English soccer creating cash but no cup


English soccer reached another low point on Thursday evening when the team lost yet another World Cup game at the hands of Uruguay, giving it little hope of reaching the next stages of the tournament.

But while the national side has languished in the doldrums for nearly half a century since its 1966 success, its national league has enjoyed huge investment and remains one of the country's most high-profile exports.

A major shake-up in 1992, with the league being shown for the first time on pay TV, coincided with higher wages, more foreign players and the competition being launched on the global stage. With the sport attracting sizeable audiences in Europe and Asia, major global investors arrived on English shores shortly afterwards.

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Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich became the first of many major foreign owners, bringing his rubles to London's glitzy west end with Chelsea in 2003. Many more have followed including cash-rich businessmen from the U.S., India, Thailand and the Middle East. Even the country's second flight has managed to attract foreign ownership despite not having the same clout as its bigger brother.

Michael Jarman, chief market strategist at H20 Markets believes that the English league is well backed by broadcasting and licensing money, meaning that other European leagues are having trouble keeping up. Graham Shear, a partner specializing in sports law at Berwin Leighton Paisner, told CNBC via telephone that it's not necessarily the profit that's attracting these mega-rich backers.

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"It is often indirect value that is being achieved," he said. "There are teams that do make a profit...increasingly entities or people are buying them not for profitability but for their marketing profitability and for their position on an international stage."

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Critics in the U.K. pine for the long lost days of the 1960s and 1970s, when English footballing success was in its pomp. They attack the growing influence of overseas shareholders, claiming it has stripped the sport of its identity in England. Many have pointed fingers at the influx of foreign players as a possible excuse for the national side's failure.

Whilst these claims might to add to a wider debate, it was perhaps ironic that the player to score both goals in Thursday night's game - effectively knocking England out of the World Cup - was a Uruguayan who plies his trade in the northern English city of Liverpool.

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Decades ago, the most high-profile owner of a soccer club was rock superstar Elton John who backed his beloved London club Watford for his emotional ties rather than any yield it might have offered. More recent examples include U.K. celebrity cook Delia Smith whose Norwich City suffered Premiership relegation this year and One Direction star Louis Tomlinson. This week, the popstar bought a stake in Doncaster Rovers who play in the third tier of English soccer.

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But if Premier League fans might be getting complacent with this runaway success at club level, declaring it to be the best league in the world with the best players and the most exciting soccer, then a stark warning comes from Tom Cannon, a professor in the University of Liverpool Management School's football industries group.

He told CNBC via telephone the Premier League's bubble could easily burst, although there was currently no sign of this. A move to the dark days of soccer violence would be one main reason for a decline, he explained, referring to the 1980s when fighting in the terraces happened with frightening regularity. TV companies becoming less interested or too competitive, was another reason he gave, along with the emergence of serious national leagues in places like Vietnam, Indonesia and China.

"There is no sign of that because all the evidence is that in Shanghai there is more interest in Manchester United," he said. "If you are an international investor who wants to invest in football – (it's) much easier to invest in British football."

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