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English Premier League explores global expansion

October 7, 2014

LONDON (AP) — English clubs’ interest in playing matches abroad has prompted the Premier League to explore the possibilities of expansion overseas.

The league was forced to scrap plans six years ago to add an extra 39th round of matches at venues across the world amid opposition domestically and from FIFA. But league chief executive Richard Scudamore recently acknowledged that clubs still back the idea.

People with knowledge of the situation have told The Associated Press that clubs have now asked the league to conduct a feasibility study into global expansion options. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions have been in private.

Although playing a regular season game abroad would appear unlikely in the immediate future, the league is looking into organizing lucrative pre-season friendlies and expanding the existing Premier League Asia trophy tournament to other continents.

The international interest in preseason games was highlighted by Manchester United’s friendly against Real Madrid in Michigan in August. Organized by a third party company, it attracted a crowd of more than 109,000.

When asked about Premier League pre-season or even regular season games abroad, United managing director Richard Arnold told the AP: “That’s still an area that’s under some development. You’ve seen on the tour the engagement we get abroad.”

Premier League games are broadcast into 650 million homes in 175 countries, according to league statistics. The league has been wary about reviving plans to take a game abroad after the initial discussion in 2008 angered both domestic fans and FIFA, with questions also about upsetting the balance of the division by inserting an extra fixture.

“The clubs wanted it (the regular season game abroad in 2008) and they all would still probably want it now,” Scudamore told the BBC in August. “It will happen at some point. Whether it is on my watch, who knows?”

Pointing to the crowds at some pre-season friendlies in the United States, Scudamore said: “You wouldn’t get more even if there was three points, six points, or even nine points riding on that particular game.”

While clubs like United and Liverpool can secure lucrative deals for pre-season games, it would be clubs with smaller global fan bases that could benefit from the Premier League helping to organize fixtures.

The Spanish league organized its second “World Challenge” tour ahead of this season, for Almeria, Atletico Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna, Malaga and Valencia as Barcelona and Real Madrid cut its own deals.

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Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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