The chief executive of English football’s lucrative Premier League believes the biggest danger to maintaining the sport’s long-term popularity comes not from rival sports but social media and digital gaming.
The growth of eSports, or competitive video gaming, has seen Premier League clubs such as West Ham United and Manchester City ‘sign’ their own official eSports players.
Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the hugely globally popular Premier League, said football had to understand the world in which young supporters especially now lived if they were to keep them on board as fans of the game.
Asked which league or other sport he saw as its main rival, Scudamore, speaking to BBC Radio Five Live from the Premier League launch in north London on Wednesday, replied: “I see it wider than that. I see gaming, all sorts of digital gaming, I see all sorts of young people spending time on their devices doing all sorts of things to entertain themselves, with social media generally.
“We don’t necessarily see other sports — I think that’s a little narrow, in terms of our competitors.
“We see what’s entertaining young people as being a competitor to try to make sure they stay interested in this type of thing, which is why the whole community-based activities, the whole interactive-based activities, are so important.”
He added: “We want people to be able to identify more readily with the game we love so much.
“For anyone who’s got young children, you see what they’re doing in their lives and they’re spending a lot of time engaging interactively — not just gaming, but social medial, interacting with their friends… I say ‘friends’ — people they know from across the world — whether they would pass the old definition of friends…
“The interesting bit about the future is whether this game will continue to engage them, and that’s why we have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure it does.”
Some pundits have argued that the astronomical sums on offer to footballers — as evidenced by Paul Pogba’s world record £89 million transfer from Juventus to Manchester United — will do little to help people relate to the ‘beautiful game’.
France star Pogba, 23, is now set to earn a reported £290 000 per week.
“Of course it’s the market,” said Scudamore when asked about the numbers surrounding Pogba’s move to Old Trafford.
“As I’ve said on a number of occasions, you can’t just justify it — you can only really explain it.
“The market determines what the top talent has to be paid.
“You also know where that money’s going to go in terms of tax — it’s a big redistribution mechanism.
“It is eye-watering in terms of most people being able to appreciate it. But, across every industry in the world, the very very top talent are paid very top wages in order to attract them to their industry.”