As the world continues to celebrate Leicester City’s extraordinary feat, which is being hailed as sport’s greatest ever underdog story, it’s worth discussing the potentially wider impact of such a monumental achievement. While the Foxes’ remarkable win will surely leave an eternal legacy at the Midlands club, its effects will be felt beyond just the club’s blue walls.
None more so than in the offices of the Premier League. For a competition that is a benchmark for the world of sport, both from a commercial and competitive standpoint, tiny Leicester’s victory will serve as its greatest ever advert. It also comes bearing the most wonderful of gifts: a no-cost publicity push (a ‘marketing campaign’, if you like) which goes beyond any that could ever be planned and executed at the league’s headquarters.
Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore told The Times that the human interest aspect of this fairy tale has “attracted more interest than you’d normally get”. Being an inspirational story that “transcends sport”, as Scudamore puts it, Leicester’s fairy tale takes brand ‘Premier League’ to an audience it has never reached before. An audience which doesn’t readily have patience for sport but has all the time in the world to absorb the life-affirming tale of Leicester’s underdogs.
Furthermore, owing to the club’s Southeast Asian roots (the club’s owner is from Thailand), the popularity of the league will zoom to new heights in the region. Asia remains one market the league, and the sport itself, loves to woo due to its growth potential. Liverpool, among other clubs, are considered a big draw in Thailand but perhaps Leicester could give them all a run for their money in the future?
This unlikely triumph also endorses the Premier League’s revenue-sharing model, which distributes a hefty part of the league’s revenue, especially the gigantic broadcast earnings, to all clubs on the basis of their final league positions. It’s true that the wealth distribution in England’s top tier is indeed pretty lopsided due to other sources of revenue (investment, sponsorship and gate receipts) but at least the influx of money from the league itself empowers smaller clubs to build competitive squads.
The Premier League may often be derided for the involvement of an insane amount of money, which cultivates a soul-crushing capitalist culture, but its fairness quotient towards its stakeholders (its 20 clubs) is pretty laudable.
Take, for instance, the regulation that comes with its broadcasting deal, which state that the official broadcaster of the league in any country cannot give precedence to any one club over another. To safeguard the interests of all the clubs, and hence protect the overall brand of the league, has always been the utmost priority for the Premier League. Story of Leicester simply vindicates the existence of such a model.
It’s also unlikely that a renowned manager like Claudio Ranieri would ever take over reins of Leicester City had it not been for the club’s bold ambitions and promise of challenging the top sides. Such ambitions, arising at a club that avoided relegation by the skin of its teeth last season, are almost exclusive to the Premier League and provide more evidence of its power.
Expect a rise in the number of foreign owners too, considering how lucrative the league can be if you hit the jackpot (or even if you don’t!). Leicester City’s Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, CEO of Bangkok-based King Power retail group which is the club’s parent organisation, bought The Foxes for a mere £39m in 2010.
At the time, the club was plying its trade one division lower than the top tier. Today, at the summit of the English league, The Guardian reports that the club could well be worth more than £436m. If this doesn’t entice more foreign investment, nothing will.
Let’s focus now on the more footballing impact of Leicester’s feat. The Foxes’ improbable coup will instil in clubs and players around the world, and especially in England, an unparalleled belief to succeed.
Last month, Ranieri wrote about how his team’s underdog story will “give hope to all the young players out there who have been told they are not good enough.” Anything seems possible at this moment. They can all dare to dream. Why, someone will ask in the future? “You know, because Leicester 2016”. It’ll remain an inspiration to try and achieve the impossible.
What about its tactical effects then? Will Leicester’s win encourage caution over flamboyance? Probably, though we can always hope not. The Foxes aren’t always a pretty team to watch. They are a counter-attacking team that doesn’t mind conceding possession (averaging only 44% possession), only to hit teams hard on the break.
You could say they are currently the Floyd Mayweather Jr. of the league: cold, calculated and opportunistic. Of the previous two English champions, the Foxes were certainly more similar to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea than Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City but the passion, drive and the punching-above-the-weight aspect of it kept the romance well and truly alive.
The relative ease with which the Foxes stayed in front and wrapped up the league is significant. The club’s style of play appeared near perfect for the situation and could serve as a template for even bigger clubs in the future. Over the years, Arsenal, under their idealist manager Arsene Wenger, have refused to alter their attack-only principles when required. As a result, the Gunners have blown huge leads and faded away in title races at crucial times.
Two years ago, Liverpool were on the cusp of glory, barnstorming the league before collapsing at the final hurdle. Both of these clubs could’ve done with mixing their expansive nature with a bit of caution. Tottenham, Leicester’s closest title rival this season, could’ve done with the same, having dropped points after being ahead in games on several occasions in the title run-in.
Leicester’s coup is the classic triumph of a system over individuals (even if they did possess a red-hot English striker and an Algerian Messi of their own). Even Atletico Madrid, in Spain and at the continental level, are nearing another unthinkable success story with a similar philosophy.
It’s likely that the league’s top clubs will rethink, rework and hit back next season. How they do so remains to be seen. All of them have been given the most massive of wake-up calls. Which can only mean good news for the Premier League. As it stands today, the best football league in the world is an open competition with a world of possibilities.
Published Date: May 10, 2016 09:21 AM | Updated Date: May 10, 2016 09:21 AM