The State Of The Sport” by The Futures Committee of the Pan-Continental League. The Futures Committee is directly answerable to The Revenues and Yields Secretariat of the Governing Body (Finance) of the PCL.)

… and during the first few years of its [the PCL’s] existence attendances at grounds grew steadily. Increased revenue enabled grounds to expand, which in turn increased revenue. This was especially true of the 2020’s when ground capacities increased across the PCL world, and attendances grew by an astonishing 5% per season.

The decline in attendances seen over the last few years is a cause for concern of course, but this is offset by significant increases in media revenue. And when the exotic South American clubs come on board and the African contingent increases, so too income into the PCL will increase as those markets expand.

Guests new to the PCL – of which there are estimated to be several millions since its early days – are said to be “Happy”. Corporate assessments and surveys have shown a decline in the numbers said to be “Very Happy” but even so the PCL calculates that income from “Happy” fans is only 7% less than that from “Very Happy” fans. An annual increase in viewing figures of 12% more than compensates for the consequent decline in revenue, and financial income continues to display an overall increase.

Older Guests, though, are not so sure whether they are “Happy” or not.

Studies show that for this minority of Guests, the fact that there is no relegation impacts negatively on the glory achieved in coming first. “It just doesn’t count for much anymore” was the reason one Guest gave for no longer paying to attend games or paying for live streams.

Another reason given was the sudden and unexpected decline in technical skills. Following the early years, when skills appeared to improve, player technique has seen a decline. The precise reason for this has yet to be identified though some studies suggest a major contributing factor could be the lack of intensity during play.

Questions still surround the decline of intensity: some argue the lack of relegation is a factor, others say the decline began following the decision to make “persistent and intentional” tackling a bookable offence. .

The introduction of four quarters into the game has significantly increased commercial revenue, primarily from general-media income and international advertising.

It is understood that the outdated argument that introducing “four quarters” into the game would ruin its intensity and flow has been made redundant by the general lowering of intensity that occurred prior to its introduction. The technical decline has therefore had no effect on revenue and, though warranting continuing investigation, is not of serious concern.

Fewer home games played at a traditional base (or “Home” ground, as it used to be called) leads Guests to feel less associated with one particular club. Though commitment to the PCL remains “High” (12%) or “Relatively High” (52%) there appears to be a general lack of commitment to one specific club. “It is not my club anymore” say those who are voting with their wallet and refusing to put their income into the game. This is especially true of older Guests.

These doom-mongers and naysayers amongst the older Guests see the decline in attendances as a precursor to a decline in the game itself.

The Governing Body (Finance) of the PCL dismisses these opinions as negativity and not appropriate to the True Spirit of the sport.

This report agrees with the unerring wisdom of the Governing Body.

It must be remembered, however, that these older Guests are a small – and declining – proportion (less than 9%) of the total revenue stream. Indications are that this figure will fall below 5% by the end of this decade. Demographic studies continue to show this age range contributes significantly less income in comparison to other age groups.

It is therefore not considered feasible to cater for this age range and in the longer term it will no longer be considered necessary to factor these Guests into income projections.

Furthermore, while the numbers paying to watch live games at home via media sources has decreased, that revenue stream has increased due to higher charges. In addition, new markets in Africa and South America are coming online and as the market expands, so revenues are expected to increase proportionally until the end of this decade

As a result the loss of revenue from this “older Guest” demographic is not considered to be a cause for concern…

Footnote: An independent study co-funded by a number of Universities found this report to be fiscally sound and its predictions based on factual and verifiable data.

The study noted the uncompromising attitude toward older Guests and, on financial grounds alone, agreed with its assessment and policy. It also noted that older Guests were likely to experience dissatisfaction because they were in a position to compare the Pan-Continental League with football as it was pre-PCL.

The study also noted that the terms “revenue” and “income” were used 1,034 times within the whole report. The word “sport” was used 53 times and “Guest” 17 times.
The study noted without comment that the word “fan” does not appear anywhere in the report.

4. The Hangover Takes Hold.

The year is 2040. Chelsea they have been an integral part of the Pan-Continental League since its inception. Their seat at The High Table of Power ensures that they have influence where it matters. And they have indeed basked in the glory of being part of, and contributing to, true sporting competition.

They have experienced on-field glory as well, winning the CPL on three occasions – a record second only to Barcelona who have won it a remarkable eight times. Other recent winners include Anzhi Makhachkala, PSG and Marseilles.

Declining revenue, rather than the decline in attendances or player quality is the issue exercising the minds of the great and good at the now frequent meetings of The Governing Body (Finance).

The alliance the PCL has enjoyed with a flexible and supportive media is showing signs of cracking. Public apathy towards the League is now reflected in the media, whose interest is diminishing in direct relation to their diminishing income streams.

There is evidence of serious in-fighting within the PCL. The veneer of outward calm has gone. As panic over declining revenue takes hold, allegation and counter-allegation is made against official after official. Clubs discuss their future and the benefits of returning to national leagues. As one club Chairman put it: “An unpaid piper will play his own tune. In other words, if the PCL won’t provide, we must look elsewhere.”

The suspension of leading PCL officials following allegations of bribery and corruption leads one club to break away from the League. It is considered a breach of contract and an act of provocation, but after prolonged posturing neither the PCL nor its media partners have the will to fight the matter through the courts.

Eventually a number of clubs return to their home organisations led by some American clubs whose brief stay in the PCL was not particularly forthcoming in terms of honours.

Some advocate a system of promotion and relegation into and out of the PCL as a way of re-introducing higher levels of intensity into the League. These ideas are shouted down by those with vested interests and those who have not the imagination to work out how to introduce such a system fairly.

Significantly, the media stop referring to football as the King of Sports.

The PCL finally breaks up when the original clubs return to their home leagues. Many leagues accept them back, though not into their top divisions.

Players leave these prodigal clubs, attracted by the pay and the glory of their highest league. In England, the Premier League is enhanced by their return, but the clubs they left behind continue in decline a division or two below.

Many professional clubs go out of business. With the best will in the world, their respective FA’s and League Governing Bodies cannot hope to help alleviate the debts these clubs have developed as they chased glory.

Some people in Britain say that football has returned to the fans: the song “Football’s Coming Home” makes it into the charts once again, lifted by the sentiment of supporters throughout the country.

Other people say that football is lucky to be still alive after its debilitating addiction to profit leaves it struggling for survival.

And the media, which saw a profits decline during the last death-throes of top-class football, see a return to the golden days of profitability through their links with other sports. Advances in technology mean that it is cheaper than ever to show a range of live sports. Live football, on the other hand, is rarely shown: a few home internationals and the FA Cup Final are the totality of football on tv.

Other sports now take prime time coverage. The media once again have found a new partner, a new worthy cause to champion, as they promote and fund the astonishing international growth in Snail Racing, into which revenue streams pour like never before. A Worldwide Snail Racing Alliance is mooted.

For the media, the days of declining profits are long gone for they have found a new home with a newly popular sporting sensation. The media announce the new Snail Racing season with a fanfare heralding The King of Sports.

Football is a gaunt and shuffling shadow of its former self. And while many mourn and say that football is dead, Snail Racing has already taken its place in the hearts of the nation and the pockets of the governing bodies.

The King of Sports is dead. Long live the King of Sports.

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