Borders are heresy for capitalism. They prevent the movement of goods, workers, they cost money. They also hinder the most popular professional sports, where business and competition are linked. Their officials devised two methods to kill them: relocate and overcome the jet lag.
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Europe for the NBA, London for American football, the Middle East and China for the football of the Old Continent … These territories where fans are just asking to give their money are far away. How then to collect tickets? Since 2009, the French Round Ball League has organized its Champions Trophy away from France, which sees the championship and Coupe de France winners clash. China, North America, Maghreb… Success is not always there – the 2016 edition, a PSG-Lyon, struggled to bring together 10,000 spectators in Klagenfurt, in the south of Austria – but the League ensures offshoring for questions of images in the medium or long term. And therefore generate indirect income.
An idea also developed in Spain. Between two league days, Barca, Real, Atlético de Madrid and Valencia flew to Saudi Arabia two weeks ago to play the Super Cup. Thousands of miles of travel for players who already do a lot each season and a domestic controversy over the difficulty fans had to get there. But for the past two years, the La Liga has been looking to go up a notch and wants to organize a championship meeting in the United States. Last year, a Granada-Barcelona was to take place across the Atlantic, the president of the Spanish league clearly saying he wanted to draw inspiration from the NBA in the matter. But faced with the slingshot of the federation, players and even Fifa, the project had been postponed. And in the fall, rebelote: the idea of La Liga is proposed and then revoked.
The Spanish soccer league has found a parade easier to orchestrate and a little less controversial: clasico, between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, are organized in December early in the day so that they can be seen in China. Because if spectators are a sought-after commodity, viewers are even more so. TV rights are the backbone of the trade war and a stadium has limited capacity, unlike screen subscriptions.
This is also a technique inspired by the United States, developed by ex-NBA president David Stern, who died on 1st January. Every Sunday, Europeans can watch regular season games and play-offs at decent hours for them. On Sunday evening, for example, BeIn Sports broadcasts a San Antonio Spurs-Toronto Raptors at 10 p.m. – it will be 4 p.m. in Texas. Bodies are sometimes borrowed from the floor, North American basketball players having bodies regulated like Swiss cuckoos in view of the infernal pace of matches (every two or three days on average, when it is not two games in twenty-four hours) and the appropriate hour remains in the evening, when the Americans finish working – and that the commercials bring back more.
The broken local anchor
The NBA therefore decided to drag its gaiters around the world in the early 90s. A decision imitated by the king of sports in the United States: American football. After a first try in 2005, the NFL has organized 1 to 5 games per regular season away from its bases, three times in Mexico, the rest of the time in London.
All that, the business loves it: customers around the world, competitions that gain credit in the eyes of the general public… Aficionados, less, because, especially in Europe, the club holds by its local and regional roots, that outsourcing violently breaks. The balance of power is mostly not in favor of the supporters. Sometimes, however, pro sport is reminded of its values. Leaving for China this summer, the NBA faced controversy after the general manager of the Houston Rockets took up the cause for the protesters in Hong Kong. Tours were disrupted, preseason games canceled and fear paralyzed the big money in the league. Sport business does not live in a world in a vacuum, even if it would dream of it.